By Ollie Nash
As the National Basketball League (NBL) announced their agreement with the Tasmanian Government for a participation license in the league as of the 2021-22 season, the fond memories of a tight knit, college type community are what sticks in the mind of 1988 NBL MVP “Jumping” Joe Hurst.
Hurst, who played for the now defunct Hobart Devils in the 1988, 1989 and 1992 NBL seasons, says he and his teammates were celebrities in the eyes of fans.
“For us in Tassie, we were kind of like rock stars down there because on that island, we were kind of one of the biggest tickets that was going at the time,” he told On The Pine.
“You were well supported by the community and you were well acquainted with (them) because it was close enough and tight enough that that was possible. It probably wasn’t the same for a Melbourne (team).”
This support and passion for basketball in the state was finally rewarded, as the league announced in early July that a team will set up camp at the Derwent Entertainment Centre from the 2021-22 season.
The franchise will become the 10th NBL team and their facilities will receive a $68.5 million Tasmanian Government-backed upgrade. They will be the first NBL team based in the state in 25 years.
Hurst says it is great to see a team back in Tasmania and believes now the league is reaching families all over Australia.
“I am so excited for Tasmania, I just kind of thought that with (them) being out of it, it was obviously still the national league, but … it didn’t feel complete. I think that the NBL now is touching all parts of Australia,” he said.
Hurst, a guy who was well travelled, playing college basketball at Northwest Missouri State University and professionally in Sweden, Iceland, Croatia, Indonesia and Portugal, says it’s a unique experience playing in Tasmania.
“You really do well and truly have the whole state rooting for you, whereas Melbourne has two teams, with Tasmania that’s not the case,” he said.
“Everybody comes around, they get a chance to catch up with you, through all the community development stuff you get to know those people, you walk past them every day in the streets, so it was definitely unique to Tasmania.”
“You go for a meal and all of a sudden they go ‘oh that’s been taken care of’, people were just really looking after you in that way … that’s just the sort of people that they are down there.”
Three teams (the Launceston Casino City Tigers, Devonport Warriors, and Hobart Devils) have tried and failed to make it there during the 1980’s and 90’s. Hurst says learning what did and didn’t work then and making an impact in the community is what will make it a success this time around.
“With three goes at it I would think that you learn what went wrong and what went right … they’ll be getting out to the schools, creating those relationships,” he said.
“I can’t tell you how many kids came to the games just based on the fact that I did a clinic (in their home town). They were coming from all over the island just because of that.”
On the court, Hurst says it’s a matter of recruiting the right people, not always the most talented players that will help Tasmania become a success the league.
South East Melbourne Phoenix took a similar philosophy in their debut 2019-20 season. They had a massive impact on the local community and were very competitive on the court, winning five of their first seven before tapering off near the end of the season.
“The trick will be doing your homework … you don’t want to just grab talent then have a personality that could be a little bit destructive or toxic to the community or the team,” he said.
It’s this culture that has proven so successful with teams like the Phoenix, Perth Wildcats and Melbourne United. They have a strong community impact, getting families through the doors, buying memberships and merchandise helping the clubs become strong financially which can attract stars to make them more competitive.
Perth embody it perfectly. They haven’t missed the finals since 1987, because they attract big name players but also guys that buy in to the club, the city and the fans. Watch any Perth home game and it’s a near sell out every night, because the relationship between the club and its fans is so strong.
The NBL has kickstarted this for the team by launching a four-week campaign asking Tasmanians to nominate their preferred name for the club. A shortlist will be formed before the name that best embodies the spirit of Tasmania and their new colours will be announced later this year.
Cover Photo: NBL
By Ollie Nash
Four seasons, two MVPs, two Grand Final MVPs, a three-time All-NBL First Team selection, three-time scoring leader and three championships. It is a hell of a resume and it’s not done being added to yet, not even close, not even kind of close.
Bryce Cotton is 27, turning 28 in August and has just signed a three-year deal with the Perth Wildcats. He’ll be 30 when the deal is done and guess what? He still won’t be close to finishing and could potentially have another ring or two on his hand.
There are a lot of stars in the NBL at the moment; Shawn Long, Chris Goulding, Scott Machado, Mitch Creek and Lamar Patterson to name a few, but not many have what Cotton has. I am in no means comparing him to Michael Jordan, no way, but he has that innate ability that Jordan had to put up numbers and win basketball games. LeBron James has done it, so has Steph Curry, all of them playing well with others within a system but producing at a high level individually. In general terms, consistency in scoring and facilitating but the ability to come up clutch and make a big play.
Is he helped by the Perth system? Of course, I mean they haven’t missed the finals since 1987 and they had won six titles before Cotton got there. But has he upgraded them to a higher level of confidence and superiority in the league? Yes.
Watching the game, you’ll see everything I’ve just discussed with your own eyes, but here are the numbers to back it up. Since coming to the league, he has averaged 20.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He joined the team midway through his first season which explains their slightly down year, but he’s helped them to records of 15-13, 16-12, 18-10 and 19-9. That’s a pretty good four year run. In the playoffs during this run he’s averaged 23.2 points on 44 percent shooting from the field and 37 percent from three, four rebounds and five assists.
