Almost a year ago now, I was on the fence of finishing my basketball career. I had not enjoyed playing for a long time, I was tired of my body breaking down and I was searching for what was next in my life. My entire identity had been wrapped up in being an athlete and it was all I had ever known and who I had ever known to be. So I found my next passion- helping people.
I decided to sign for one more season to end my career on my terms and not on COVID's or because of injury. Initially Carlie and I signed with a team in Melbourne but that contract dissolved before we even left. I made a call to a coach who is much more than that to me but I will touch on that later. Two days later, Carlie and I were on our way back to where we met.
I came into this season with the intention of it being the last of my career. I was certain this was it for me. Now that the season has finished many things have become extremely clear for me. Basketball has taught me so many things throughout my life and this season was no different.
Without further ado, here are the three big lessons I pulled out of this season.
1. THE RIGHT.
We always hear about what is right and what is wrong. We hear about what is good for us and what is bad for us. I have had an undisputed, clear and concise look at what the right people, environment and doing things for the right reasons looks like and the results they can bring.
Let me first begin with what having the right people around you looks like. The right people are those who align with who you are as a person. On the court, you want guys who are going to fight with and for you. You want warriors. You want to know that when it is late in the game and the other four guys on the floor need to make a big play to get you over the line, that no one has a look of fear but fire. This year, we most definitely had that. In life, you strive for the same thing- when times are tough and you look around, those people are there to help you push through the adversity. They run with adversity, not away from it.
I had the opportunity to play with the core group of guys this year back in 2018. I have always had a lot of love for each of them since then and that love has only grown, but more on them individually later.
Every training session, guys wanted to be there. Regardless of what was going on in their lives outside of the team, they showed up and they were ready to go. That doesn't just go for the senior guys, but the younger players as well, the juniors who are coming through and ready to make their mark on the club.
In my college career I knew what it is like to play a couple minutes in a game, if any at all. However, time and time again those guys were just as engaged as the senior players who played the overwhelming majority of minutes. That goes beyond professionalism, that signifies people who care.
In life, the right people in your life will allow you to sky rocket as a person or it will be one of the major factors that holds you back. Keep the people who want to be there, not necessarily who you would like to be there. At some point, the people you want to be there and the people who will be there for you will become one in the same.
The right environment is monumental when building a successful team, program or culture. As I pointed out above, the buy-in of the entire team was unrivalled. I have played for many teams in my career. As an import, you are always playing for your next contract as much as you are playing for your current one. It sucks, to be honest, but it is also the fact of the matter.
Even when things were tough, we did not have three of our key guys in the lineup for the first three weeks, getting beaten the first game by cross town rival by 40 (yes you read that right,) we never wavered. When we lost four in a row, losing to teams we should have really beaten on, we never wavered- we had warriors.
That is culture. That is the right environment.
That environment reignited love. That environment reminded me what this should have always been about from the first day I started bouncing a ball. That environment is something I will always bring myself back to and strive to create in every area of my life moving forward.
The final “right” is about your “why.” We always hear about it from motivational speakers, “Why are you doing what you are doing?” To be fair, it feels cliche and maybe even a bit played out, however there is a lot of weight in that.
For as long as I can remember I have played basketball for all the wrong reasons- chasing status, at times for the money maybe even because I did not know how to be anything but an athlete. However this year brought me right back to the “right why.” I did it for the guy next to me. I did it for the guy on the front of the bench who helped save my life without even knowing it. I did it for the club who is trying to build something special amongst all the politics that goes on in this sport. I did it because I owed it to myself.
Why are you doing what you are doing? Do you even know why? When you are integral about your why and you stick to that integrity, nothing that comes your way can impede your progress. Integrity allows you to fight through the hard times because even when you feel like it has knocked you backwards, you are still making progress. You are learning how to overcome that adversity because your “why” is solid, unbreakable and the engine that drives the train. When your “why” is tied into others, you are driven by their power as well. When the people around you and the environment is operating in integrity… just imagine the power you can operate with.
