Why should you head down to Margaret Court Arena or tune into NBL.TV/Facebook tomorrow to check out Melbourne United taking on Team China?
Well, a quick look at the team lists gives plenty of reasons.
Olympians David Andersen, Chris Goulding and David Barlow, former college superstar Venky Jois, junior standout William McDowell-White, new recruit and former Fremantle footballer Craig Moller, Majok Majok fresh from his NBA camp experience and, of course, fan favourite Wild Kyle Adnam.
Then flip the page to Team China, who were so impressive in their 2-1 series win over the CPA Australia NBL All-Australian team last week.
There’s powerhouse centre Han Dejun, emerging NBA prospect Hu Jinqiu, sharp-shooting guards Wu Qian, Zhao Yanhao and Yu Dehao, along with entertaining veteran bomber Li Gen, who plays with his heart on his sleeve and his shot on the ready.
Of course, there is also Olympian and national team superstar Guo Ailun, who is firmly on the radar of several NBA teams and who puts on a high-speed show every time he hits the floor.
It is also the debut of new Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman, who is bringing his squad together for the first time and faces an enormous test against Asia’s most successful national team.
“I was really impressed with the way they defended against Australia and some really high-quality guards in Randle and Kendle,” Vickerman said.
The full-court defence of Guo, Wu and Yu in the CPA Australia series caused plenty of headaches, and Vickerman is looking forward to seeing how the inexperienced Adnam and McDowell-White handle it.
“Against those guys, advancing the basketball, these guys one-on-one will be solid, but they might need some assistance with screening up the floor to get things started,” he said.
Will he or won’t he?
The presence of junior national team star and former Sydney King McDowell-White – son of AFL premiership player Darryl White – has certainly got tongues wagging, and Vickerman isn’t hiding the fact this game is like a try-out for both sides of the equation.
“For Will, obviously we’re looking for a replacement for Daniel Dillon,” the United boss said.
“There is an offer for him in Germany, he’s going to play this game and weigh things up a little bit, and we’ll weigh things up a little bit to see if that’s the right fit for us.
“We’re trying out a number of people in that position, and have throughout the week, so hopefully we’ll be able to make a decision on that next week.
“He’s obviously done some things at a really high level with junior elite camps and national junior teams and now it’s time for him to show it on a pro level.”
Where China really excelled defensively for much of last week’s series was denying entry into offence, and Vickerman said his new squad will “play out of simple concepts” and “won’t have a great amount of structure we can go to”.
Vickerman will be hoping Goulding can bring his quality shotmaking and playmaking, but admits with his star returning from injury he is “an unlikely starter” and he’ll have to “see what we can get out of him at practice” before making a call on whether he hits the court Sunday.
If CG43 is out of action, Melbourne we rely more on their frontcourt of Andersen, Majok, Vois and former Sydney reserve Jordan Vandenberg to put points on the board.
With Andersen and Majok getting ready for Boomers camp starting on Wednesday, Vickerman is expecting to get some good minutes from his 2016/17 starting duo.
“Majok’s just come off the NBA camp so he’s in pretty good shape, and I expect to get 20 minutes or close to 20 minutes from those guys,” he said.
While the inclusion of Jois, fresh of a strong rookie season in Estonia, may have excited United fans, Vickerman was quick to pour water on that fire.
“We don’t have a roster spot available to him, but it’s what we want to continue to do, if you’re a college kid coming home or a European player coming home we’re available to practice with us, and if we can play you in a game and help you get exposed that’s what we want to do,” he said.
But he admitted Melbourne’s resurgent basketball team is always looking to the future, and he welcomes the opportunity to assess both Jois and Vandenberg.
“We’re in a situation where all our four bigs are out of contract next year, so we’ll keep looking at what’s going to be available,” he said.
“Hopefully all our guys return but if not, we want to keep having a look at what options are out there.”
Challenge the big fella
While some may be surprised to see Vandenberg on that list after he seemingly disappeared off the pro scene last year, Vickerman said the 216cm giant has been making good progress and will present a good match up for gigantic Chinese centre Han Dejun.
“It’s a luxury to have a seven-footer that’s back from a really good season in Japan where he won the championship,” he said.
“He’s a shot blocker and a really good finisher around the rim, and hopefully he can challenge the big fella.”
Vickerman built a New Zealand championship around his defence-first philosophy, and fans should expect nothing less as he takes his first step as Melbourne boss on Sunday.
“Our greater focus is to make sure we establish our defensive principles, to play with high energy, to at least match it and take it above the energy the Chinese play with,” he said.
After watching the NBL All-Australian team get better as their series went on, Vickerman said his team had taken a number of lessons from ways they found to slow Team China’s slick ball movement.
“I thought at different times when they put the pressure back on the Chinese, trapping ball screens and were more aggressive,” he said.
“There are a lot of things to learn there, defensively we probably won’t play as much zone compared to what they did, we just want to work on our own rules and right now we want to do that working in our man-to-man setting.”
And he’s looking forward to the challenge of subduing both China’s strong interior and an exceptional perimeter game when defences double down.
“I think all their guards (are good), there are some extremely capable shooters there, so we’ve worked this week on our ball pressure and our close-outs, trying to limit their catch and shoot,” he said.
“It will be a tough task, the screens they’ll have to fight through and the weight difference they’re going against in those screens is going to be a tough challenge.”
Melbourne United will play China at Margaret Court Arena on Sunday July 16 starting at 3pm, live on NBL.TV and the NBL Facebook Page.
The Brisbane Bullets will play China at Carrara on Tuesday July 18 starting at 7pm.