Aussie hoops fans may have marked December 19 last season as Cam Gliddon’s best throw down to date. The Cairns shooting guard crossed left to right, hesitated, then split four Adelaide 36ers to climb the ladder and crown 216-centimetre Luke Schenscher. But the biggest dunk of the 26-year-old’s career came seven years ago when Gliddon caught a lob in Orange County, California, at Concordia University Irvine.
Excited first year students filled a pull-out wooden bleacher in the small gym for a friendly pre-season match against Concordia’s women’s team. It was a chance for the freshman Eagles fans to learn basketball chants. The game was being played, “To get some school spirit,” says Gliddon, telling the story with a smile. So as any crowd-pleasing first-year player would, Gliddon back cut his defender, snatched a lob – courtesy of his boy Austin Simon – and hammered it home with two hands.
Unfortunately, while adding to his limited list of flushes, the usual three-point specialist collided with the opposing team’s 168-centimetre point guard, Sarah Lindley, dropping her to the timber floor. The rookie crowd erupted then quickly went silent.
Being a true country gentleman, Gliddon approached Lindley after the game and said, “I’m really sorry about that, I’m sure you weren’t expecting that to happen.” Whether it was his thick Aussie accent or his Bunbury charm, these were apparently smooth first words because on the last day of May this year, Gliddon married Sarah Lindley on a lakeside field in Portland, Oregon. Austin Simon got the nod as one of his groomsmen.
While not every NBL star posterises their future wife, this route to marriage shouldn’t surprise for the Cairns Taipans captain. Cameron Gliddon’s path to getting what he wants has never been that of your average Aussie baller.
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Basketball started for five-year-old Gliddon in Mirrabooka, a northern suburb of Perth. His father, a distribution agent for Schweppes soft drinks, took up coaching kids’ clinics on Saturdays to make some extra cash so Gliddon and his seven-year-old brother tagged along. The father of four hadn’t played much ball, but was good with the kids, learning skills drills from the other coaches and organising five-minute games to finish the session. At home he built a wooden pylon and backboard, screwing on a hoop so his sons and daughters could practise.
“As a kid when you play basketball, you treasure a good driveway,” remembers Gliddon. “We had one with a decline, so it wasn’t too good,” he adds with a laugh. “But I spent most of my time there.”
Years later, when his dad’s work relocated the family 180 kilometres south to Bunbury, Gliddon found himself playing on an adjustable hoop facing out into a quiet cul-de-sac.
“That was heaven,” he says.
Before too long, Gliddon was on his way to W.A. Country trials in an attempt to replicate the town’s claim to fame on a basketball court, Mark Worthington.
“We had 12 people try out for 10 spots,” says Gliddon. Eight of the ten who made it came from Bunbury’s 60,000 population, while the other two drove eight hours down from Geraldton once a week for training. “I had never played against Victorians or New South Wales guys who have hundreds to choose from.”
This changed quickly when Gliddon posted 10 turnovers against Vic Country to kick off his Nationals campaign.
“My goal for the tournament after that was to not finish in the top 10 for turnovers,” he says, then pauses straight faced. “That was my goal. Just don’t turn the ball over.”
That focus on consistency is likely the reason Gliddon committed just 1.36 turnovers per game last season while playing 30-minutes as a key ball handler. Not bad for a bloke who spent his college career snaking around off-ball screens for catch and shoot threes.
From an outsider’s perspective skimming through the Cairns Taipans roster, it might be tough to understand why Gliddon wears the captain’s C on his jersey. Cam Tragardh, for one, is a 12-year NBL veteran, while Alex Loughton hosts a wealth of European and NBL experience.
Watching Gliddon play in person, though, you understand why his teammates voted him their leader last August. He’s a sure thing advancing the ball, dribbling hard right then crossing back to attack left. In the half court, he receives it on the wing and throws a pass fake or palms the ball with big hands and long arms. While occupying his defender, he steers teammates through the offence with his other hand, pointing to spots on the floor and waving. He’s the kind of guy you could trust to balance your newborn baby in one arm and do your taxes with the other, while reciting every Taipans and Boomers offensive set on a tightrope over a pool of piranhas. As teammate Cam Tragardh describes him, “He’s safe as houses.”
“We just sort of told him that we backed him from the start,” says Tragardh. “When he’s creating and orchestrating things, good things happen… He just knows the plays so well, he keeps a cool head, he makes everyone around him calmer, so he was a good choice and he continues to get better.”
But what separates Gliddon from many other great players is his selflessness. At a time in his career when he’s looking for interest from top-level European clubs – a lifelong dream of his – he sacrificed statistics last year to help Cairns win games. He was genuinely surprised to earn NBL Rookie of the Year in 2013, and Taipans MVP the season after. In his senior year at Concordia he led his team to an NAIA National Championship, but felt guilty for taking home Conference Player of the Year and Tournament MVP because he says his teammate Austin Simon – who threw the pass to meet Sarah – was equally deserving.