For a guy who stands 182 cm, not quite 6-foot, they’re impressive stats. They’re even more impressive considering how he gets them, especially his points. His ability to hit jump-shots is one avenue, especially off the dribble contested shots which happens regularly due to his height. But what became apparent to any doubters in this years’ playoffs was his ability to attack the rim and be physical.
Sydney, with their tall and long line-up went hard at Cotton every time he attacked the basket. A bit like the Detroit Pistons “Jordan Rules” in the late 1980s, the Kings weren’t going to let Cotton drive and score at the rim, he had to earn them at the line or shoot a jump-shot. I’m four centimetres taller than Cotton, but if you tell me to continually drive and get hit by 213 cm Andrew Bogut, 193 cm and 104 kg Jae Sean Tate or 199 cm Brad Newley I will happily decline. Cotton never took a backward step though, going to the free-throw line nearly nine times a game through the three grand final matches.
It’s part of that mindset that he has that only the superstars in every league seem to possess. The ability to be continually go at you and go at you, despite the physical toll and the little voice in your head saying, “take the easier option, take a jump-shot, save your energy.” Again, it’s similar to Jordan. No matter who you threw at him he was going to attack and attack and attack until he broke you down, because he knew he was mentally stronger.
I’d never seen that side of Cotton, but it was clear this season and as I said earlier, it helped him put up numbers but also contributed to wins. He drew two or three guys to him every time he drove to the bucket leaving open teammates everywhere. It meant Nick Kay was in good positions and could average 20 points and eight rebounds in the grand final series. It meant spot of shooters like Clint Steindl could put up 11 points and just above two three-pointers a game.
There may have been better individual seasons from imports in NBL history but this kind of dominance over this long a period has never been seen and the scary part is it’s only getting started. Pair Cotton at his absolute prime at 28 into his early 30s with Perth’s ability to replenish their roster and stay competitive and the next five years look awfully good for the Wildcats and dangerous for the rest of the league.
Cover Photo: Getty Images
By Ollie Nash
Photo: Illawarra Mercury
The last time we saw Brian Goorjian in the NBL he was celebrating the 2008-09 championship as head coach of the South Dragons. He’s always carried a winning reputation, a key reason he is one of the most respected coaches in NBL history.
So, when the perennial strugglers of the NBL, the Illawarra Hawks, now known simply as ‘The Hawks’ sign the six-time champion and six-time Coach of the Year award winner, it looks like the pick-up of the decade.
Experienced and well respected in Australia and around the globe, it is a good signing, no doubt. You’re getting a guy that has been there and done that regularly for 22 seasons in the NBL, only missing the finals twice and winning 70 percent of his 735 games. But it’s for reasons beyond his winning resume that is why the Hawks have made the right decision, even if it is at the expense of league favourite Matt Flinn.
To put it simply, the Hawks new owner Dorry Kordahi, who has bought the team alongside Bryan Colangelo and Michael Proctor, and their new head coach are friends, they like each other and that’s a really important thing in any business, not just sports. It’s not always the case though and it can lead to disfunction. What the Hawks have created is stability, which once again, is really important in sports.
Let’s look at the New York Knicks and their owner James Dolan as a case study for what the Hawks are avoiding by signing Goorjian. 65-year-old Dolan took over the franchise in 1999, the year they made their last NBA Finals appearance. Since then, he has gone through 10 head coaches, not including the three interim coaches from that 20 year stretch. They haven’t made the Finals in that stretch. Compare that to some stable franchises from 1999 to now. San Antonio Spurs, one coach, five championships. Dallas Mavericks, three coaches, two Finals appearances and one championship. Miami Heat, four coaches, three titles. Boston Celtics, five coaches, two Finals appearances, one title. Even Utah, who have never won a title have only gone through three coaches since 1999 and have been perennial playoff contenders.
The Hawks have been able to establish a strong partnership that will lead their franchise. What this means is that life for all involved will be easier than it has been for Dolan and any coach he has hired. Goorjian gets to go about his business freely knowing he has the trust of his owner. Not many coaches get that luxury. Kordahi can focus on the Hawks brand, their community work and their overall standing in the league knowing his head coach has got his end of the bargain sorted. Decisions around recruiting and imports are easier to make because the owner and his coach are on the same wavelength.
The stability at the top of the organisation has a flow on affect. Players, assistant coaches all the way down to the equipment manager walk into work with confidence in themselves and the franchise.
Now this only takes you so far. The Hawks are still a team that finished last in the 2019-20 season with a 5-23 record. The real work begins there, attracting the right imports and continuing to develop the young players that competed so well this past season. They have proven before that a quick turnaround is possible though. They finished second last in 2012 then made the finals in 2013. They finished last in 2015 and were back in the finals in 2016. The Goorjian/Kordahi relationship makes this possible again. Recruits and imports like stability and no drama. The pair provide that, opening the door to top shelf recruits that the Hawks might otherwise have missed out on given their poor records the last three years.
Two star recruits are all it takes in the NBL, build a strong core around them with the young talent of the Hawks and they’re a finals chance. Their youth was the shining light for their disappointing 2019-20 season, so coupling them with some fresh, experienced guys, an elite coach and new owners with a new vision and the Hawks don’t seem too far away from another finals birth.
Cover Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images