The new crop of imports coming into the NBL this year will have a major impact on just how entertaining the #HardBall campaign will be. Yesterday we tipped off with Part 1 looking at the imports for Adelaide, Cairns, Illawarra and Melbourne.
Part 2 continues today with New Zealand, Perth, Sydney and Townsville.
New Zealand Breakers
What can you say about the NBL Champs? Not much needs to change when you have the winning formula so right. Having just won his 2nd Grand Final MVP, Cedric Jackson will return to bring his leadership, tenacity and scoring mentality for another go-around with Dean Vickerman’s squad.
The Entertainer took very little time to re-acclimate himself with the NBL last season as he took home Player of the Week honours twice, Player of the Month in February, recorded two triple-doubles and put his third NBL Championship ring on his now heavily decorated fingers.
The hero from Game 2, Ekene Ibekwe is gone, but the Breakers have replaced a lot of what he gave them with, just to confuse things, another C. Jackson. Yes, the Breakers announced earlier this week that Charles Jackson, a 6’10”, 225lb centre out of Tennessee Tech, has signed to be their second import.Jackson went undrafted in this year’s NBA Draft and then had a cup of coffee with the Sixers at Summer League, where he averaged 7.5 points and 6 rebounds in four games. He’s not going to make any All-Interview Teams, but Jackson will bring a solid and active interior game after averaging 13 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.3 blocks with 18 double-doubles as a Junior with the Golden Eagles.
“Charles is a very active player,” Vickerman said. “He is always in the game. He is a real presence physically and athletically. I’m excited to include him into our group. He really fits how we like to play.”
With legitimate NBA aspirations and the ability to play some PF, he will allow the Breakers to go extra big alongside Alex Pledger or fast and athletic with Jackson at the 5, while still having length.
“He’s a big-time defender. He has great instincts with his hands, poking the ball away, blocking shots,” said legendary strength and conditioning Coach Guss Armstead who worked with Jackson.
Charles Jackson is another reason the defending champs are currently pre-season favourites.
The calibre of imports coming to the NBL these days is in many ways thanks to the Wildcats. James Ennis’ success has paved the way for young talent with NBA aspirations to develop their games down under as an alternative to the D-League.
DeAndre Daniels replaced Ennis last season and is now back with the Toronto Raptors (unfortunately recovering from a Jones fracture) and this season Casey Prather replaces Daniels.
Prather is taking the Ennis model literally.
“I can’t wait to dunk over someone’s head and hear the crowd screaming,” Prather said in Perth on Monday, before getting a little more serious about his goals while here. “I’m trying to win a Championship here with the Wildcats.”
That’s gotta be music to the ears of Nick Marvin and Trevor Gleeson after their disappointing semi-final exit last year. Prather is a 6’6” swingman out of the University of Florida, where he made All-SEC his Senior year in 2014.
He went undrafted in the 2014 NBA Draft, but played Summer League for Atlanta, before signing with the Phoenix Suns. Unfortunately, he was waived during preseason as the Suns trimmed their roster so he spent last season with the Bakersfield Jam in the D-League averaging 12pts, 3.7reb, 1.8ast, 1.3stl and a whole lotta hangtime (check out Flight 23 at the 1:55 mark).
“We don’t want Casey to stay here forever. We want him back in the NBA next year. He’s got everything it takes,” said Nick Marvin at the introductory press conference.
Prather will join a talented backcourt that includes Captain Damian Martin, new recruit Hugh Greenwood and of course their staple import SG in Jermaine Beal. “Dolla” returns for his third year with the Wildcats, coming off a strong season that saw him named Wildcats MVP.
He’ll again be counted on to spread the floor with his long distance range, bring tenacity on defence and make big plays as the Wildcats chase #30Straight and another title.
Speaking of imports hoping to be back in the NBA next year, the Kings signed Boston Celtics second round draft pick, Marcus Thornton last month. He’s not the one you know of New Orleans Hornets and Sacramento Kings fame. No this is the ‘other’ Marcus Thornton.