Life is going to throw you a lot of curve balls and that is actually a good thing. Those curve balls will test you but with the right people, the right environment and doing things for the right reasons will always allow you to prevail.
2. THE BEAUTY OF INDIVIDUALS BECOMING A COLLECTIVE
I think in todays world, this is the most powerful message and most relatable to everyone. I look at how much hate we have for each other and how little compassion and empathy there is and it deflates me, to be honest. Society is supposed to be designed to allow the individual to thrive in order for the collective to thrive. All I see is greed and a lack of humanity.
Australia has two basketball seasons- the summer season, which is October to March (the NBL or the national league) and the winter season (April to September or the state league season.) Most of the National League players also play throughout the State League season as well but the NBL season is the big one.
This year, we had a wide variety of players and where they are in their careers to this point but not one player thought better of himself than another. We had one goal as a team and for that, we found success.
The core three players of this club has remained to same for the past four or five seasons. Izzy and Josh Tueta both are highly experienced and very accomplished players here in Australia. Every year their consistency and buy-in is unmatched. Above all, they care about the guy next to them. Louis Ilton is the third member of that core group. I can describe Louis in only one way- the guy never quits and I don’t think there has ever been a season he hasn’t had to play with a bandage wrapped around his head from taking an (un)intentional elbow from the other team. Those three are just flat out warriors. Make sure in your life, you have an Izzy, Josh and Louis because no matter how bad things are or how outmatched you feel, you will always be in the game.
This year we was the first year I played alongside a current NBL player. Funny enough we ended up having two. Tanner Krebs is establishing himself as a very good NBL player after his rookie season. To be completely honest as I always am on here, I didn’t know what to expect of Tanner. I didn’t really know anything about him and when the NBL guys play in the state league, you never know their expectations. Some guys want the ball every single possession while some guys want to just coast if they’re established enough. Not Tanner. He wanted to kill every single player that guarded him. When you bring in a player of his talent and he decides to buy-in with no ego, that is special. I have the utmost respect for Tanner and couldn’t be happier that he got on board with us.
Not only did we have Tanner as an NBL player but we had Kyle Zunic come in. Kyle comes in his first pro season after graduating college and a great junior career, representing Australia. Kyle had one individual goal, make an NBL roster. Most guys think to make an NBL roster you have to score 30 and be the star. Kyle is different though, he gets it. He never asked for the ball, he never demanded a play run from him. He strapped in, and made a point to make every single opposing players life hell. I have played with some of the most elite athletes and defenders in the world and Zu is probably the best that I have come across. Trust me, 40 minutes of being locked up by Zu is enough to make people reconsider their life choices. As a reward, he earned a contract with Perth, Australia’s most dominant NBL club and I am sure the front runners for this year’s championship.
If you are trying to figure out who to put alongside your Josh, Louis and Izzy, get people the will sacrifice their ego and do the dirty work. Get people who will take their incredible individual talent and put it towards the greater good of the group, even if that means fewer personal accolades. The group success is what always gets individuals to the next level.
Then you have the bench. Our bench was considered thin by the league but they couldn’t be more wrong. Those guys were young, sure, but they were attentive, took everything on board and kept their heads moving forward. Riley, Seb, Dane, Cooper, Toby, Dion, Kai, Ronnie and everyone else who was apart of this year- it was special because of you guys. You took the yelling’s, the beatings and the most difficult role of all and you did it perfectly. When you look at the character of an individual, it is easy to measure when things aren’t necessarily going their way. Those guys never wavered and were always engaged. They were there for the good and because of that, we were good. You are only as good as the weakest link and there is no doubt this year we were strong to the end because each and every person was there for one reason.
Just about every team I have ever played for, there has been agendas underneath the team goal. You can feel it in the locker rooms, on the court and even off of it. Those guys never last and those agendas never come to fruition.
