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Australian basketball has always been good – it’s just been not quite on the radar of Australian people. There are plenty of reasons for it: the AFL and NRL are second to none. Basketball has to compete not just with other sports in Australia but with the NBA as well. So people see the NBL as an inferior product to the NBA.
But what you find this year and last year is that money’s being injected into it, and that’s what’s needed. The level of basketball, especially this year, is probably the best it’s ever been. Coming out of college for me, it’s really hard just to get a job, because there are only eight teams here, of which there are only 64 jobs for Australians, so you have to really be on top of your game to have success in the NBL.
You can kiss your career goodbye if your last year in college isn’t a good one. Unless you’re willing to play somewhere for dirt cheap and work your way up. I had a really good last year, and that gets you some attention. From there I had several agents. I had a workout with San Antonio Spurs, and then I was going to Vegas to do that camp to play in front of European coaches, but just before that happened I ended up signing with the Kings.
With the European system there’s a lot of risk/reward. You can get jobs a lot easier than getting a job in the NBL, but if you turn up and start losing, first to go are the imports. There’s nothing in your contract that says they have to pay you out, so that’s the risk side. You get injured, you get cut; you’re not performing, you get cut; the owner just doesn’t like you, you’re cut.
People may think that the NBL isn’t as good as college basketball. That’s not true; it’s another step up. Most NBL teams will beat the best college teams.
Guys in the NBL have very high IQs. They’re very talented; know how to make the play and when to make it. Australian basketball – it’s good to watch, it’s like the San Antonio Spurs. You find a lot more pick-and-roll type of basketball.
If you’re going to go to college to play sport, a lot of people don’t really pursue the college side of it as aggressively as I think they should. Because it’s such a rare opportunity to get college paid for, and people take it for granted a bit. I was there for a four-year scholarship and I did my business degree in marketing, but in my fourth year I got a knee injury, and it put things in a perspective in a matter of minutes.
It was like I may not play again or I may not be the same player. I ended up having to “redshirt”, which means you don’t play. So I ended up having five years of college, and quickly finished off my bachelor degree and then did my masters of business administration. Today that’s my proudest achievement.
It doesn’t matter what level, there are egos in the sport. Because all of them are coming out of high school, and if you have any chance of going to the next level, players are treated like kings. All of a sudden they get to college and they’re no longer the big fish. It’s quite interesting when you get all these personalities together, and it’s really hard to make it gel. I mean you have guys who have drug addiction, you have guys who are alcoholics who are playing on your team.
Perhaps 1 per cent go into the NBA. And maybe another 2 per cent go into professional basketball. It is such a minute number, and that’s why I get confused why these guys don’t take college a lot more seriously. Because out of all the people I’ve spent time with in college, there are four of us now. I probably have 30-odd teammates who are playing professionally, and I’m the highest paid. I’m not even paid very high. I think a lot of people need a reality check over there.
I really admire Matthew Dellavedova. He’s a guy I’ve known personally from the Australian Institute of Sport when we were juniors. Back then he worked his butt off. He’s not amazingly gifted or talented physically, and back then we used to call him the 35-year-old guy because his body was falling apart. But his work ethic was relentless.
I think you could almost separate guys like him or Cameron Bairstow from players like myself. We’re invested, we love basketball but I don’t live and breathe basketball. Once I finish playing I have different likes, I have different interests that I like to pursue in my downtime. But these guys, no, as soon as they finish, it’s, “How do I make myself better?”
How many times a week do I get asked if I play basketball? I don’t know. I ignore it, or I make a joke that I’m actually a jockey or gymnast.
• Cricket: One-Day Cup – Tasmania v Western Australia
Saturday, 10.30am (AEDT), North Sydney Oval, Sydney
• Horseracing: Caulfield Cup Day
Saturday, first race 12.15pm (AEDT), Caulfield Racecourse, Melbourne
• Netball: Constellation Cup – Australian Diamonds v New Zealand Silver Ferns
Saturday, 5.30pm (AEDT), Vector Arena, Auckland
• Basketball: Sydney Kings v Cairns Taipans
Saturday, 7.30pm (AEDT), Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
• Soccer: A-League – Melbourne Victory v Melbourne City
Saturday, 7.50pm (AEDT), Etihad Stadium, Melbourne
• Motorsport: Japanese MotoGP
Sunday, 4pm (AEDT), Twin Ring Motegi, Japan
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 15, 2016 as "Down to business".
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