Thornton is a scorer, plain and simple. He played collegiately at William & Mary, graduating as the school’s all-time leader in points, total threes and threes made per game. Standing 6’4”, he averaged 20 points while hitting a very solid .402 3FG% and .456 FG% overall.
“Marcus has got ability. He’s got quickness, and he’s very good with the ball. He’s not afraid of anybody. He operates very well in the open court and he’ll defend. I like him very much,” said ESPN NBA Draft analyst Jay Bilas ahead of the draft.
Bilas probably also likes his hair which is impressive in itself.
Thornton was selected 45th overall by Danny Ainge, played Summer League in both Orlando and Vegas, but struggled outside of one strong game where he had 21pts.
“We think that (Thornton) has a bright future as a Boston Celtic,” Danny Ainge told reporters when he admitted there might not be a roster spot for him this year.
Thornton has the perfect mentor in terms of what it’ll take to get back to the NBA as the Kings have also brought back Josh Childress for another year. Childress’ exciting NBL debut season ended in disappointment as a torn pec kept him out for the final 2 months of the season.
Before getting hurt, Childress was the star of stars, averaging 21.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.1 blocks per game for the Kings. He also helped Jesse Wagstaff see some stars but we won’t go there.
Where we will go is the fact that Childress loved his time in Sydney and that’s why he’s back.
“I just enjoyed being here. I enjoyed Sydney and it’s where I wanted to be so I made a decision,” Childress said.
“In my off-court endeavours I’ve developed some good relationships in the city and I’m looking at expanding those business interest across Australia and the Asian region. So it’s a dual play for me in that regard.”
His dual play at both ends of the court is exactly what Damian Cotter needs to lead by example and, along with the return of Julian Khazzouh and the signing of veteran Steve Markovic, Thornton has a great lead to follow.
Despite rumours that he’d be heading south to Melbourne, 2014/15 NBL MVP Brian Conklin will continue to call North Queensland home for the upcoming season. He becomes the first MVP to return since Kevin Lisch in 2012 and was an important signing following the uncertainty in Townsville over the off-season.
King Conk had a phenomenal debut NBL season with averages of 18.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists and will need to be every bit as good following the departures of Todd Blanchfield and the previously mentioned Markovic.
“It’s frustrating through some of those types of things,” Coach Shawn Dennis told Downtown last month. “But we still believe in what we’re trying to do on the floor and we’re going to continue to do that. We’re doing everything we can to put together the best possible squad.”
Conklin has had input into that process too.
“When SD [Shawn Dennis] and I sat down after the season and talked about what needed to be addressed for the future of the club assuming I were to come back, was that we needed a guard at the import spot that could really create, was an athlete and could play defence and run,” Conklin told Downtown this week. “Jordair fit the criteria to a T.”
He speaks of course of new Crocs import, Jordair Jett.
If you’re thinking that’s a pretty cool name, you’re not alone. When news broke of Jett’s signing it sparked a bit of discussion on Twitter about where it ranks in the annals of great NBL names.
While we await a verdict on that one, the Crocs are excited by their new point guard’s talent. Jett attended Saint Louis University with Conklin, where as a Senior he led the team in assists and steals while being the second highest scorer on the team. As a result, he made first-team All-Conference and All-Defence in the Atlantic 10 and was named the Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year. He was later named to the Saint Louis All-Century Team.
Still, the 6’1” bulldog of a guard (226lbs) went undrafted in 2014 and took last season off. This will be the start of his pro-career and his new coach is excited about the fit.
“We need someone who can score off the dribble, be a terrific defender at the other end and defend the very good guards that are coming into the league,” Dennis said. “Jordair is amazing at getting to the basket, he can really create his own shot and create shots for others.”
His outside stroke is one area he’ll need to work on given his .248 3FG% mark during his Collegiate career, but he did make over 50% of his 2-pt attempts including .533 over his junior and senior seasons. I guess they don’t call him Jett because of his shooting range.
But with his attacking style, people will be calling his name frequently this season, and I’m already thinking it’s a good John Houseman name: “Jordair Jettttt ….”
Jordair Jett artwork by Lee Olsen of Sports Graphics.