Feuds, failures, dunks and delights: The NBL year that was

    From dunk of the year to the league personalities who aren’t exactly on each other’s Christmas card list, here’s a fun look at the year that was.OFF THE CHRISTMAS CARD LISTSydney Kings majority owner Paul Smith and the rest of the league:The most outgoing owner in the league is parochial about his club, has built a thriving brand and never shies away from having a crack. Among his targets this year: The 36ers, Melbourne United, Illawarra, league owner Larry Kestelman and Perth owner Craig Hutchison. Lumps of coal for them all from the ‘Hoops Capital’.Brisbane Bullets general manager of basketball Sam Mackinnon and chief executive Peter McLennan:Two opinionated men who are running the basket case that is Brisbane. Rarely talk and when they do, they don’t have much nice to say about each other. Have been described as ‘like oil and water’. Work Christmas party would have been interesting. Adelaide 36ers and axed import Craig Randall II:Wildly talented. Impossible to deal with. The Sixers tried everything they could, including bringing in an external consultant, to get Randall to fit in. A documentary released on Friday was damning evidence it was never going to work in the City of Churches. A ‘Character guy’ was first on the Sixers’ list of replacements.Aussie tennis star Nick Kyrgios and NBL great Steve Carfino:Carfino called out Nick Kyrgios for acting like a jackass in a celebrity game in Sydney, calling him a “jerk” and “unsportsmanlike”. Nick being Nick, responded with a doozy “you potato”. No roasted spuds for King Kyrgios.Melbourne United star Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Illawarra Hawks majority owner Jared Novelly:Rathan-Mayes was keen to stay in the Illawarra and Novelly told him they wanted him to — then the star guard never heard another word from the Hawks.Cairns coach Adam Forde and everyone who said the Taipans would finish last:Fiery Forde has put together something special up north and, as pundits wrote off the Taipans at the start of the season, he used it as motivation for his orange army.DUNK OF THE YEARXavier Cooks v Melbourne UnitedLong and athletic, Sydney Kings’ MVP candidate Xavier Cooks has thrown down a number of dunks that have set tongues wagging.But none quite like the poster he put on Melbourne United on October 9.Cooks caught the ball at full speed from Dejan Vasiljevic, took his two steps, then took off, literally, rising into the stratosphere to throw down one of the nastiest dunks ever seen in the NBL, United centre Isaac Humphries the victim.DJ was in awe of the dunk and the Kings even made T-shirts with an image of the epic hammer on it — although they didn’t end up making good on a plan to wear them in the warm up.You know Humphries is a competitor, because he never shies away from trying to stop a big dunker. No business decisions for Ice, but it meant that Deng Deng, last round, threw down a ferocious tomahawk on his head for Illawarra.The league’s best athlete in Melbourne United’s Rayjon Tucker has had four or five dunks that are out of this world, Antonius Cleveland’s steal and windmill against the Bullets was so damn aesthetic. Keanu Pinder has thrown down a number of huge slams, including one on a floor wiper in Tassie.KINGS OF CLUTCHShaun Bruce, Sydney KingsThe league’s best trash talker and one of its coolest cats in the clutch. Brucey, this season, has bailed out the Kings twice in a month, first finding birthday boy Kouat Noi for a buzzer-beating trey that downed the Taipans, then draining his own deep dagger to defeat arch rival Illawarra. Night, night.NBL: Sydney Kings stole victory from the Illawarra Hawks with a stunning buzzer beater from Shaun Bruce.Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Melbourne UnitedLook up the definition of refusing to lose and you’ll see a video of XRM’s masterclass against the Hawks. In an entertaining back and forth clash, the Canadian poured in seven points in the last three minutes of regulation — including the bucket that should have won it for United, only for Hawk Tyler Harvey to tie it. Rathan-Mayes then scored eight points in the first OT, then six in the second to ensure the United win. That’s 21 points in 13 minutes, all under heat.Corey Webster, Perth WildcatsCompleted the most-remarkable comeback of the season when his three ball gave the Wildcats victory against United — from eight points down with 35 seconds to go in game — in his 250th NBL appearance, no less.NBL: Corey Webster was the hero for Perth as they pulled off a dramatic finish, landing a three pointer in the dying seconds.Dejan Vasiljevic, Sydney KingsThe biggest shot in the biggest game of the season, DJ put game two of the NBL grand final against Tasmania to bed with a three-pointer from way downtown to seal a 90-86 win.BEST COMEBACKSCairns v Sydney, round 8Perth v Melbourne United, round 10On the court, it’s hard to go past the Cairns Taipans ending the Sydney Kings 17-game road winning streak back in round 8.The Kings led by 14 points early in the fourth