Talking to almost anyone in the NBL, Sydney Kings point guard, Jason Cadee, is known for his court vision. He snakes around ball screens, seeing his big man rolling, his strong side wing, and the weak side shooter ready to let it rain. This ability is one of the reasons he’s earned a starting job in 2015. But despite the on-court vision paying his bills, it was a split-second sight off the court, which likely saved his life.
Most of Cadee’s NBL peers grew up replicating Jordan jumpers and Kobe-Time buzzer beaters on backyard hoops. They scanned newspapers and waited on slow dial-up internet for anything NBA to feel a part of the action on the other side of the world. But for the Sydney Kings point guard, all his best childhood memories unfolded while he was right there in person, sweeping up sweat for the West Sydney Razorbacks.
In 2002, his boys overcame 44 Lanard Copeland points to advance to their first NBL Grand Final. In 2004, you can see Cadee going mental on the baseline – broom in hand – as John Rillie waves goodbye to Wollongong fans after dropping a career high 45 to take the Pigs to another GF.
And then Cadee’s all-time favourite, wiping up wet patches in front of 16,000 fans at the Sydney SuperDome in 2004 for a double-header – the Harlem Globetrotters followed by the Kings and Razorbacks rivalry round.
The slight, speedy, ball-screen maestro joined NBL action at just eight years old, walking laps of the Bankstown Basketball Stadium with Jack the Razorback, waving to the crowd. He turned nine and was entrusted with court safety – which is pretty much like being given the keys to the city for any hoops fanatic his age. For seven years, Cadee wiped floors to a standard he still claims deserves his broom being retired to the Razorback rafters.
As a teenager, Cadee rebounded for Derek Rucker, John Rillie, Sam Mackinnon, and Aaron Trahair. Then they rebounded for him. Even on sick days from school, he found reasons why he had to be at the stadium, mimicking Rhys Carter Razorback drills on the next court over. His father was West Sydney’s CEO, so Jason tagged along to everything.
The Bankstown junior got buckets, launching long bombs and dropping 40 on kids even before his age group included a three-point line. He surveyed how Razorbacks and Boomers guard, Stevie Marković, used on-ball picks, reading the big’s feet and attacking their weaknesses. Cadee saw driving lanes, passing angles, and thought about why people made shots more often from one spot than another, while others tried to finish layups with their non-dominant hand.
Players like James Harvey knew him as the kid always ready to rebound, not the gun point guard who scored 78 in an Under-16’s local league and 64 for Bankstown two years later. But Cadee continued building. He received an AIS scholarship, and added a couple of 40-point games for NSW Metro and NSW at 18’s and 20’s Nationals.
At the 2009 Under-19 FIBA World Champs, he averaged nine points per game as a bottom-aged player, filling the Emus’ backcourt with Matthew Dellavedova on the way to a fourth place finish. He was invited to the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland as part of the World Select Team to take on the States, matching up on Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight. The States started calling.
At a time when Australia’s best young players cascaded to colleges overseas, Cadee turned down offers from UCLA, Marquette, St. Mary’s, Washington State, and many more to sign with the Gold Coast Blaze – alongside Harvey. The two also teamed up that 2010 off-season in the green and gold.
“I grew up wanting to play in the NBL,” he says simply. “So when I started to get [NBL] offers it was no decision. It was all I really knew.”
Here was a guy who had forgone photos with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers trophy case as a kid because he didn’t realise their importance, but wore West Sydney Razorbacks shorts to school. Often. The son of a Boomer and an Opal, you would be hard pressed to find a boy more suited to playing NBL basketball. And then just like his left to right blow-by in transition, it all changed direction.
Cadee still harbours heightened senses for the smell of petrol, coolant, rubber, exhaust, and oil – the smells of a smashed car. He remembers the crash of glass, the creak of metal, and the scream of the semi-trailer’s brakes.
It was a Sunday morning on Sydney’s M7 motorway. July 12, 2010 around 10 a.m. Two nights before, Cadee had starred for the Bankstown Bruins in the ABA’s Waratah league, slotting triples and dishing dimes against the Sydney Comets and Norths Bears. He was headed up to play NBL with Anthony Petrie and Harvey three weeks later in one of the most desirable parts of Australia an 18-year-old boy could live.
Cadee was cruising down the M7, returning the car home to his parents after sleeping at a teammate’s, when a truck merged into his lane. He swerved onto the gravel shoulder towards the grassy median strip, then overcorrected and spun back onto the road. His silver Holden Epica came to a stop in the middle of the motorway.
“As I looked to my right I saw a semi-trailer coming straight for me,” says Cadee.
Doctors told him that split-second sight likely saved his life. He saw the truck, went into shock, and passed out, going limp and falling away from the impact.
He regained consciousness, pinned against the middle car console by the driver side door. A woman he didn’t know sat next to him and told him it was going to be alright. She had run across the M7 when she saw the truck make contact, decimating the little sedan.
I need to play basketball, he told the woman.
