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Underestimate us at your peril

“Don’t count us out.” That’s the message from Adelaide 36ers superstar Jerome Randle about his team’s 2016-17 championship prospects. The undermanned 36ers fought bravely in their narrow loss to Perth last round and their inspirational star was the most courageous of them all. Randle scored a spectacular 40 points in the loss – the most ever from an away player at Perth Arena – and threw a game-high 9 assists. But it wasn’t enough and after the first quarter of the regular season, the Sixers now possess a losing record (3-4). Of course, that doesn’t faze Randle. “Don’t look at these games like it means something, it don’t mean nothing,” Randle said. “It ain’t over. That’s all I’ve got to say.” The 36ers showed tremendous heart on Saturday night, bravely battling the Wildcats without two of their star players; forward Mitch Creek (foot) and forward/centre Daniel Johnson (hamstring). Centre Eric Jacobsen (14 points, 9 rebounds) was also impaired, the import playing 36 minutes at well below full health. “We were shorthanded,” Randle said. “Eric wasn’t even 100 percent today but no-one even knew. He wasn’t even 50 percent today. It just shows the toughness of our team.” Despite the loss, head coach Joey Wright was quick to praise his charges postgame. “Our guys did a great job of competing all the way through the game,” Wright said. “We were obviously undermanned, and at the positions where they could hurt us – those four and five spots. They dominated us on the boards and I think that was probably the difference in the end.” The master coach was impressed with the fight of his wounded squad and is positive about the road ahead. “We need to just continue. We’re learning who we are and what we’re about,” Wright said. “Having five rookies on the squad, a lot of times they’re readjusting their focus on who they are and learning to believe in themselves and trust themselves. They’re learning and they’re getting there. “I saw some great things out of those guys tonight. Our returning guys, they know what we want and what we can do. As soon as we get these other guys in place we should be able to get some things done.” Wright specifically applauded youngsters Anthony Drmic and Majok Deng for their efforts in the imposing Perth Arena atmosphere. Drmic, who was averaging 1.5 points per game and had not made an NBL three-pointer coming into the game, broke out with 17 points on 4-of-8 shooting from long range. The rookie battled admirably, even playing some important minutes as an undersized power forward. “Drmic sliding over to the four and competing with (Matt) Knight and (Jameel) McKay for the night. I just thought that was a hell of a job,” Wright said. “Majok (Deng) came in and gave us a spark. These guys being rookies and playing in front of 15,000 people in a game like this, I thought they did a great job.” Of course, it was the play of Jerome Randle that impressed the most in Adelaide’s brave loss. The electric point guard put on an offensive performance for the ages, hitting on 14 of his 23 field goal attempts (including 5 triples) and knocking down big shot after big shot in a dramatic final quarter. “He was outstanding,” Wright said. “You’re not going to see too many performances like that in the NBL ever. To do it in front of this crowd, under that pressure … the attention was certainly going to him for the last quarter of the game and he handled it and got through it.” This move, a dizzying octuple-crossover, gave Corban Wroe vertigo. Randle’s a competitor though, a guy more concerned about W’s than highlights and scoring records. “I’m just trying to figure out a way to help my team win. That’s all I try to do as a leader,” Randle said postgame. “I didn’t know how many points I had, it really doesn’t even matter … If it’s scoring, if it’s passing, whatever it is, I just need to figure out a way to help the team win.” Randle delivered a similar warning about discounting the 36ers in December last year, sparking a six-game win streak. Unfortunately, the continued absence of Mitch Creek will make it difficult to repeat that kind of run this time around. Wright told media on Saturday that Creek is “probably another three or four weeks” away from returning. That being said, underestimate Jerome Randle at your own risk. In fact, he’d love you to. Adelaide plays at home against Illawarra (3-5) this Saturday before consecutive showdowns against the Brisbane Bullets (3-4), who have lost four of their past five games. Written exclusively for NBL.com.au by Liam Santamaria
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