By Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
Tip-off: Sunday, February 17, 4pm (local), WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong
TV: NBL.TV (live)
Last time they met: Townsville 82 (Ervin 26, Nevill 14, Hinder 12) d Wollongong 74 (Forman 15, Deleon 13, Coenraad 11, Gruber 11), Round 16, Townsville Entertainment Centre
New Hawks import Malcolm Grant is quite complimentary when asked about his first impressions of the NBL.
“There’s a lot of really good players over here at every position, great shooters, it’s a physical league, it’s a big league over here so for me to have an opportunity to play here is a blessing,” he said.
And while some players struggle to adjust to that physicality, it hasn’t been an issue for Grant.
“I'm from New York man, that’s how we play, so that ain’t bothering me,” he laughed.
Being from New York, of course, means he knows Townsville superstar Gary Ervin.
“Growing up, Gary was basically like a god,” he said.
“Wherever Gary was playing I was finding my way to that game. I don’t care how I was getting there, but I was getting there.”
Grant grew up around the corner from Ervin and was a freshman at Robeson High School in Ervin’s final year, the pair developing a brotherly relationship.
So how is he going to take down the man he idolised as a child this Sunday in Wollongong?
“I have no idea, I'm going to keep my mouth shut. I don’t want to start no trouble!” he said.
“He just had 28 points too so I'm going to chill on that one. But I already know what to expect from him, I'm like his little brother so he’s going to come at me, that’s what you do, you make each other better.”
But Grant is quick to point out this is not a one-on-one battle and he knows he will need his teammates’ help to stop Ervin scoring and setting up the Crocs’ deadly perimeter shooters.
At the other end, he is delighting playing with the Hawks’ long list of three-point marksmen and has quickly developed a favourite passing target.
“Oscar (Forman) is a great shooter, a real quick release, and the more I practice the more I develop some reps with him and I'm starting to understand where he is at all times.”
Ervin was named New York All-City Player of the Year in 2002 after averaging 30 points and 10 assists for Robeson High School.
Grant was Public Schools Athletic League Player of the Year in 2006 averaging 23 points a game for Robeson.
In his past three games, Michael Cedar has averaged 14.7 points at 38 per cent from long range. Prior to that he was scoring just 6 a game at 24 per cent.
Peter Crawford has made 20-of-34 two-point attempts the past six games at 59 per cent, after shooting just 36 per cent from inside the arc in his first 14 games.
The Hawks’ first-half defensive effort in the Round 16 clash was one their least disruptive for quite some time, prompting assistant coach Matt Flinn to say “we let Townsville get whatever they wanted”.
Despite this, the Hawks fell by just eight points, taking the Crocs out of their flow in the second half, and that should give them great confidence.
Wollongong are known for “picking their poison” defensively and they may have to choose which of Luke Nevill’s presence inside, Ervin’s speed and Townsville’s accurate marksmen they focus on most.
The Crocs are a much-improved defensive unit, but the Hawks will back the mobility and shooting of Oscar Forman and Larry Davidson to give their big men trouble.
It will take an excellent shooting performance from Wollongong to prevail, but improved tempo control from Round 16 will ensure this is a close one.
Prediction: Crocs by 2