Written for nbl.com.au by Tom Hersz
For the third straight year, the next generation of NBL talent descended on Melbourne looking to showcase their talents in a unique two-day camp.
Re-branded as the NBL Next Gen, some 80 hopefuls were put through their paces as NBL Coaches, Executives and Player Agents looked on.
The morning session included an introductory talk from Next Gen Camp Director, Patrick Hunt, followed by warms ups before getting straight into the athletic testing.
Athletes were put through their paces by ‘Rookie Me’ – the same company that tests AFL players. They went through various drills including agility testing, sprints, standing vertical and wingspan measurements, with the results to be collated in the coming days.
— NBL (@NBL) May 21, 2018
From there, the players were divided into eight teams – each named after an NBL club – where their assigned coach worked with them on offensive sets and breakdowns ahead of the three games each team would play.
Dave Biwer, Head Coach of the Nunawading Spectres in SEABL and the Australian 3×3 Men’s Team, was one of those eight coaches. Bringing 10 players together in a short period of time is never easy, so having key points of emphasis was important on Day One.
“The first thing you’ve got to teach them is coachability,” Biwer told NBL Media at the conclusion of the first day.
“You know that the NBL guys are watching and it’s so important today with locker room guys. So I want to make sure that first of all they were looking like teammates, cos there were a lot of people out here trying to earn a spot and be an individual, and that can definitely come off wrong to a coach out there.
“And then intensity. You know, define yourself as a player. So if you’re a defender, be a defender; don’t all of a sudden become an offensive player.”
The players attending are all from different backgrounds and different standards. Some are trying to break into the league. Others are trying to further their careers after a taste of NBL action.
Mason Bragg, who was a development player with the Perth Wildcats these past two years is one such player who is looking to find his next opportunity. He is currently playing for NW Tasmania in the SEABL.
“Because I didn’t play too much last year with Perth, I’m looking to show the coaches that I can still get out there and that I can match it with the best and be one of the best point guards outside the NBL at the moment,” Bragg said in between games.
“Obviously you want to be super aggressive and look to put points on the board, but at the same time you’ve got to have that degree of pace as well. So not always being aggressive, you’ve got to look to set your team up and set the guys up, and also just make the team bond together and be that general point guard that teams are looking for.
“But I love this environment where everyone’s around and getting to know each other and you can have all the coaches in the one stadium where you don’t get to have that very often, so it’s a pretty good day.”
For Deng Acuoth, who spent last season as a development player with the Sydney Kings, this is a chance to get in front of the other seven teams and continue to showcase what he can do.
His length, athleticism and defence were evident, but so was his basketball IQ. Clearly his time with the Kings has taught him a thing or two about what it takes to succeed at NBL level.
“Just training with pros like Brad [Newley], Kev [Lisch], all these older guys that have been through it all,” Acuoth explained.
“They’ve been guiding me through and helping me just learn how to be a pro.”
Acuoth’s squad, Team Melbourne, were very impressive all day with strong contributions from the likes of Matthew Johns, Will Deng and Mount Gambier forward Lewis Thomas who quickly caught the attention of several NBL clubs with his high IQ play.
— Closer Sport (@closersport) May 21, 2018
“First game was great,” said Acuoth. “Our team came out with great energy. We were talking, good shooting and good transition defence.”
When you’ve only been playing together for a couple of hours, it’s important to communicate, play structured basketball and bring intensity.
This was evident all day from Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence shooting guard, Daniel Grida. He attended last year’s event and saw the difference right away in how this year’s Next Gen was structured and the calibre of player on hand.
“I feel like it’s a better run event,” Grida told NBL Media.
“There are a lot more players here this year. You’ve got the NBA Academy here which is really good, bring a lot of athleticism and stuff, but I feel like I’m more prepared as well.”
Grida was a standout player at the 2017 event and his game has clearly improved since then. Like any player trying to break into the league, his goals here are pretty simple.
“Just trying to get some more looks from some more clubs around the league,” Grida explained.
“I’ve been doing some training with Perth, so had some looks from them, but also trying to get my name out there more.”
Being a second-time attendee, he had a better idea of what to expect and how to approach the event, especially on the first day.
“I think you’ve got to come in aggressive, you’ve got to know what you want to do, but you’ve also got to keep your team involved. It’s also about winning, we’re all trying to win.”
Biwer, who coached Grida today on Team Perth, thought it was clear that he came to play on Day One.
“Grida for us was a standout,” said Biwer.
“I think most of basketball knows about him nowadays but being able to coach him for even a few hours, you see it. He scores, he passes, he defends, he’s an athlete. He’s a full threat out there on the court.”
Other players turning heads included NBL Global Academy players Jonathon Tchatchoua (Cameroon) and seven-footer Francisco Caffaro (Argentina), as well as former Sydney and Brisbane import Jeremy Kendle.
— NBL (@NBL) May 21, 2018
The second and final day will involve a similar schedule without the athletic testing. The coaching sessions will focus on Pick and Roll situations, both offensively and defensively, plus more structure to build on what was implemented on the opening day.
“A little bit more structure and a little bit more trying to isolate guys into where their strengths are, because right now we’re probably putting people into positions they’re not used to,” Biwer said of the focus for Day Two.
“As we went through the day, you know we see our post player can play a little bit in the post so we’re throwing it a little bit more in there. I think a lot more of the same of that.
“Play to people’s strengths on the offensive end and teach them a lot of that on-ball defence as much as possible as we move forward because obviously that’s the biggest trick in basketball nowadays.”
The 2018 NBL Next Gen concludes tomorrow.