Written for nbl.com.au by Tom Hersz
The second day of the 2018 NBL Next Gen Camp was a chance for the 83 players on hand to build on what they learned on day one.
With the testing done, the focus was on adding in additional points of emphasis within their teams, consolidating their structures and then putting it all together in front of representatives from all eight NBL clubs once again.
NBL CEO Jeremy Loeliger closed the camp by addressing the players and stressing the importance to keep working and improving, just as the Next Gen event has done from year to year.
“I have no doubt we’ll see a number of you playing in the NBL this coming season,” Loeliger told the attendees.
He’s not wrong. There has been tremendous buzz from NBL insiders about a number of players. There are a few in consideration for final roster spots, while numerous more will likely be offered development player roles.
It’s a testament to the attitude these players came in with. They have absorbed a lot of information and put their bodies through a very intense series of drills, tests, breakdown sessions and a tough schedule of games each afternoon.
On Day 2, players such as Daniel Grida, Deng Acuoth, Mason Bragg, Lewis Thomas and Durrell McDonald continued to impress, but other players stepped up and caught the eye of NBL teams.
#NBLNextGen ?? 3/4 Court Sprint
3.261 seconds – Mason Bragg
3.297 seconds – Durrell McDonald
3.298 seconds – Michael Nwelue
3.327 seconds – Adrian Tomada
3.331 seconds – Lachlan Gordon Anderson pic.twitter.com/X3DxMkY6BR
— NBL (@NBL) May 22, 2018
One such player is Matt Johns, a 19-year-old 6’8 guard who is currently playing for the Geelong Supercats in the SEABL. Johns was at the BA Centre of Excellence in 2016 and 2017, and is now weighing up his next move.
He’s got definite interest for at least an NBL development roster spot, but is also considering going to play in College later this year. He came into camp well prepared, having grown as a player by moving to play with Geelong this year.
“Last year I was at the Centre of Excellence, so playing against bigger bodies each training [with Geelong] has helped,” Johns told NBL Media.
The condensed two-day format, while challenging, is something players have had to overcome in order to showcase their talents.
“Just got to give everything in the two days,” said Johns.
“Rest after, as there’s not much turnaround obviously, but you’ve just got to put everything out there. You don’t get another chance as there’s only one a year, so just have to do everything you can.”
And Johns has certainly done that. His strong guard play and big frame has been noticed and while he’s pleased with that recognition, his goal coming in was simpler than that.
“Just getting better,” Johns explained of his main focus at Next Gen.
“If that’s getting an NBL spot or still going to College, just to keep growing my game each chance I have at one of these camps is going to put me in the best spot for the future.”
Someone with a similar mindset was Jonathan Tchatchoua, a 19-year old forward from Cameroon who is currently at the NBA Global Academy in Canberra. His aggressive play and high-IQ has turned heads at the two-day event.
“I was just trying to play as hard as possible,” Tchatchoua told NBL Media.
“To compete against the best guys of my age and older than me. The players are really good and you can see different types of players as everyone is really different, so it’s a good place to learn.”
Tchatchoua is committed to UNLV for the upcoming NCAA season and believes his time in Australia with the Global Academy, as well as the two-day Next Gen Camp has him well prepared for the next phase of his basketball journey.
“I learned to play basketball here,” he said of his time in Canberra.
“I learned everything about basketball IQ, how to move on the court. I developed a lot of my game at the Centre of Excellence and this [Next Gen] prepares me to play against older guys who play very hard.”
In the midst of all the action, the Camp got a visit from someone who knows a thing or two about finding the right development opportunities and pathways to advance your career.
Andrew Bogut stopped by to address the media and check out the action. He was impressed by the professional nature of the camp, and the importance of the opportunity it provides.
The media sure love themselves a bit of @andrewbogut action.
— NBL (@NBL) May 22, 2018
“It’s my first year in the NBL, so happy to be part of the Next Gen Camp,” Bogut told Media.
“It’s a great initiative to have just a pathway. I think if just one kid – hopefully we’ll have more – but if one kid becomes a professional athlete from a camp like this, it sets a precedent for the future.
“In the past in Australia, there was a disconnect between the junior and senior level and kids got lost in the transition. So these kind of events keep kids’ dreams alive.
“Whether they go to the NCAA, the NBL, Europe or the NBA, these kind of camps will help. So hopefully it helps our talent pool.
“There’s a lot of good kids all around Australia that sometimes don’t get noticed, so the more that we can notice, the better it is for the game.”
NBL CEO Jeremy Loeliger stressed to media how important it was for the NBL to provide opportunities like this if the game is to continue to grow.
“The NBL, in partnership with Basketball Australia, are taking a really aggressive approach to identifying and making sure that we get Australia’s best young athletes into the game of Basketball, competing at the highest level and hopefully coming through the NBL, and making their way onto very successful careers both here in Australia and abroad,” Loeliger said.
If the copious amount of note-taking from NBL coaches is any indication, there will be a number of successful careers launched from this event.
One such coach was Andrew Gaze who last year found two players from the camp in Adam Thoseby and Amritpal Singh. He knows what to look for, but admits it’s not always the best way to evaluate a player you’re seeing for the first time.
“You’re looking at the skillset, how they move, how they interact with their teammates, their athleticism; there’s a whole bunch of things you’re looking at,” Gaze told NBL Media.
“This is not necessarily a great environment to pick a lot of that stuff up because you’re not hands on. You see this as your starting point and you progress from there.”
Having said that, Gaze brought in Thoseby and Singh for an extended look following last year’s event, which enabled him to see how they’d fit into the Kings system and follow his instructions.
“There are some kids you look at right now and you say ‘well we’ll take him if he’s available’,” Gaze added.
The ? hasn’t fallen far from the ? with these two…
— NBL (@NBL) May 22, 2018
However for the majority, it would be the first step in evaluating their potential as a likely development player the way Sydney’s roster is already constructed for NBL19.
“We’re probably looking for someone that may be able to help us a little bit now, but might have a bit more of a future that we can work with, develop and get in our program,” Gaze added.
Gaze also attended the event last year and he was impressed with the growth from one year to the next, especially in the depth of talent on hand this year.
“The thing that sticks out to me when you see a tournament like this – there’s many, many players here that I think can play – at some level – at the NBL level,” he said.
“And what it does indicate is that we need more teams, we need more opportunities.
“If they don’t get picked up here and there are no other opportunities at an elite level where they can train and continue to develop their skills, then they may not get to a point where they fulfil that potential.
“There absolutely is a lot of talent here that deserves opportunity.”
Bring on the Next Generation.