Written for nbl.com.au by Liam Santamaria
Need an import? Looking for a small forward? Join the Conger line.
Illawarra Hawks star Demitrius Conger has confirmed that at least three NBL teams are chasing his signature for the upcoming season.
Conger was a revelation for the Hawks last season, ranking second in the league in scoring, leading his team in rebounding, polling second in MVP voting and receiving All-NBL First Team honours.
Following his impressive NBL18, Conger signed a short-term deal in Spain, where he has been playing well to close out the season.
Speaking with NBL Media this week from Spain, Conger made it clear he’s open to returning to Australia next season and, despite receiving interest from numerous NBL clubs, he has not ruled out the possibility of re-joining the Hawks.
“I would definitely love to come back to the NBL,” Conger said.
“As far as next season goes, I haven’t made up my mind on anything. Every option is an option to me right now.
“I’m not going to say I’m definitely going back to Australia or that I’m going to do a whole season in Europe. The best situation for me – basketball-wise and off the court – that is the situation I will lean to.”
Unsurprisingly, a number of NBL teams are after his services.
“Three that I know of personally,” Conger said.
“But I don’t know the details of the conversations between my agent and teams in the NBL.
“Right now it’s still the Australian players getting signed. Once they all get figured out then the imports will get signed.”
The Hawks got maximum bang for their buck with Conger last season after head coach Rob Beveridge used his keen eye and vast coaching experience to recruit the stud small forward out of Belgium.
However Conger won’t come cheap this year. Sources have told NBL Media that his agent has set a price tag that would make him one of the highest paid players in the league.
It’s a mark that could potentially price the Hawks out of the market. Which begs the question: what would it take to get Conger back to the ‘Gong?
“Obviously the financial aspect plays a part,” he said.
“Basketball-wise I love playing for ‘Bevo’ but it will also depend on some of the guys that they bring back. I know Mitch (Norton) and Nick (Kay) left and those are two big losses.
“The playing style of the NBL suits me and especially playing under ‘Bevo’, you can’t really ask for a better coach.”
— Brotherhood Studios (@wearebhstudios) December 31, 2017
In the meantime, Conger’s busy doing his thing in one of the most highly-regarded leagues in the world.
He started slowly but after being moved into the starting line-up in early April, has really come to life. Since the change, Conger’s club, Joventut, has won seven of their past eight games with their only loss coming to European powerhouse Real Madrid.
Over his past four, Conger is averaging 15.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Those are legit numbers in any league, but put them up in the ACB and your name starts reverberating around the globe.
For Conger, it’s all been about adapting to a new style of play.
“When I played with the Hawks I had the ball in my hands. It was more create or score,” he explained.
“Whereas here it is more about me playing without the ball; slashing, cutting, one dribble pull-ups, running in transition, running the floor and stuff like that.
“To come smack in at the middle of the season and change your whole playing style, it takes a little bit of getting used to.”
Of course, such is life for the global pro hooper. Every year – sometimes twice or three times a year – it’s a new country, a new league, a new team and a new coach. Adapting is part of the job description.
“Everywhere across the world everyone plays basketball differently,” Conger said.
“The way we play back in the States is similar to Australian basketball but at the same time Australian basketball is Australian basketball. You have little things that you do that is different from us.
“With European basketball, when I came onto this team, for the first three weeks I sort of struggled because I have played in Europe but I’ve never played Spanish basketball and it’s different.
“It’s different from playing against a team from Germany. Even my team in Belgium played differently.
“Things like that, experiencing all different styles of basketball, it all helps.”
— Liga Endesa (@ACBCOM) May 13, 2018
Conger, who turns 28 towards the end of this month, is hoping to parlay his excellent play in both the NBL and ACB into a shot at making an NBA roster.
If that’s to happen, his first steps will come via workouts at a free agent mini-camp (or two) and/or through an appearance at July’s NBA Summer League.
Amazingly, Conger has never previously had the chance to display his talents in Las Vegas during the summer – something he’s definitely keen to do this year.
“The Summer League is one of the things you can’t really pass up on…I’ve never experienced it so I feel like it would be great,” Conger said.
While the Summer League is usually a showcase for younger players there are always a few spots available for guys with a little more experience.
This year, with NBA folks paying closer attention to his game, Conger will likely get his shot.
“My agent has been talking to people (about the Summer League) but it’s kind of hard to say what’s what right now because you’ve got the draft and all that stuff going on. Nothing really gets rolling until after the draft,” he said.
“Once that has passed, once the workouts have passed, that’s when you start hearing something more concrete.”
For now, it’s a waiting game… for both Conger and the NBL clubs that are chasing him.