When you look up ‘perseverance’ in the dictionary, there really should be a picture of Jarrad Weeks.
His journey to play in the NBL defines what perseverance is all about. Weeks has faced many roadblocks to have an opportunity to showcase his talent in Australia’s top pro-league, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It was always my dream to play professional basketball growing up, so I’m just trying to keep that dream alive as much as I can and stick with it,” Weeks told Downtown after the Illawarra Hawks’ tough Round 1 loss to Melbourne United.
Weeks is averaging 10 points, 2 assists and 1.5 3-pointers made so far this season. He’s shooting 60% from downtown and 66.7% from the field overall in just under 17 minutes per game off the bench for Rob Beveridge’s Hawks. He’s certainly making an impact yet he describes it as just keeping his dream alive rather than having fulfilled it … and he’s right.
You see, Weeks was brought in as an injury replacement for Rhys Martin on a four-match deal; a deal that can be extended until Martin returns. As a result, Weeks’ time with the Hawks this season has an expiration date on it, so it’s really a week-by-week proposition right now. No matter how well he plays, he is unlikely to stick with the roster.
Weeks, now 26 years old, has been around the NBL since 2010-11 when he began as a development player with the Sydney Kings. He played just twice across that season and the next, seeing a grand total of 2 minutes on court.
For the 2012/13 season, he was promoted to a regular squad member under Shane Heal where, over the next two seasons, Weeks saw action in 22 games, but played sparingly. In fact, the 17 minutes 43 seconds he played in the Hawks’ season opener last Thursday night was a career high.
He stayed on with the Kings and new Coach Damian Cotter, touring China after the conclusion of the 2013/14 season. It was from that tour, against the China B team, a U.S. side and Erdgas Ehingen of Germany’s Bundesliga ProA (Division II), that another pro-opportunity came long.
“Jarrad had an outstanding tour and was a standout for us. Our opponents were very impressed with him so we weren’t surprised to hear of the interest from Germany,” said Cotter at the time.
Weeks averaged 12 points, 3 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 22 minutes per game over 27 games in Germany, building confidence as more than a development player.He returned to Australia and resumed practicing with the Kings in hopes of again securing a roster spot. It was in the exhibition game against Ben Simmons and LSU in August where he got noticed again, surprising many with 15 points and 3 steals. Unfortunately, the Kings’ roster was full with Rhys Carter, Stevie Markovic and Jason Cadee already on the books.
Still, he kept hope and believed another opportunity to realise his dream would come along. In the background, his management team worked the phones, trying to find him a job.
“My agent [David Wolf of Full Circle Sports Management] has been great,” said Weeks. “He’s always on the blower to someone at some team at some point, so he’s been really good. He’s really helped me out.”
Wolf arranged for Weeks to go down to Illawarra to train with the Hawks and on the eve of the season, Jarrad’s phone rang.
“It came about very quickly actually. I got a call from Bevo [Hawks’ Head Coach Rob Beveridge] on Sunday night before the season started and he just basically said ‘Rhys might have to have surgery, he’s got some knee problems’ and he was like ‘if you can fill in that would be really good’. He invited me down and Rhys had to sit out these first few games so Bevo was just like ‘we’d love to have you on the team’.”
One man’s loss is another man’s gain.
In this context, Weeks’ gain was being able to keep the dream alive a bit longer.
“We needed another ball handler,” Beveridge told the Illawarra Mercury when Weeks’ short-term deal was announced. “Jarrod suits that quite well because he has been training with us and knows what we are doing and is also a bit older and more experienced as well.”
That experience has been pretty evident through the first two games of the season. Expecting to play just a few spot minutes behind Kevin’s Lisch and White, when Lisch got nailed by an Alex Loughton screen in the opening game, Beveridge’s rotations quickly changed and Weeks was needed to allow White to play minutes at the two spot.
He was literally thrown into the fire just two days after signing his contract, but the trust Beveridge has in him shows Weeks is not just there to make up the numbers.
“Yeah it’s been great and Bevo has told the whole team to just come in, play your game, play with confidence and we take that on board. I think everyone’s done that so far,” Weeks told Downtown.
“He’s always saying ‘take your shot’ and ‘play your game’ and ‘stay in the system’, and that’s really helped.”
Weeks has certainly taken that on board and along the way, he is quickly proving he belongs in this league.
— NBL (@NBL) October 8, 2015
In the opening game versus Cairns, he came off the bench (mostly in the second half) to play nearly 18 minutes – the most of any Hawks reserve. He scored 12 points (3-3 FG, 1-1 3FG, 5-7 FT) and dished 2 assists as the Hawks came back from a double-digit deficit, but could not hold on.
