THE HUSTLE CREW
Getting to this point has been an interesting ride. It wasn’t easy for a kid from Launceston to start out in basketball. There was no NBL team and not a whole lot of juniors playing down there. However, in a way, it was an advantage.
When I played for the state team at the junior nationals, I kind of stood out because I was the one scoring all the points.
The AIS coach, Marty Clarke, was from Tassie and knew about me, which probably helped when it came to gaining a scholarship spot. The AIS was great preparation for going into the NBL.
Then it was the same story, the owners pulled out and I was left thinking, ‘OK, this must be normal – you win a championship and then your club folds’.
I was really lucky with the introduction I got to pro basketball. We made the finals first-up but went down to Perth on our home court. The next season everything clicked. We brought in CJ Bruton and Ebi Ere, Sam Mackinnon was league MVP, we had Dusty Rychart, Dillon Boucher – it was an unbelievable year.
The spark for our success was a loss we had in New Zealand eight or nine games into the season. In the change rooms afterwards, there was soul searching and names were called out. It was pretty intense, but it did the trick because, from that point, we didn’t lose again for three months. We won 21 games in a row, a record that still stands.
There were some memorable times during that streak. Before playing in Adelaide, we were out for dinner and the Australian cricket team was at the same restaurant. We were upstairs for ages with them, chatting away. They were an awesome group of fellas.
The next night we turned up and went to work. We smashed the 36ers by something by like 40 points. Everyone was making shots, we were dominating and having a lot of fun. It was just one of those games on the road when everything falls into place.
I think the basis of that team’s success – and this is where I see similarities with our current team – was an incredible hunger and depth.
Throughout that season we had these super-competitive sessions between our starters and bench players. It was the black team versus the grey team. Our grey team, the bench players, called ourselves the G-Unit.
It was myself, Dillon Boucher, Brad Williamson, Mick Hill and Mark Bradtke, the hustle crew, who got up and in, playing defence.
We took it pretty seriously, we had t-shirts made up and all. I used to talk rubbish to Sammy and CJ, telling them we’d beat them all the time. I’m sure the stars of the team would have been sick of it. But I think that’s why we were so good. Our practices were as hard as the games.
With such a competitive bench, we were able to wear teams down. We’d literally sub the whole bench on and pick it up another notch on the defensive end. Teams just didn’t get a look-in against us for the whole 48 minutes.
TEAM TO TEAM
That year was so much fun. But, at the end of the following season, the owner, Eddie Groves, called a meeting at Sammy Mac’s house. He basically told us he had business issues and couldn’t keep going with the club.
I wasn’t really paying attention, to be honest. I was still inexperienced and I don’t think I comprehended that it was possible for the club to just fold like that.
Over that next off-season, I learnt a lot about the business side of basketball. There was so much talk going on. They tried to get a consortium together to keep the club afloat. In the meantime, some of the guys were moving on and our great team was splitting up.
I was talking to South Dragons because Goorj wanted me there. But I was trying to hold off, thinking, ‘They’re going to come back. There’s got to be a Brisbane team’. Every week there was pressure to sign with the Dragons or miss out, but we kept pushing it back, hoping for Brisbane to be saved. It never happened.
As it turned out, living in Melbourne gave me the chance to play with another star-studded line-up, including Joe Ingles, Mark Worthington, Nick Horvat, Mika Vukona and a couple of really good imports.
In my first season there, we turned a wooden spoon into a championship. I headed then to Gold Coast Blaze, before it, too, went under in 2012.
WHY I STAYED
It’s fair to say I’ve ridden some pretty big waves with the NBL during my career. But I’m thankful for the journey I’ve been on.
Some of the guys I played with at the AIS went on to do some big things overseas, but I’m glad I chose to stay in Australia because it also opened up great opportunities.
After that season with Dragons, I was picked for the Boomers following the Beijing Olympics. I remained part of the national team set-up for the next six or seven years and played in two World Championships and an Olympic Games, something I’d dreamed about after watching the 2000 Olympics as a kid at home in Launceston.
It probably would have been fun playing in the US at some stage, maybe going to college, and who knows where it might have led. But, playing all my basketball in Australia meant I was able to do all the camps and be around the national coaches, in their vision all the time. I think that helped.
It also meant I was able to experience the feeling of being part of winning NBL teams, a feeling I expect to experience again.