“I never actually got her number,” says Cadee. “For a little while I was a bit weird about wanting to talk to her, I didn’t know if I wanted to go back there. But I’d love to ring her now if I had her number and just say thank you just for helping me out. She definitely comforted me and she didn’t have to. She ran across from the other side of the freeway on a busy day.”
Jason Cadee went from zipping up the court, splitting on-ball screens to staring at a hospital ceiling. The doctors didn’t know the extent of his injuries and told him he’d either wake up from surgery with pins inside or outside a pelvis broken in multiple places. They inserted a plate and six screws in the bone’s front and a 14-centimetre screw into his side, spanning most of his body – something he still plays with.
“I didn’t know if I would be able to be myself if I couldn’t play the sport,” says Cadee.
For two months he couldn’t walk. Couldn’t even swing on crutches. He had to take light steps, unable to really get around. Towards the end of two months he could finally crutch about himself.
“For a young kid who had the basketball world at his feet, to be sat in that situation is pretty horrible,” says Petrie. “That’s really when we connected.”
Whispers around some stadiums and the odd pitter-patter from keyboard warriors may say Jason Cadee was a hyped up junior who hasn’t reached his potential – people who heard the name and the high school hype, but don’t know the real story. Maybe some think choosing to play behind Adam Gibson for four years on the Gold Coast and in Adelaide wasn’t worth potentially starring for an American powerhouse school.
The truth is, Cadee is now 24 – around the age of many returning college Aussies – and has five seasons learning the league and being mentored by Boomers. Just like when he was a kid on the Bankstown courts watching Marković, Rucker, and Rillie, Cadee has sponged a supply cupboard’s worth of basketball secrets from NBL veterans. He’s finally ready to unleash.
In the NBL pre-season Blitz, Cadee led the league in scoring with 22 points per game, draining eight triples over two contests at 57 percent. He sparked up Illawarra for 30, raining fire from the parking lot in the second half.
In the season opener against Cairns, Cadee produced 19 points, seven assists, four rebounds, and two steals to blowout last season’s Grand Finalists.
“It’s what I expected,” says teammate, Josh Childress, casually. “He’s turning a corner and he’s doing things that everybody knows he can do.
“He can light up a stat sheet, he’s obviously a good shooter, and he has a nice little mid-range float game. It’s just a matter of him continuing to build on games like that.”
Cadee gained confidence in his abilities the past two Aussie off-seasons, playing for the Super City Rangers in New Zealand’s NBL. His time across the Tasman Sea was highlighted in April, splashing nine threes on his way to a franchise record 41 points.
“He comes off the on-ball with his speed and his frame and it’s hard to kind of get back in front of him,” says Cairns Taipans captain, Cameron Gliddon. “He’s got that floater, he can get on the rim, and he’s a great decision maker.”
Cadee sets up his defender like a roller coaster, ascending smoothly to a pretty view. Then he plants his first step at freefall-speed, explodes to attack the seam, and leaves them waiting for the ride to be over. He gets to the hoop to finish with either hand and finds teammates for easy baskets. This season he’s netting over 15 points per game and is one of the league’s top dimers.
“I just think I’ve gotten to a stage where I’m ready to be myself,” he says. “I’ve started to realise that me just being myself and just playing is going to help the team win games and, I guess, show people who I am as a basketballer.”
On defence – one of his and coach Damian Cotter’s biggest focusses this season – Cadee uses his quicks to beat players to the spot.
“The impressive thing for me is that he’s such a prolific scorer, but when you talk with him throughout the week’s practice, his whole context is about getting his teammates open and making the team better,” says Cotter. “He has that ability to find the open man as well as make plays individually.”
When Cadee’s name comes up amongst his peers and coaches, the first things they mention are his smarts and how he uses a ball-screen. He’s quick enough to split it if the big gets lazy, can bomb a pull-up three over his guard, and lives for sizing up lumbering giants on a switch out, scouting players’ weaknesses in tape sessions and attacking their feet.
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“He is as good as you’ll see out of an on-ball,” says Anthony Petrie – his roll man on the Gold Coast and in Adelaide. “I’m talking in any league, anywhere.”
Cadee keeps his dribble alive as his pick and roll partner dives and his marksmen lie waiting for the leather to reach their shot pocket.
“It’s like the old saying, you work for many years to become an overnight sensation,” says Cotter. “It’s good, we’re together now for a second year and as a coach and player we’re just that little bit more cohesive. He understands my expectations, and I understand his capabilities. It’s always good when you’ve got some continuity.”
It’s definitely been an NBL journey for Jason Cadee since leading Jack the Razorback around Bankstown Stadium. He’s witnessed some great Australian basketball moments, swept the heck out of some floors, and returned to Aussie hoops supremacy after escaping death by a glimpse.
At a time when Australia’s top league has reshaped, rebranded, and is looking for heroes for the next generation, Banktown’s boy is hovering under the radar, catching out those who sleep on him – proudly sporting his city’s purple and gold.