Written for nbl.com.au by Liam Santamaria
The South East Melbourne Phoenix have assembled their squad for next week’s exhibition games in China while continuing to work behind the scenes on their inaugural NBL roster.
The Phoenix will be taking five of their nine contracted players on the trip to China, including championship-winning guards Adam Gibson and Kyle Adnam.
Big men Dan Trist and Dane Pineau and sharpshooting recruit Kendall Stephens will also be making the trip.
Joining that group will be a number of players who are currently on the Phoenix radar as potential development players, members of their extended squad or possible future signings.
They include highly-touted college graduate Jack Purchase (Melbourne Tigers, NBL1), former Sydney Kings development player Liam Thomas (Diamond Valley Eagles, NBL1) and former New Zealand Breakers big man James Hunter (Knox Raiders, NBL1).
Rounding out the squad will be South Australian prospect Jimma Dau (Central Districts Lions, SA Premier League) as well as Victorian products Austin Treweek (Keysborough Cougars, Big V) and Ben Ursich (Kilsyth Cobras, NBL1).
South East Melbourne’s marquee signing Mitch Creek, two-time NBL champion Tai Wesley, shooting guard Ben Madgen and recent addition Deng Acouth will all sit out the tour.
Next week’s clashes with Jiangsu and Shanghai of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) will be the first games played by the Phoenix since the formation of the club nine months ago.
Despite a number of the team’s key components not playing, head coach Simon Mitchell believes the trip will help lay the foundations for the club’s historic inaugural season.
“Straight away it’s about building an identity,” Mitchell told NBL Media.
“How we train, how we behave, what’s important to us culturally but also on the floor.
“So for us it is building the first step in what will be a long season – a year of learning and a year of building.”
One guy who will be vitally important in that process is Gibson, whose wealth of experience and impressive leadership qualities have already proven valuable no the practice floor.
“Within five minutes of the first training session, whatever you say as a coach ‘Gibbo’ is repeating to the playing group and making sure that everyone is on point,” Mitchell remarked.
“Dan Trist has been amazing and having worked with Dan and Kyle previously, they know what is expected of them and they have both been extremely vocal.
“Between those three I think we have a pretty good base for leadership on the floor.”
Another intriguing element of the trip will be the chance to see Stephens in uniform for the Phoenix. The Aussie-born three-point marksman will be heading straight to China from the United States and will be looking to pick things up on the fly upon arrival.
“We’ll get to see him in the flesh which is exciting,” Mitchell said.
“He’ll be a little bit behind the rest of the group as we’ve been training this week and the guys will have a little bit of an understanding of what will be asked of them.
“So he’ll be thrown to the wolves a little bit but we’ll have one training session and a shoot-around over there before we play so we will be able to get him running through a couple of sets. Hopefully he is in shape and ready to go.”
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The Rise of the Phoenix is here ?? Membership packages are now officially on sale.
— South East Melbourne Phoenix (@SEMelbPhoenix) May 3, 2019
The Phoenix still have two spots to fill on their fully-contracted roster for their first season and are currently looking at possible imports who could start at point guard, centre and/or small forward.
An import point guard is a definite need but how things play out with the rest of their roster will depend on whether Creek, recently announced as a member of the Aussie Boomers squad for this year’s FIBA World Cup, is able to land a spot on an NBA roster.
If Creek is with the Phoenix next season, the league’s newest club will be looking to sign an import five to join the 2018 NBL Fan’s MVP and Wesley in what would be a formidable starting front-line.
However if Creek does find himself on an NBA roster, it makes sense that South East Melbourne would then be in the market for a replacement marquee local – either a small forward or a centre – and an impact import in the other position.
“For us it is really just making sure that we know the marketplace,” Mitchell explained.
“We know what we are looking for from a point guard perspective but we aren’t sure, obviously, what the other import will be, as that will be pending the Mitch Creek decision.
“To an extent that won’t only depend on what happens with Mitch but also who is available at that time. Is Deng Adel available? Is Ryan Broekhoff available? Is this guy available, is that guy available? There are only a handful of small forwards who you would say, ‘Okay they could maybe fill the breach.’
“In terms of bigs, you’ve got Mangok Mathiang, Duop Reath, etc. There are a lot of five men who may be shaken out of the tree at that time.
“For us it is really a sit and wait game and we just do our due diligence on the guys who we feel would be of interest if that scenario plays out.”
The Phoenix will fly out this Sunday to face the Jiangsu Dragons in Nanjing on Wednesday May 29 before taking on the Shanghai Sharks in Shanghai on Friday May 31.