Phill Jones plans to go out a winner


Friday night’s 101-89 win over the Southland Sharks seemed more like a party than a basketball game, and all of the celebration was for just one man — Phill Jones.
The 368-game veteran played his final home game for the Nelson Giants after a record breaking 19 seasons with the franchise, but he’s hoping to extend the celebration one more week as the team head into the Final Four in Wellington on Friday. “Winning the championship would be the dream scenario, the dream ending. It’d be amazing to bring the trophy back with us and hang the boots up after that,” the Giants captain says ahead of the final games of his career. “There will be some tough teams up there, so we’re going to have to play the best we’ve played all season, but if we can then I know I have ended it right.”
Phill, now 40 years old, described his final game as “special”, scoring 21 points in front of a sold-out Saxton Stadium crowd, and then joining with his family and team-mates on the court afterwards to conclude the occasion. “With these sorts of celebrations there comes a lot of pressure to perform as well. You could quite easily lose those games but we kept it into perspective and got the win. I remember looking around the crowd and seeing that there were no empty seats which was a pretty special feeling. I’m very grateful for the house to be absolutely packed.”
In a decorated career, which saw him play 19 seasons for the Nelson Giants and one season for the Otago Nuggets, Phill has the most appearances in NBL history, and sits second on the list of all-time point scorers.
He also played 211 times for the Tall Blacks, was a key part of the national team’s fourth placing at the 2002 FIBA World Championship, and has represented New Zealand at the Olympic Games twice. He was the second highest scorer in Athens.
Phill has played professional basketball in Finland, Greece and Italy and played for the New Zealand Breakers and the Cairns Taipans in the ANBL. He also had one season with the Otago Nuggets.
There are clearly many highlights, so it was understandable that he struggled to pick out one. “There have been championships, big plays, big dunks, there’s just so many. But this, the ending here in Nelson tonight would probably be up there as well. I’ve put a lot of hard work into where I’ve got now and I can’t emphasise that enough to the young kids out there — just practice, practice, practice.”
Phill says he never set out to achieve the most appearances in NBL history, he just let his career take him as far as it could go. “I’m just so grateful for the opportunities basketball has given me and the reason I’ve played for so long is because I just love it and that’ll be the hardest thing about retirement — that I’m giving up something that I love. It’s a pretty special sport and it’s going to be tough.”
After, hopefully, signing his career off with another championship, Phill says the plan for retirement is work and spending time with his wife Kat and their three children. “I’ve got plenty to do.”
The Fico Finance Nelson Giants take on the Wellington Saints in the semi-finals on Friday night. Tip off is at 8:30pm.