Like most players, getting a dunk or bombing a big three fires him up, but Gliddon says seeing other Taipans succeed is what really gets him going.
“Nothing gets you more juiced than seeing your teammate do something,” he says. “Especially someone that doesn’t play a lot of minutes, a teammate that isn’t usually the guy to do it, but makes a huge play.”
Gliddon understands well. He was once the new guy.
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After individual success with W.A. Country as a teenager, Gliddon was invited to the under-19 Australian Emus camp alongside Patty Mills, AJ Ogilvy, and Chris Goulding. He was skinny – even skinnier than now – and was a year younger than everyone else. He sported a big puffy haircut he called his ‘loaf’.
“Everyone was like who is this guy, does he even play basketball?” says Gliddon.
He made the team – finished fifth at the ’07 World Junior Champs in Serbia – and earnt himself an Australian Institute of Sport scholarship in the process.Due to his birth year (1989) not matching up with the two-year under-19’s age group, Gliddon’s time at the AIS was short. With no real interest shown by NCAA Division 1 colleges, coach Marty Clarke began working the phones. Without seeing any tape, the Concordia coach took Clarke’s word and offered Gliddon a scholarship. It was one of the best decisions of his career – one that would result in a national championship.
Gliddon arrived in Orange County, California to learn all six seniors on the team were guards. He opted to red shirt and spent most of each day’s two-hour practices watching from the sideline. He earned a starting spot halfway through his redshirt freshman year and wavered between role player and starter averaging 9 – 11 points per game for the next two seasons.
Ahead of his final year of college ball, Cairns offered Gliddon a one-year NBL contract and he almost took it. Then assistant coach Mick Downer had worked with Gliddon during the World Uni Games and believed in the guy who had fallen off most hoops radars. Had he accepted the deal perhaps he would still be a Taipan today, but he also may have dwindled out of the NBL like so many other fringe players on single-year contracts have.
Gliddon returned to Orange County and had a breakout year, averaging 14.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.0 steals per game. He won an NAIA Division 1 National Championship, earned Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) Player of the Year, National Tournament MVP, and set the NAIA Division 1 National Tournament record for made threes (21).
Despite his success in the States, Gliddon didn’t garner much interest from professional teams. Most of the people who matter in the pro hoops hierarchy keep a close eye on NCAA basketball rather than the lower NAIA division. Just like when he finished at the AIS, only a couple of teams approached him. He had a little interest from the Perth Wildcats and a lot of interest from Cairns, whose starting two-spot was up for grabs. He signed a three-year deal with the Taipans in 2012, and is now headed into his fourth season.
“He was kind of thrown into the fire right away as a rookie,” says Taipans coach, Aaron Fearne. “He played a lot of minutes his first year and had a pretty steep learning curve, but he was fantastic. He’s mature, and he’s got a great basketball IQ. The team comes first to him and he’s just grown since.”
In August, Gliddon was called up last minute for the Boomers series against New Zealand when Damian Martin went down with a calf injury. He sprung at the opportunity and is keen to be considered for next year’s Olympic squad.
“It’s very hard right now for anyone to crack that team, there’s so many talented players,” admits Gliddon. “NBA players from Australia are just piling up so it’s very hard, but I’ll do everything I can because it’s pretty special to be a part of that.”
Fearne believes he’ll be in with a shot.
“I expect him to be in serious consideration for Rio,” says Fearne. “He defends well and he sees the floor, really can pass the ball, he’s smart and he’s got leadership ability.”
As Cairns’ only professional sports team, the Taipans are yet to win their first NBL Championship since entering the league in 1999.
“Everywhere you go in this town, someone has probably done something to help the Taipans in one way or another,” says Gliddon. “If we won, everyone in the city would feel it.”
At the conclusion of last season, after that heartbreaking Grand Final loss to New Zealand, Gliddon signed on for a further three years (with a European out-clause that kicks in after the 2015/16 season).
“I chose to stay because last year we did what we did and were so close,” he says.
After stops in Perth, Bunbury, Canberra and California, Gliddon has weaved his way into the close-knit quilt that is the Cairns Taipans. He’s a knock down shooter, a strategic decision maker, and can lock up opponents on defence, playing the passing lanes like a highway robber for fast break baskets.
Now more than ever before, you can sense he’s starving to deliver Cairns that championship banner.
“Within the group we’re a bit hungry, we’re a bit pissed off,” says Gliddon. “We want to get back to where we were and no one’s going to stand in our way. We’ve got these goals and we’re going to achieve them.”