quarter, and by eight with under four minutes remaining, but the Taipans surged home to win in overtime.How about Perth pinching the victory from United when they were down by eight with just 35 seconds left in the game.New Zealand and CairnsThe Breakers and Taipans finished last and second-last in NBL22 and no one rated them. The Breakers are now top, while the Taipans are fourth. That’s a meteoric rise that no one saw coming for either team.Corey Webster, PerthOff the court, the best was Perth guard Corey Webster hitting back at his former club New Zealand for a cheeky pre-game sledge.Webster is one of the Breakers’ most loyal servants and won three NBL championship with the team.The Breakers’ social media team put out an eyebrow-raising post in the lead-up to the game that took aim at Webster, featuring a billboard advertisement comparing him to a pussycat.The since-deleted post fired up Webster, who was injected into Perth’s starting line-up and scored 26 points including 16 in the third quarter in a matchwinning performance.The Wildcats won 94-82 and Webster admitted his old team’s sledge played a role in his dominant performance.“I was pretty surprised by that to be honest after I’ve given my heart and soul to this club for many years,” Webster said.BEST PERFORMANCE OF THE YEARMitch Creek 46 v Derrick Walton Jr 45, SEM v Sydney, round 11It was only a little over a week ago, but this was a game that no one will ever forget. Monster Mitch Creek and court King Derrick Walton traded bucket after bucket in a double overtime thriller that produced the two highest individual scores of the year and had NBL legend Lanard Copeland hailing it as the best game he’d ever been involved with.WORST PERFORMANCE OF THE YEARBrisbane and IllawarraThe Bullets and Hawks deserve to share the gong based off both clubs’ forgettable seasons to date.The Bullets have laid multiple eggs this season, but their forgettable 37-point loss to the Breakers in New Zealand back in round 8.Illawarra’s efforts haven’t been much better. The Hawks’ worst display came in round 10 when they were blown out by 39 points against the Southeast Melbourne Phoenix.ROOKIE ON THE RISE?Sam Waardenburg, Cairns TaipansCairns Taipans forward Sam Waardenburg has been a find this season for the North Queenslanders.Waardenburg, originally from Auckland in New Zealand, is averaging 9.54 points on 51 per cent shooting from the field, although he’s been grounded by concussion after suffering a head knock.The 23-year-old New Zealander looks like he belongs in the NBL after he wrapped up his final collegiate season with the Miami Hurricanes (The U) – part of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).Taipans coach Adam Forde revealed a host of teams were in the mix for Waardenburg’s signature.“Sam was a top priority for us this off-season, as he was for many other teams” Forde said.“We started early on Sam with an aggressive pitch as we wanted to paint a picture of how he could complement our team moving forward.“Everyone knows what he is capable of, and how high his ceiling is.”STORY OF THE YEARTasmania JackJumpers.Snuck under the AFL’s nose and became a raging success in Tasmania. Surprise grand final series last season and more than holding their own in year two.Isaac HumphriesShowed courage to come out as gay and the world reciprocated by embracing the towering Melbourne United star. A special moment in a year of positive basketball stories.BRAVERY AWARDMitch Creek, SEMSouth East Melbourne Phoenix star forward Mitch Creek is putting aside a painful foot injury that requires weekly management to lead the Phoenix’s finals charge.The injury causes Creek discomfort, but he is determined to push on to help the Phoenix finally take the next step and win a championship.BEST QUOTE“I’m the best import – no other new import checks off as many boxes.” — Rayjon Tucker, Melbourne UnitedMelbourne United import guard Rayjon Tucker raised eyebrows early doors when he boldly declared he was the league’s best new import.Tucker felt obliged to respond to News Corp’s import power rankings list at the start of the season, which had him at No.5.The 24-year-old was surprised to see his name behind Alan Williams (Phoenix), Jarrell Brantley (Breakers), Tyler Johnson (Bullets) and Derrick Walton Jr (Sydney Kings).Tucker was compelled to reach out and push his case as the NBL’s premier new import.“It’s no disrespect to anyone else that is above me, but I don’t feel like there is a new import better than me,” Tucker said.“I’m here and ready to prove that I’m the NBL’s No.1 new import.”Tucker initially struggled to live up to his self-proclaimed mantle at the start of the season, but he has shown marked improvement in recent rounds as he comes to terms with the league’s physical, intelligent style of play.The American has scored at least 20 points in four of his past six appearances before the Christmas Day clash with the Kings, including a standout 33-point explosion in a round 11 win over local rival South East Melbourne.

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