South East Melbourne has narrowly avoided the postponement of its New Year’s Day clash in Tasmania after injury, Covid and illness ripped through the club.
Coach Simon Mitchell, earlier in the week, feared his side would not be able to go on Sunday against the JackJumpers with seven players in doubt.
“It was very much a possibility,” Mitchell said.
“We’ve been on the road all week, in each others’ pockets and, when one Covid positive comes back and guys come down with all the symptoms, there’s a chance of a breakout in the group.
“We’ll still be missing a few, but we’re past that now.”
Covid struck centre Dane Pineau, while both Trey Kell and Anzac Rissetto came down with symptoms but did not test positive.
Star centre Alan Williams was in doubt with an ankle injury after he missed the Christmas Eve loss to Adelaide, while initial fears Junior Madut had suffered a stress fracture in his foot were allayed when scans showed a clean bill of health.
Pineau returned a negative test and flew to Tasmania, while both Williams and Madut trained strongly and are in the squad. Rissetto is good to go, Kell practised Friday, but was still not feeling well, although Mitchell said the San Diego native would play.
Star point guard Gary Browne is unlikely to appear in the next three games but Ryan Broekhoff, on Friday, took to the court for the first time since he went down with a hip injury two weeks ago and moved well, before ending his session early to rest the troublesome ailment.
The former NBA sharpshooter won’t play against the Jackies, but is a chance to return for Wednesday’s ladder-shaping clash with top-of-the-table Sydney.
They need him — without the high IQ defensive organiser who is shooting 45 per cent on almost five treys per game, Phoenix are just 7-11 across the past two seasons.
But they own a 3-1 all-time record over fellow expansion club Tassie and took an 84-79 win in the season-opener — without Broekhoff, Browne or Kell.
“They don’t tend to lose games with stretches of poor play, you’ve got to go out and beat them,” Mitchell said of the feisty JJs.
“You’ve got to really scrap and fight pretty much every possession.
“We’ve got a pretty good record in the past against them and we were severely undermanned when we played them in round one and got up, so we look forward to that challenge again.”
The JackJumpers are off a short turn around and fell out of the top six following Friday night’s 20-point capitulation at the hands of reigning champion Sydney.
Tasmania JackJumpers 10-9, seventh v South East Melbourne Phoenix 12-8, third
Sunday, January 1, 2pm AEDT AT MyState Bank Arena
Watch on Kayo Sports and Foxtel
KINGS COACH SUSPENDED FOR BOOTING DOOR
Sydney coach Chase Buford has been rubbed out by the NBL after an investigation by its integrity unit.
It means he won’t be on the sidelines for Friday night’s grand final rematch with Tasmania.
News Corp has been told the fiery mentor booted a door at Traralgon’s GRISS venue after the Kings’ December 18 one-point loss in double overtime to South East Melbourne.
The investigation determined Buford’s action, which left the door damaged, was a breach of the league’s code of conduct and triggered the one-game suspended sentence that had been hanging over his head since last season.
Buford, at the time, paid a $10,000 fine and was slapped with suspended sentence after he said he hoped referee Chris Reid wouldn’t officiate any games in the Kings’ semi-final clash with Illawarra.
The Kings have accepted the ban.
Buford, who, on Christmas Day, coached the Kings against Melbourne United, is among the league’s most animated coaches and often walks the line on the sidelines.
Assistant Kevin Lisch will take the reigns against the JackJumpers.
MIND GAMES OF A DIFFERENT TYPE AHEAD OF GF REMATCH
Three days out from a grand final rematch, Sydney Kings star Dejan Vasiljevic retweets a couple of Tasmania JackJumpers rival Jack McVeigh’s tweets.
The Kings, who beat the JackJumpers 3-0 in last year’s NBL championship series, owe the boys from the Apple Isle after they “punked” them in Sydney earlier this season.
But there are no mind games going on here.
Or, maybe there are — just not in the way you might think.
The two Boomers are long-time buddies, coming up through the AIS together and teaming up in recent FIBA World Cup qualifiers.
DJ says McVeigh’s positive outlook and inspirational work in the mental health space are making a difference for many — including himself.
“We’ve been pretty close for seven or eight years, we stay in touch,” Vasiljevic said.
“The things Jack posts are insightful and are good for mental health — what he’s posted has helped me.”
The two will do battle on Friday night in another grudge match that won’t be easy for the reigning champions, who, while sitting top of the pops in the NBL, still have some kinks to work out before the business end of the season.
“We’re being hunted now, some teams have punked us early and we’ve paid the price,” Vasiljevic said.
“We can be a lot tougher on the ball and (coach) Chase (Buford) has emphasised that, as well as touching up a few things on offence like sharing the ball, hitting the pockets and making wide-open shots.”
The Canadian-born Miami Hurricanes’ alum said while the focus for the Kings was to hit their straps at the right time, it was imperative they finished in the top two to avoid the play-in games under the NBL’s new finals format.
A key to that will be the 25-year-old’s ability to bust out of a shooting slump — something he’s acutely aware of and has owned, having gone 7-47 from deep across his last eight games — under 15 per cent.
“Everyone I’ve talked to, they understand everyone goes through a slump and once the floodgates open it can get really dangerous,” Vasiljevic said.
“For me, all I’ve got to do is keep shooting, there’s nothing else you can change.
“I feel like if you start to focus deep into a mental or psychology state of what you can change or ‘is my form this or that’, then you start to overthink the game.
“The past few games, I’ve seen a lot of shots go in and out and I guess I’ve done something wrong, the basketball gods aren’t rewarding me right now but it’ll come.”
As for the Jackies, DJ has a healthy respect for the expansion club as it continues to punch above its weight.
“They all brought into their system and have done great things and obviously challenged us really hard in the grand final,” he said.
