AJ Ogilvy Pursues Health and Happiness in Illawarra

Original Pic via Illawarra Hawks

In mid-June, the Illawarra Hawks were four months removed from claiming the wooden spoon, they had no players under contract, and their coach, whose history with the club predated its red and white uniforms, had left the team.

Though the Hawks had recently survived voluntary administration, it wasn’t a time for celebration. The optimism of the 2014 team anthem was just a memory.

But AJ Ogilvy wasn’t dissuaded. A bad year in Europe meant he wanted a return to the NBL, and once Rob Beveridge took over from Gordie McLeod as the Illawarra coach, he knew that return would be with the rebuilding Hawks.

“I’ve always wanted to play for him professionally, just because I like his style of game and the way he coaches,” said Ogilvy, who has stayed in contact with Beveridge since being coached by him while playing for New South Wales at under-20 level.

The quick tempo and spread floors on offence that Beveridge employs were appealing to the big fella.

“It’s not as much of a controlled game as some of the systems I’ve played in, and you get a bit of freedom to actually play.”

The attraction of playing for Beveridge, who won a title in 2010 with the Perth Wildcats, meant the coach didn’t have to work hard to sign the 27-year-old to a one-year deal.

“It was pretty much one phone call and it was done,” Beveridge told Downtown.

“To have a successful team, you’ve got to have a great big guy, you’ve got to have a really good point guard and a real good scorer. So I just felt that AJ potentially is the best big man in the entire NBL.”

Ogilvy’s brief NBL resume supports that theory. In his only prior season in the league, with the Sydney Kings in 2013-14, he led the competition in rebounds per game and blocks per game and was named to the All-NBL first team.  He also gave Demetri McCamey something to remember him by. 

“He’s an absolute beast, however he’s mobile,” Beveridge said of the 211 centimetre, 115 kilogram centre. “I think that’s where he’s best as well, is using his mobility against other bigs.”

Beveridge said it will be important for Illawarra’s success that Ogilvy is an inside presence, describing him as “an exceptionally good shot blocker” and “a legitimate post target.” That suits the Hawks, whose once-bare roster is now filled with three-point shooters in Oscar Forman, Tim Coenraad and former league MVPs Kirk Penney and Kevin Lisch.

“If he gets double-teamed inside, it’s going to open up the perimeter,” Beveridge said of Ogilvy, who averaged 13.1 points with 57.1 percent shooting in his previous NBL stint. “I think it’s just a great fit for AJ.”

That sounds like the makings of an enjoyable season for Ogilvy, which is something he didn’t experience in 2014-15. Injuries limited him to just six games with La Bruixa d’Or Manresa of Spain’s ACB.

“I didn’t have a great year in Spain, honestly, so I wanted to come back and enjoy my basketball,” he said.

The lure of sustained good health drew him to an NBL return.

“I played all my games in Sydney, didn’t have any injuries, and then went to Spain and tore a muscle in my foot and strained another one in the same foot,” he said. “So I think that speaks volumes to the physios and medical staff that we have here in Australia.”

Ogilvy, who went to Vanderbilt University and has played with Besiktas, Valencia, and Brose Baskets in Europe, returned to Australia to treat one of the injuries he sustained with Manresa.

“The treatment over there [in Europe] isn’t great. Some of the physios sort of get pushed around by the coaches, so you don’t get the treatment that you need,” he said, adding that coaches pressure physios to get players to return quickly from injury.

Ogilvy was looking for an NBL club prior to Beveridge becoming the coach at Illawarra. A move back to his hometown Kings didn’t happen because the team had other plans (Sydney announced the signing of centre Julian Khazzouh on June 12), which left Ogilvy to contemplate other clubs, including the Hawks. His decision became easier once Beveridge joined the club.

Four other local players – Chris Goulding, Nathan Jawai, Majok Majok and Penney – joined Ogilvy in moving from Europe to the NBL this offseason (with Khazzouh returning from Lebanon). Daniel Kickert, Dave Barlow and Daniel Johnson also came back recently after time overseas.

But as Ben Madgen showed by leaving the Kings earlier this year to ultimately play in Belgium, Europe remains attractive. Australians such as Brad Newley and Aleks Maric are yet to be enticed home by the prospect of a summer season in an English-speaking country.

“Long term, it’s a kind of sucky thing to say, but there needs to be more money in the NBL to draw guys back. And I think the marquee player rule is a step in the right direction,” Ogilvy said.

“With guys having limited careers, you’ve just got to strike while the iron’s hot and play wherever you can make the most money. You can’t begrudge guys doing that.”

Though Beveridge referenced Ogilvy’s goal of a Europe return, Ogilvy himself said he’s unsure of his movements beyond the upcoming Hawks season.

“I’m trying not to think too far ahead at the moment.”

Ogilvy may yet return to the land of winter basketball, harassed physios and heftier pay. But, health permitting, he’ll first help begin the Rob Beveridge era in Illawarra.

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