HORSHAM Hornets coach Owen Hughan is optimistic the Victorian Basketball League division one reigning premier will gain a National Basketball League player for the coming season.
Hughan remained tight-lipped about the prospective player, refusing to name him or his national league team, but said the Hornets had a `50-50 chance' of securing the 2002 off-the-bench import.
Hughan conceded the Hornets hierarchy had left preseason recruiting efforts too late but said the 196-centimetre player would boost the side that has lost all-star centre Jamie Cemm, Peter Brack, Jordyn Burke to a football scholarship in Ballarat and Nick McClure to the army.
The Hornets' season tips off in four weeks against Hawthorn and Hughan said he was keen to add the player as a final link in his playing list.
``We'll see what happens but there is a fair chance we'll pick him up,'' Hughan said.
``We left recruiting a bit late this year because we had so much going on with the stadium and so on but we normally have it done before this.
``Because we started late we didn't pick up the kids who hadn't decided who to play with and once we started moving they had already decided.
``But some guys will be getting cut from the South East Australian Basketball League and will probably be looking for a game.
``We have to be select and pick people who we think will be good for the program here.''
Last season's skipper Tim Wade confirmed three weeks ago he would remain a Hornet for 2003.
Star forward Shane McDonald will also see out the season while he finishes high school and Ben Dumesny will play on.
But likely state duties for rising stars Justin Harding and Tim Pickert could reduce their availability.
Hughan said talks with former Ballarat Miner Ben New were going well and the 189cm forward was likely to commit soon.
New, 21, played with the Miners from 2000 to last season and Hughan said he was looking for a change.
``Brett Goodgame actually recommended him,'' Hughan said.
``From what we know he didn't want to go back to the Miners this year. We think he'll be good for the league.
``I imagine he'd play inside but the team itself is quite flexible. We're not a tall team but mobility is really the key to basketball.''
The Hornets will use a VBL tournament in Frankston during the March Labor Day long weekend as a competitive hit-out before launching an assault at a fourth-straight division one crown.
Hughan said while key losses would dent the Hornets' chances of extending its remarkable run, he was open-minded about the team's success in an expanded 19-team competition this year.
``We won't really know until they all gel together,'' he said.
``Last year I thought we would finish middle of the pack. We still have a strong nucleus so it just depends on the players gelling.''
·Shane McDonald and gun Horsham export Aaron Bruce will represent Victoria in an under-20 tournament at Ballarat in two weeks.
Bruce, 18, has spent time training with an Australian Institute of Sport team and also won a spot in this year's Australian junior men's squad.