On Sunday in Melbourne, Weeks again made an impact for the Hawks with 8 points (3-6 FG, 2-4 3FGs), 2 assists, a rebound and one exciting breakaway dunk in 16 minutes.
— NBL (@NBL) October 11, 2015
Again though, the Hawks battled back but couldn’t quite get over the line.
“We’ve been unlucky, we’ve shot ourselves in the foot a bit these first few games,” said Weeks post-game. “But Bevo’s given us a lot of confidence and we just take that on board ourselves.”
That confidence to come out and play his game was noticed by all, including Melbourne’s courtside announcer Wayne Peterson who tried to rattle Weeks by focusing on his lack of name on the back of his jersey and the unusual number 97 he was sporting.
Weeks isn’t fussed.
“That’s what they gave me,” Weeks laughed. “I only came in on Tuesday and we played on Thursday, so there weren’t a whole lot of options.”
Truth is, he’s been given the team’s ‘blood spare’ jersey.
The number, along with his impactful play, has led to mention of a new nickname for the speedy point guard. In the post-game press conference the name “Agent 97” was being bantered around.
“You know if that’s what they call me, that’s what they call me,” Weeks shrugged when questioned on the name.
Any publicity is good when you’re trying to keep your dream alive.
Showcasing two of your key strengths with a breakaway dunk is another sure-fire way for people to want to see more of you on the court. Weeks had a surprising dunk against the Perth Wildcats in 2013 when playing for Sydney and replicated that on Sunday in front of a packed house at Hisense Arena. His speed and athleticism are his calling cards and he is acutely aware of that.
“I’m always trying to use my speed and athleticism as much as I can,” said Weeks. “That’s going to be a key part [of my game] to help this team. That’s what I bring to the table.”
“We have a veteran team this year, a lot of older guys, so I just try to use my speed to our advantage. Especially with full-court pressure, you know run the lanes hard and doing all those little things,” he said.
His speed gave Melbourne trouble at times, causing United Coach Dean Demopoulos to go to three-guard sets to ensure they had a match up for Weeks. His play was a big part of how Illawarra got back into the game in the fourth quarter. That impact was not lost on Beveridge when asked about it post-game.
“Great isn’t it?” Beveridge asked rhetorically with a smile you’d normally see on a proud father. “He only came into the team last week. Just his energy, his passion, you know …. I love it. He’s a great kid and he’s just fitted in perfectly and we’re very lucky that we had the opportunity to bring him in.”
After the impact Weeks has made already, the natural question being asked was whether the Hawks could keep him.
“Hopefully the NBL will change the rules,” said Beveridge somewhat tongue-in-cheek, knowing all-too-well that right now he will not be able to retain the talented point guard.
“It’s one of those things where, I hope I’m wrong, but he’s come in on injury waivers so he can only come back in for Rhys Martin. You know if Rhys breaks down again down the track. So that’s probably the only way we can do that.
“I think it’s a silly rule,” Beveridge continued. “I think he should be able to come in for somebody else. I can’t see how it’s really affecting the league, but unfortunately that’s the rules.”
When Martin is ready to return, which could be as soon as next weekend versus Perth, Weeks may be out of a job again. There’s a chance he could take on a similar role replacing Kevin Lisch (who is also on the sidelines), but there’s no guarantee.
Beveridge was asked if he’ll consider contacting the league office to change the current rule around injury replacement contracts in a bid to keep Weeks for the rest of the season.
“Yeah absolutely, but whether or not you can do that now or they just leave it for the year,” Beveridge lamented. “But they’re things that … I call it the ‘new NBL’ …. What’s going to be the best for the league? There were probably rules that, you know they’re there for the sake of a rule and if it’s going to be beneficial for the game, why can’t we look at something like that?”
So what are Weeks’ plans if he finds his dream slipping away again?
“We’re still not sure yet,” Weeks admitted. “I’ll probably stay down with the Hawks. Bevo’s been great. He’s really built up some confidence with me so, you know I’m going to try to help the team out as much as I can. Whether that’s on the court or off the court or at practice, you know whatever I can do to help those guys try and get some W’s and have a good shot at winning this season.”
For now, though, Agent 97 is staying focused on the task at hand, starting with tonight’s home-opener against New Zealand .
“Just basically help the team, whatever I can do,” he said. “I’m just trying to play my game, fit into the system and just help out the guys wherever I can.”
Keeping the dream alive.