The Canterbury Rams were a foundation member of the National Basketball League in 1981. The Rams, an amateur basketball team, were a Tall Blacks factory before leaving the League in 2008.
In November, 2013 the team was re-launched to provide young talented basketball players in Canterbury an aspirational pathway.
The Rams Golden Era (1986 –1999)
Canterbury ended up dominating the NBL in the next few years. From 1986-1994 the Rams played in seven grand finals winning four of them.
This successful nine-year tenure was thanks to stand-out American players like Eddie Anderson, Angelo Hill and Clyde Huntley who were three of the league’s best ever early imports. Other Canterbury players who played key roles during this era included Terry Brunel, Glen Denham, Gilbert Gordon, John Hill, John “Dutchie” Rademakers, Graham Timms, Chris Tupu, Ian Webb, youngster Ralph Lattimore and another star American import player Kenny Perkins.
The architects of this success were coaches Gary Pettis who led the team from 1986-88 and Keith Mair who took over in 1989. The team had All-NBL First team selections over this period including Clyde Huntley (’86, ’87) and Eddie Anderson (’91) and Most Outstanding Guard in Clyde Huntley (’86, ’91). Most Outstanding Non-Restricted Guard included John Rademakers (’86) and Christ Tupu (’94). Most Outstanding Non-Restricted Forward included Glen Denham (’90).
Following Keith Mair’s departure in 1995, long time Rams assistant coach and player, Bert Knops took over the reins from 1996 – 1999. There was a great deal of anticipation before the 1999 season with an exciting roster including American Clifton Bush and Canterbury players David Langrell and Jason Kyle. The Rams won the right to host the playoff series at Westpac Centre after defeating the North Harbour Kings in the semi final, they progressed onto the Championship game against Auckland.
It was not to be Canterbury’s year however, with the Rams going down in a close fought final to Auckland.
The John Watson Era
In 1999, under John Watson's business leadership the team lead the league in attendance for a number of years including some of the biggest crowds to ever watch a basketball game in New Zealand at that time. There was a great deal of anticipation before the season in Christchurch that the Rams could finally win some silverware after not having won a title since 1992.
This was combined with an exciting roster consisting of American Clifton Bush, Canadian Robert Wilson, and an up-and-coming team of kiwis like David Langrell, Jason Kyle and Craig Farrant. The Rams started the 1999 season slowly, but made the playoffs ending up with a 10-6 record in second place. The Rams won the right to host the playoff series at home and after defeating the North Harbour Kings in the semi final, they progressed onto the grand final against Auckland. It was not to be Canterbury's year however, with the Rams going down in a close fought final to Auckland.
Matt Ruscoe coached the team from 2000-2002.
In 2002 John Watson took over the coaching reigns and was named coach of the year. With a new star signing in Terrence Lewis from Wellington and American centre John Whorton, Canterbury had two of the best import players in the league. Whorton and Lewis were the league leaders in scoring all year long, carrying Canterbury to an 11-5 regular season record, good enough for third place.
In 2005 under Pete McAllister the Rams began the season brilliantly starting the season 5-1 thanks to the strong play of new imports Mike Gardener and Ryan Prillman. Canterbury started to struggle though as the season progressed and although the team finished with a highly satisfactory 10-8 record, they narrowly missed out on the final playoff spot finishing in fifth position.
After the 2005 NBL season Pete McAllister got a job at New Zealand basketball and he was subsequently forced to resign as the Rams head coach. In January 2006, American Chris Sparks was named head coach to fill McAllister's void.
Canterbury fielded a very youthful roster in 2006, with half of the squad under the age of 22 and requiring a special dispensation from Basketball New Zealand to compete in the league. The Rams missed the playoffs finishing with a 6-12 final record. American import Dennis Trammell was a stand-out for the Rams averaging 25 points a game. Jeremy Kench had a break out year for Canterbury with 18 points a game. He was also named to the New Zealand National team roster.
End of the Rams (2008)
In late 2007 Bert Knops who coached the Rams from 1996 to 1999 was reappointed.
Under the direction of owner John Watson the Rams announced in late 2007 that the Rams would return to their former home arena of Cowles Stadium as of the start of 2008. This move was very successful and led to a unique atmosphere due to the size of the stadium, adding to the teams already record crowds (the Rams led the league for game turn-outs); a testament to Watson's marketing prowess. John Watson passed away unexpectedly on May 18th, 2012.
John Watson Legacy:
Dr. John J. Watson who served many years as owner, player and coach for the Canterbury Rams. He revolutionised basketball marketing in Canterbury making the Rams an event everyone wanted to be part of. In 2002 he was named National Basketball League Coach of the Year.
During his time in Canterbury he also served as associate professor in the Department of Management at The University of Canterbury from 1996 to 2008. He was highly involved with students at Canterbury, where he founded the Business and Sport Management Society, chaired the International Student Exchange Committee and served on the University’s MBA Board of Directors. He received the Best Teacher Award in 1997 and 2006 as a faculty member in Canterbury’s College of Business and Economics.
A native of Franklinville, N.Y. Watson earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Bucknell University in 1988 and his master’s in business administration from Bucknell in 1989. He earned his Ph.D. in marketing in 1996 from Penn State. Watson joined the faculty at St. Bonaventure in 2004 and became a full-time faculty member in 2008.
Come Back Season 2014:
National League Basketball returned to the Canterbury region. Local players Jeremy Kench, Ethan Rusbatch and Marty Davison were signed to build a team that represents the red and black province. Glen Dandridge and Matthew Rogers were signed as the import players, with both players having NBA experience. Glen having experience playing for the Orlando Magic NBA Summer League team and Matthew played for both the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Bobcats. The Rams will return to the court for the first time since 2008.
Left to right: Jeremy Kench, Matthew Rogers, Glen Dandridge.