“Even though we won 3-0, I feel like it’s a lot closer than people think.
“They’ve got great players — Will Magnay’s back now and Milton Doyle’s playing unbelievable basketball and everyone else is just following him.”
***Sydney Kings 12-5, first v Tasmania JackJumpers 10-8, fifth
Friday, December 30, 7.30pm AEDT, Qudos Bank Arena
Watch on Kayo, Foxtel.
BAYNES’ PRIDE IN AUSSIE NBA TAKEOVER
Every time Aron Baynes turns on an NBA game, the first thing he does is check which Aussies are taking the floor.
The hulking Boomers big man is proud of the legacy this generation of Aussie ballers have built and is excited for the future the likes of Josh Giddey, Josh Green, Jack White and Jock Landale and others have ahead of them.
The former NBA man and Brisbane Bullet says next year’s FIBA World Cup is still on his agenda as he continues to regain his strength and fitness in the wake of a serious back injury that almost curtailed his career.
“There’s never any doubt of mine that, so long as I’m healthy and playing at the level I know I can play at, then that’s always something I want to do,” Baynes told News Corp.
“I’ve just got to go out there and prove that I can do that and then we’ll speak about that in the off-season.
“But you always want to put on the green and gold and go out there and represent your country.
“It’s the purest form of basketball and it’s the ultimate for me to compete with my mates and compete for Australia.”
Baynes hailed the young guns who will spearhead the Boomers in the future, proud he can turn on an NBA game and watch one or more of the 10 Aussies strutting their stuff on the biggest stage.
“It’s amazing. The best thing is being able to, wherever I’m at, watch as much of their games as I can,” he said.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of building Australian basketball over the past few years.
“Guys like (NBL owner) Larry Kestelman what he’s done with the league and all the coaches and players and even the past Boomers getting back in amongst it, (Sydney Kings owner and three-time NBA champion) Luc Longley and (San Antonio Spurs assistant and former Boomer) Matt Neilsen — everyone that has gone through and will go through the Australian program we only wish the best for.
“That’s the ultimate for us, seeing our mates succeed in the basketball world.
“That puts more of a spotlight on basketball here in Australia which, at the end of the day, has been so good to all of us, individually and collectively.
“We just want to share it with as many people as we can.”
The just-turned 36-year-old has played a key role in building the now-famed Boomers’ culture, with the likes of Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova and Joe Ingles recognising the importance of the work of past greats like Phil Smyth, Andrew Gaze and company.
“Over the last few years we’ve started understanding who came before us, how much it meant to them and what it still means to them,” Baynes said.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to have our core group in there for so long and every single time we put that jersey on, it’s in the forefront of our mind that, not only are we representing ourselves, our family, our friends, the clubs we played for, we’re also representing the guys who have put the jersey on before us.
“It’s not something we take lightly and it’s a credit to those guys who came before us that we’ve built an environment that we want to pass on and share with everyone who is coming into the program.”
BULLETS CEO ADDRESSES CLUB TURMOIL
—Callum Dick and Michael Randall
Brisbane chief executive Peter McLennan has broken his silence amid the turmoil engulfing the Bullets, saying the club “lost control” during its month-long coach saga.
McLennan announced assistant Greg Vanderjagt would see out the season, denied reports of a rift with basketball boss Sam Mackinnon and guaranteed Boomers great Aron Baynes would be at the club next season.
McLennan backed in Mackinnon amid reports their relationship had become “toxic”.
Multiple sources have told News Corp tension between the pair had risen amid a power struggle that had become “untenable” after the Bullets’ legend declined an offer to coach out the season to, instead, remain as general manager of basketball.
But McLennan said his relationship with Mackinnon was “healthy” and “robust” and said the club great was “part of what we’re doing”.
“Sammy and I have a huge responsibility to lead this club, both from him overseeing the basketball department, myself to improve the stability of the club for the long term and the short term,” McLennan said.
“Sam and I have a healthy relationship because we debate things.
“Is that a rift or things that I’m reading about? If us having really robust, solid conversations to be better, bring it on every day of the week, because that’s a healthy environment.
“I don’t want just ‘yes’ people here. I want people to debate things, to challenge things because that is going to make us better.”
After James Duncan was sacked and Mackinnon stepped back after four games as interim, McLennan said initial reports American Todd Purves would be the club’s next coach were off the mark. He also denied the Bullets had gauged the interest of former coach Joey Wright, but sources said the well-travelled mentor, who is based in Adelaide, was contacted and told the club he was not interested.
It’s understood Baynes, who signed a two-year deal after a miraculous recovery from a shocking back injury that threatened his career, has been frustrated with the direction of the club.
But McLennan assured he would be at the Bullets next season: “Yep, yeah, AB’s contracted, so he’ll be here.”
News Corp, this week, revealed players had discussed boycotting a game after Mackinnon stood down as coach, a fact both McLennan and Vanderjagt refuted.
Vanderjagt arrived at the Bullets in 2019 as head of community development, became an assistant, then interim and is now the club’s mentor for the last 12 games of the season.
Incredibly, Vanderjagt revealed that, in 2008, he’d signed with Bullets just weeks before the club folded.
He said then-Bullets’ coach Wright phoned him and told him the ownership at the time had pulled its funding, forcing a move to Gold Coast Blaze.
The Bullets are languishing in second-last at 4-12 have lost six of their seven games since Duncan was sacked — by an average of 22.5 points.
But Vanderjagt hasn’t given up hope of a finals run.
“With changing playoff formats and the way the league is right now with the middle of the ladder so congested, we still have a realistic shot at making the play in games and making some noise in the playoffs,” Vanderjagt said.
Originally published as NBL news 2022: South East Melbourne avoids postponement of New Year’s Day match