Warrnambool Seahawks' Jay Rantall, Dominic Occhipinti and Hayden Rhook to make Big V debuts

NEXT GENERATION: Dom Occhipinti, Jay Rantall and Hayden Rhook - all 15 -  will make their Big V debuts on Saturday. Picture: Amy Paton

NEXT GENERATION: Dom Occhipinti, Jay Rantall and Hayden Rhook - all 15 - will make their Big V debuts on Saturday. Picture: Amy Paton

THEY helped Vic Country win a silver medal at under 16 level last year.

Now Jay Rantall, Hayden Rhook and Dominic Occhipinti are preparing for their Big V division one debuts.

The trio will suit up for Warrnambool Seahawks in the defending champion’s season-opener against Melbourne University Black Angels on Saturday night.

Rantall is preparing to represent Vic Country as a bottom-age prospect at the Basketball Australia under 18 championships in Townsville.

Warrnambool Seahawks coach Matt Alexander said the teenage prospects deserved their spots despite their tender years.

“They are elite; the very best (juniors) we have got in Warrnambool,” he said.

“(NBL guard) Nathan Sobey played at 15 and I played at 15 with the Seahawks too, and (SEAFL champion) Shane Smith was close to 15 or 16 when he debuted too.”

Alexander said they would be eased into senior competition, playing roles off the bench.

“It will be a great experience for them to play against men,” he said.

“They definitely have the talent.”

Rantall, a talented guard, is expected to see the most court time out of the trio early in the season.

“He is fighting for minutes and doing well at training,” Alexander said.

“He has a very high IQ for a 15-year-old which is pleasing to see.”

Fellow teenagers Ollie Bidmade and Brock Carter, who were both part of the Seahawks’ drought-breaking championship last season, are also expected to play bigger roles.

“Brock has been injured a bit but has trained exceptionally and put his hand up for a lot more minutes,” Alexander said.

Warrnambool will have a full squad to pick from for its season-opener, which is the final match in a history-making triple-header at the Arc.

Alexander is confident the Seahawks can make an impression without star performer Sobey, who is now playing professionally in Europe following his career-best NBL season with Adelaide 36ers.

American import Xavier Johnson-Blount, a prolific scorer with a strong defensive mindset, will play a bigger role in Sobey’s absence.

“I had a meeting with X before and he really thinks we can go forth and give it another shake,” Alexander said.

“We’ll try and win every game we play. Alex (Gynes) is in great shape and X has been up and at them and is really fit and proactive.

“Tim (Gainey’s) leadership is fantastic, James (Mitchell’s) been professional and at every training session.”

The division one men’s game is at 8pm, the division two women at 6pm and youth league men at 4pm.

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