Jani Witzel always believed that tennis would be where he would forge his name and hopefully his career in the sport. Then he appeared like a tree jack in his penultimate high school year and suddenly all bets were off.
The kid (named after French player Yannick Noah) who was a national junior in tennis, at the age of 17 earning his first international rating, suddenly had options beyond individual racquet sports as he rose from 6’2 (1.88m) to 6 8′ (2.03m) in Year 12 at Westlake Boys High School in North Shore, Auckland. Before long, the skinny teenager would replace cross-court winners with full-court passes, tie in small spaces while transforming in no time into a basketball player with some ability.
The rest, they say, is history as Witzel, now 25, finds himself having come back full circle over the past six years, on the verge of playing his second season of professional A-League rings, and first for his beloved hometown. new. Zealand Crushers.
New Breakers recruit Yanni Wetzell talks about hjopes for the looming NBL season.
Wetzell was the breakers’ most famous off-season signing, the club he played for as a junior academy member who signed him on a three-year deal. Now standing 2.08m (6’10 from old money), their designated starting position – a young man from whom they expect big things in 2021-22.
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He’s passionate about coming home too, after five years of falling apart in the US through his collegiate eligibility and then his rookie professional season with South East Melbourne Phoenix. The Breakers, by rights, should have had it a year earlier (it was working at their facility during the off-season) but he wasn’t willing to match the asking price at the time.
They are now, after Oakland impressed everyone with an average of 11.2 points (55 percent) and 6.0 rebounds as a starting position for a Phoenix club that was just a poor quarter out of a place in the Grand Final.
That’s why Breakers owner Matt Walsh has declared Wetzel one of the two biggest kiwi-free dealerships on the planet, with “choices all over the world…in this league to win, you have to build around the locals, and the addition of Yanni is amazing.” “.
Wetzel says he’s “too special” to play at home (although he’ll have to wait until February for that), having got a taste of when he visited the Phoenix Trusts Arena to close out the ’20-21 season. “My family was in the stands and had the banners, and I had 40 or 50 of my close mates behind me, it was unbelievable… the fans, the energy and the environment that is in Spark… this place is turning off.”
First, let’s go back. Wetzel’s initial dreams for American college sports were tennis, not basketball, and he was on the right track too, before a new world opened up through this growth spurt.
he told Star Times In the run-up to the December 4 season announcement. “Tennis is a very lonely sport, and you have to be very passionate about it to succeed. You have anomalies like the Agassi and the Williams sisters, but mostly you have to really love the individual sport.
“I scored six inches in my sixth year…and started playing social hoops with the boys and loved it. I was moving really well on the court. Tried to join the high school team, got into the Junior Breakers Academy, then the Junior Tall Blacks, all within six months I was like, ‘I’m going to give this a crack.’”
Since he started his school episodes quite late, Wetzel didn’t have any offers from the big college programs. So he got a scholarship to Department 2 St Mary’s in San Antonio, Texas, and made his name there. By the end of his sophomore year (15.5ppg, 6.8rpg) they were lining up – Texas, Baylor, Vanderbilt and Purdue among them.
He chose Vanderbilt, spent two years in Tennessee, but left for the final season of his college eligibility after things fell apart. The final stop was at San Diego State (for 2019-20), where Wetzel played a prominent role (11.6ppg, 6.5rpg) on one of the best teams in the country – going 30-2 before Covid halted the season in its tracks, just as the championship looms. National on the horizon.
“It was a devastating two weeks…I was heartbroken,” he recalls. “When you play at that level, on that podium, the sky is the limit. We were playing really well, we had a tight-knit group of players, we all thought we could take a shot in the NBA.”
Instead, Wetzell’s next basketball was in the NBL with Phoenix—an experience that the Kiwi considers close to ideal, with a free run into the starting position when his opponent went down with an injury at the end of the season.
“I’ve been put in a great position since the day I walked in the door. Coach (Simon Mitchell) from today instilled a point of trust in me, and he trusted me. It helped a lot.”
Seasoned NBL watchers note Wetzell’s strong game, strong decision making, and sound fundamentals. He’s gone up against the top big players in the league every night, and he’s been more than keeping to himself. And uncertainty about the pandemic’s ever-changing parameters took its toll.
“One of my fortunes is having a high IQ and adaptability, and that has paid off,” he says. “It’s a fast-paced league too and that is probably my biggest attribute in the 4-5 positions. Being able to guard multiple positions helped as well. I was just playing with confidence in a good team surrounded by great people.”
But Witzel knows he’s far from the final product, and he’s excited to add more to his game under the eyes of Dan Shamir and Moody Maur, and among a large competitive group alongside Tall Blacks veteran Rob Loe and longtime friend Sam Timmins.
“I want to get out into the ocean and shoot more. That’s the next step. If I want to go where I want to, laying ground and handling the ball should be my next development. I want to play high-ranking Europe and come back to the States at some point.”
The young center’s eyes practically light up when you remember the path now being built from NBL to NBA, whether it’s via Next Stars (LaMelo Ball, RJ Hampton, Josh Giddey) or directly, with the likes of Torrey Craig, playing both Jae’Sean Tate and Cam Oliver, Didi Louzada, Mitch Creek and Jock Landale all make their way far from their exploits in Australia.
“It’s great to know the show is there, and the Scouts are watching,” he says. My agent was getting phone calls [last season], so you know the eyes are on you and you just have to group the shows together on a consistent basis.”
Wetzell would like to provide the impetus for the Breakers to finish their three-season series of playoffs as well, with their main Kiwi core and their gentle blend of experienced Americans (Payton Seva and Jeremiah Martin) and young French prospects (Osman Deng and Hugo Besson).
“I’m very happy Finn [Delany] He decided to stay – he’s one of the most important pieces of this puzzle. and Tom [Abercrombie] And Rob…it means a lot to me to come home and join these guys. We already have great chemistry, and I feel like we’re starting a fair path on the track. We have a good chance of turning this into something special.”
You might also say, given the star’s signature background, the Breakers feature.
Yanni Wetzel – The Basketball Journey
2015-17 Saint Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas
2017-19 Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
2019-20 San Diego State University, California
2021 Southeast Melbourne Phoenix, Australia NBL
2021-22 NZ Breakers, Australia NBL