The NBL has long been a proving ground for future Australian stars.
From Andrew Gaze and Mark Bradtke to Chris Anstey and Sam McKinnon right up to current NBA player Joe Ingles many of the nation’s best players made their biggest strides playing against the men of the NBL.
But in recent years college recruitment has gone through the roof in Australia and so many of the country’s young talents have chosen a US education over trying their hand at making an NBL roster or development role.
We all know the success stories like Patty Mills, Andrew Bogut or Matthew Dellavedova who all enjoyed exciting college careers which helped springboard them into the NBA but there are many more who don’t enjoy their college lives and, in some cases, were lost to the game.
Australian Boomers and Brisbane Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis has seen this first hand and this is why he is excited about the NBL’s success in reinvigorating the league and proving more development roles for young players.
Last season the Bullets’ had teenagers Matt Kenyon and Tom Fullerton in their side and they held his own against the league’s best while Angus Glover played for Illawarra Hawks.
Lemanis has also hinted that another elite teen will join the Bullets next season.
Part of the NBL’s pathway was on show in Melbourne earlier this week when the NBL partnered with Basketball Australia, the Australian Basketballers’ Association and W Sports and Management to host the NBL Combine at Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre.
The two-day event, presented by Mitchell & Ness, featured young talents from BA’s Centre of Excellence, various state leagues and the SEABL plus some imports who want to audition for future NBL roles and four players from India’s national team.
Lemanis said he was starting to see a trend with more young Australians looking to stay home and become professionals.
“We are starting to see a little bit of a trend, a shift,” Lemanis said.
“I think the fact the Boomers did well at the Rio Olympics got some excitement around Australian Basketball again and proved there are lots of different ways you can get to the same place.
“With the likes of David Andersen, Brad Newley, Aleks Maric, all those type of guys playing in the NBL, it really legitimised the NBL. The NBL have done a great job at re-energising this pathway.
“There have been lots of unfortunate cases of kids going to college and having poor experiences, and that’s becoming more known. The kids who stay in the NBL tend to have good experiences and have great development. I think the NBL is becoming a pathway.”
— NBL (@NBL) April 20, 2017
Tom Wilson was a part of the Australian under-17 side who won a silver medal and almost beat the USA at the world championships in 2014 and he was also a talented Australian rules footballer but he went to college late last year and found the experience wasn’t for him so has come home.
Wilson has previously trained with Melbourne United and is understood to be receiving close attention from several clubs while he is playing for Melbourne Tigers in the SEABL this winter.
Keeping exciting talents like Wilson will be a big part of the NBL’s planning in the years to come.
NBL chief executive Jeremy Loeliger said the league has come a long way in a short period of time with how it treats its players and caters to those looking to develop their games at home.
“We are getting back in the fight and that is a good way of putting it as we weren’t even in the fight, even in the mix two years ago,” Loeliger said.
“If the opportunity was there you would go and play college basketball or if that option wasn’t there you would go and play something else or you would go into that chasm in between amateur and professional basketball in Australia.
“The South East Australian Basketball League is doing a fantastic job [of developing players] as are some of the state leagues. But now we have given players a real opportunity to stay, make a bit of money playing professional basketball here in Australia even as a development player or a junior rostered player straight out of high school.”
NBL games were live streamed into India and China last season and the entry of the four Indian players at the combine could be the start of a connection between the league and one of the region’s rising basketball nations.
“I saw a lot of the young Indian kids at the NBA Asia camp they had last year,” Gaze said.
“I saw a handful there, a couple of big kids. I think they’re still a fair way away and aren’t as advanced as other parts of the world.
“But any country with 1.3 billion people, you have to pay attention to, because sheer weight of numbers suggests there’s bound to be a few there that are going to be ok.”
Gaze is coach of the Sydney Kings and also the Tigers in the SEABL so he has seen the likes of Wilson and other SEABL talents up close.
He said the NBL could fill more sides with all the promising talent in Australia and in Asia as shown by the Indian players at the combine with 211-centimetre centre Amritpal Singh looking capable of playing in the NBL.
The league hopes to have nations like China and Philippines send young talent to the combine in the future.
“I think the pathways are becoming a lot more defined and not just with this, with SEABL, kids out of college – there are a variety of different pathways to the NBL,” Gaze said.
“Something like the combine is an extra thing where you can see some of the guys who are playing in the Big V or at state leagues around the country and you get another look at them in a different environment.
“You see some of the imports as well. Last year, Jeremy Kendle came through at this combine and he found his way on a roster.”
“It’s tough because we don’t have enough spots. We need more teams in the NBL. There is a lot of talent here that deserves the opportunity to play in the NBL, but unfortunately, there are limited opportunities.”