Hungry Jack's NBL
Everything About Cairns Bringing Out Best in Pinder
Written for nbl.com.au by Chris Pike
Take one look at Keanu Pinder in #NBL22 in a Cairns Taipans uniform and you see a young man happy and confident, and comfortable knowing he just needs to go out and perform for the Snakes using the natural gifts that make him so special.
Pinder is thriving in his first season in Cairns, and second in the NBL, after spending last season with the Adelaide 36ers, and he has no doubt that it's because so many things have come together at once to bring out his best.
The first is reconnecting with coach Adam Forde. Pinder and Forde might now be up on the other side of the country to where they first connected in Western Australia, but it's that connection they built with Forde a young coach and Pinder a teenager that has them in good stead now.
Forde knows how to get the best of Pinder's enormous gifts and what he's capable of, and in turn Pinder knows exactly what Forde wants and expects from him, so he just has to go out there and do it.
Add in the fact that Pinder is loving life in Cairns with the environment of the Tropical Far North somewhat reminding him of his home in the remote northern WA community of Derby. At least more than his previous stints in Poland and Adelaide could.
Throw in that he is loving the chance to share some stories of their culture and where they've come from with new teammate Nate Jawai, and you can easily begin to understand why Pinder is thriving on the court with the Taipans.
Whether it's throwing down huge dunks, blocking shows from nowhere, pulling down rebounds or fighting and diving for the loose balls, Pinder is giving his all for the Taipans.
He has no doubt that's in large part because of the bond and long-standing understanding he has from having known coach Forde for so long.
"That's something I've always been good at is using my athleticism and I'm glad I'm finally able to use that in every aspect here. I'm so glad I've got the opportunity to come play for Adam in the NBL because we've known each other for a long time," Pinder said.
"I think it's definitely got a lot more to do with the more confidence I have in myself and knowing the coaches have my back. I'm not saying the coaches didn’t have my back last year, but I've known Fordey for a long time and he knows what I can do and we have that understanding.
"That's something that I love about him so it's been great playing for him at this level. I have a lot more confidence in myself as a result of that. I feel like this season I really fit into Adam Forde's system.
"Everything he needs me to do, I've just been trying to work at that and just do my job to the best I possibly can. That's what he brought me in for, he knows what I can do and he's letting me show everyone else what I can do."
Speaking of coach Forde, he has made no secret of what he wants and expects from this Taipans group in recent weeks, and has vented some frustrations with not getting what he's after.
However, clearly he also has the backs of his playing group and has built a chemistry already with those he is coaching in Cairns for the first time and those like Pinder, Jarrod Kenny, Marshall Nelson and Nate Jawai who has a history with in one way or another.
That's why Pinder is more than happy for Forde to give the team a spray when they need one and to be called out publicly. At least he knows what's expected of him and the team, and he'd much rather have things this way.
"It's good because it gives you an insight into what he's thinking too. When you don't know what the coach is thinking, it's kind of stressful and you are trying to think of what you need to do and what he wants from you," Pinder said.
"When you don’t know exactly what that it is, it can be kind of hard to do the right thing. But when you know what they want from you, it can be pretty simple to just go and do the task you know you are expected to do. It makes it a lot simpler to go and do it."
Having split his time growing up between the Kimberley town of Derby and Perth, Pinder has had quite a journey over the past decade going to high school and college in the United States, and then beginning his professional career in Poland.
He then got his first taste of the NBL last season with the 36ers and while it was a mixed bag in terms of what happened both personally for him and as a team on the court, he was happy for the experience.
A couple of weeks ago was his first chance to return to his home of last season and while the Taipans couldn’t come away with a win, Pinder enjoyed the experience.
"It was good fun going back to Adelaide, but I wish we got the W to finish it out but there are just some things that you can't always control by yourself," he said.
"I did enjoy going back there, though, and it was good to see some of the past staff and people, and to play against a couple of old teammates. There's always good and bad in every situation, but I enjoyed my time in Adelaide overall. I enjoyed everything about it when I look back."
The Taipans returned to the winner's list in impressive fashion with a win at home over the Brisbane Bullets to open Round 13 last Thursday night before a loss to Melbourne United on Sunday.
Now Round 14 is Indigenous Round in the NBL. It's something that means a lot to Pinder given his mother Tracey Smith is proudly Nyul Nyul and Jabirr Jabirr from the Dampier Peninsula (north of Broome and Bunuba in the Fitzroy Valley region).
"I love that they have this Indigenous Round, it's special to me because you can see that the NBL people care about the Indigenous people here in Australia," Pinder said.
"They are bringing light to it and just by doing all the things that we are doing now, it's great to be part of.
"We have the Players Association as well with Tyson (Demos) and Mel (Cooper) who are doing so much to bring light to it, and it's amazing to see how much is going on. To compare it to now to what it was not that long ago, it's great to see and I love it."
Another great benefit of going to Cairns for Pinder is being able to call Jawai a teammate.
The Taipans went on a pre-season trip to Jawai's home in Bamaga which Pinder loved the chance of doing, and he'd love to do something one day by taking his teammates to Derby.
"With Nate being from a small town and me being from a small town, we understand each other and we see things differently. Most people don't get to experience the things that we've experienced in life, and to be able to share that with our teammates is amazing," Pinder said.
"We went up to Bamaga where Nate is from as a group and everyone got to see what life is like up there. I wish everyone else had that opportunity to see that. Hopefully one day I can take my team to where I'm from and they can see what it's like over there and how we live.
"It's kind of like a third world country, people don’t really realise what those small towns and communities are like here in Australia. I'm really glad, though, to have connected with Nate and we can tell stories together about our experiences in life."
Playing for NBL team in Derby is unlikely to happen anytime soon for Pinder, but what he feels like he has found in Cairns away from the basketball court, is the closest environment he might get to that and he's embracing everything about life in the tropics.
"I love it here in Cairns. We are on the tropical side over here and it's similar weather to what I'm used to, just a bit more humid," he said.
"I love seeing the rainforests up here and all of that, it's just so beautiful to explore everything around this place. I honestly feel like I'm at home over here too because of the crocodiles and all the different types of fish and everything in the water. It just seems similar to being home and I love it."
When you look at how his basketball is thriving and hear how much he's loving life right now in Cairns, he sees no reason why it can't become a long-term home for him as well.
"I like playing for Fordey, I like living here in Cairns, I like the city and I like everything about it all," Pinder said.
"Wherever I find myself in the future I'm sure I'm going to love it, but I like it here and I would never say anything bad about this place. So having said all that, I sure wouldn’t mind staying here for a lot longer."