Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
Like a giant unfolding himself from a chair, Luke Nevill has emerged from the crowd as a genuine NBL star.
He is no longer the shy rookie who landed in Melbourne mid-2010 and struggled with the multi-dimensional demands of NBL basketball.
“My college coach was always saying you’re the only post guy we have on the team so unfortunately you have to stay in the post,” Nevill said.
With the Tigers fielding an oversized line-up, Nevill had no room to work inside and little experience on the outside, while opponents ruthlessly exposed his lack of mobility defending ball-screens.
But a mid-season escape to play for Lyubertsy, an industrial town on the outskirts of Moscow, proved just the tonic.
“They just do so many pick-and-rolls,” he said.
“I did a lot of work on that over there, so I was a lot more used to it when I got back.”
He then headed to Perth and developed his perimeter game at both ends in Rob Beveridge’s fast-paced system.
“Playing here has given me a bit more diversity in my game, learning to guard guys on the perimeter, and at the offensive end I am shooting a lot more jump-shots,” he said.
“I have to be able to get out there and run and contribute away from the basket.”
Next stop was the Indiana Pacers, where Nevill spent six weeks sharpening his interior game against fellow 218cm giant Roy Hibbert’s long defence and trademark hook shot.
“In that league you can’t really have 10 dribbles in the post, you have to make a move quickly,” he said.
“(Defensively) I just had to push him out and make him shoot them from further out than he’s comfortable.”
And so, arriving in Townsville after two years of learning across three continents, he boasts a veteran’s repertoire.
The man who dominated the Mountain West Conference for the University of Utah and was tipped for big things is now delivering as expected.
Ranking seventh in the NBL in scoring, with 15.4 points at a deadly 58 per cent, Nevill has been the catalyst in the Crocs turning a 0-10 start into six wins from their past eight games.
With a strong post game, a money mid-range jump-shot and accurate passing to his shooters, he is an offensive weapon.
And with the ability to defend on the perimeter, contain guards coming off the ball-screen and intimidate inside, he is now a defensive force as well.
Finally comfortable in the professional game, the Perth native has allowed himself a brief glance at the international scene, where his improved perimeter game will be a valued commodity.
“A goal of mine is to play on the international level on a regular basis,” he said.
“That’s what you have to be able to do at that level, score from the perimeter as well as under the basket. As a big guy, being able to shoot a jump-shot is a huge asset.”
But right now his sights a firmly set of helping the Crocs to the playoffs and enjoying the fruits of the past two years’ hard work.
“I think it’s all starting to come together,” he said.
“Experience is one of the biggest assets you can have, especially as a centre … When I see something happening on the court it’s not a new experience, I think ‘I know how to handle this’.”