This year, there was none of that.
Then you have the coaching staff. Nathan Arousi year in and year out has made this club a staple in the playoffs. Where RIP is seeded fluctuates but they are always in there. A testament to him and his ability to manage personalities because we have a roster of players who play with their hearts on their sleeve. There’s Ben, Jay and Ross as well who assist Nateo, each bringing a piece that is desperately needed. Ben is that calm voice of reason when one of us is yelling about something. Jay is one of the most analytical minds, processing things at a million miles a minute and giving the golden adjustments that help us swing momentum. Ross is our big stats guy and seemingly knows every other players stats by heart.
Then we have Jez our manager. The guy lives and breathes green and black. Just 110% bought in and an absolute light to be around. When he was no longer available, the club president Matt stepped in without hesitation and brought that same passion.
Of all those names, the reason we found success this year is thanks to one word- accountability. There was never a single time a mistake was made and in a huddle or a film session a player pointed the finger at someone else. The finger was never out but always in. It was like that the last time I played here and even more so this year. When life is hard that finger better be inwards because that is the only way you can pull yourself out. The only way you can be great as a collective is to be great as an individual.
I say all of that to say this- I have come to care about each and every single one of those guys. I have love for them all and it is because of them that I have found that spark once again.
3. LIVE FOR THE MOMENT AND STAY THERE
This final piece I will leave you with is the importance of living in the moment and staying there- staying present if you will. We are always worried about what has happened before us and what will come down the road. We miss out on what is there.
This year we had to deal with multiple stoppages during the season for covid lockdowns. It is the world we are living in at the moment. We had to worry about the “what-if’s” more than we would have liked to. The problem with that- we lost sight of the moment.
We had a special group as you can see by the amount I have put into this post. We were a lot of fun to watch when we were firing on all cylinders. We would go on explosive runs, make teams lives very difficult on the defensive end and all played for each other. How much we enjoyed that in the moment, I am not sure but what I do know is we need to appreciate life for what it is. It is filled with highs and lows and it is always going to be that way. How we respond to that is a different topic but we need to appreciate every second we have.
In the quarterfinal match, we were beating on Gold Coast for the majority of the game. The first quarter was back and forth in the beginning and they went on a big run in the third quarter but we stuck it to them for most of the game. We enjoyed that.
In the semifinal game, we got off to a great start, something Mackay was very concerned about. They were afraid of our big runs which is what allowed us to beat them handily early in the season. Unfortunately, a huge fourth quarter by Mackay ended our season.
Just like that, it was over. There was no more practice, no more game planning for the next week- just an empty feeling of what could have been. A chance to host a home grand final series. A chance to win that ever elusive championship I am searching for. Just like that it was over.
How many times in life can you relate to this? You take something for granted for so long and all of a sudden it is just gone. Once it is gone, all you want to do is find a way to get it back- to experience it one more time if you could.
Izzy is our leader and our point guard and he often brings up the point about this could be the last time this team ever plays together. Injuries happen. Life happens. There is never a promise that those twelve players suit up again together. I am grateful he has brought that to my attention because in our lives, especially in today’s climate it is never promised that it will be the same tomorrow. Please live for today and not tomorrow or yesterday.
I am grateful for everything that this game has taught me. I am grateful for this group. I have never enjoyed a season as much as I have this year. This group has given me a spark of light inside my chest that I have not had for a very, very long time. This year was fun, through the adversity and through the difficulties. There always comes a point in your life where you are sitting there and you say to yourself, “wow, all that stuff I went through was worth it.” This year was that moment for me.
We did not win a championship which was our goal, however we did hit milestones that this club never before achieved and that is something to be proud of.
I understand basketball at this level is a business and everyone, including the club, must do what is right for them. However in saying that, as Tanner walked off the floor of the semi final game he kept repeating one thing- “run it back.”
Looking forward to running it back with the boys.