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Home But Not Yet In The Zone

When news broke that one of Australia’s most decorated international sporting stars was returning home to play for Melbourne United in the NBL this season, it sounded like a fairytale ending to what has, in many ways, been a fairytale career. Seven games in though, it’s not all gone to plan for David Andersen and Melbourne. They currently sit in fifth place with just three wins from their first seven games and the four-time Olympian is still finding his feet in the league and with life back home. “It’s been an adjustment. It’s a different style of play,” Andersen told NBL Media. “I think they let you be a little more physical [than in Europe] so you have to expect you’ll get hits here or there.” Andersen’s signing with Melbourne was big news for the league and his reputation for winning wherever he goes is something that other teams know about and are keen to stop. “Obviously being one of the guys who has been away for a while and done quite well overseas, you get targeted a bit by other teams,” Andersen conceded. “They obviously want to put you into defensive situations and don’t want you scoring points on them, so they’re double teaming you and stuff like that. So it’s been a bit of an adjustment. In saying that it’s not too bad, it’s more just getting into a groove with the new teammates and finding that chemistry and clicking.” Finding that chemistry is something Andersen admitted the team is still working on and may be a part of their inconsistent play early in the season. “It’s always going to be tough,” he admitted. “We had a pretty tough schedule too in saying that. We had double headers for the first three weeks so that obviously makes it even harder and we’ve had injuries on top of that.” David Barlow – Andersen’s former Boomers teammate – is still yet to play a game this season due to a calf injury, while Chris Goulding (ankle) has missed the past two games and looks set to miss both games this round also. On top of that, Andersen came into the group late following the Rio Olympics so finding cohesion is still a work in progress. “I’m sure from the outside looking in someone would have told you ‘that looks like a disaster waiting to happen’, but in saying that we’ve done a pretty good job. Guys are starting to click better.” “Obviously I came in as probably the last guy to blend into the group,” he explained. “I’m just getting the body right. It’s been a long year and a half after the last season in France [and into the Rio campaign] and getting on top niggles is always part of the challenge. So, for me things are starting to come together. Hopefully, touch wood, it all keeps going in the right direction and we start playing some really good basketball.” From a chemistry perspective, Andersen had a head start with one of his new teammates; Boomers guard Chris Goulding. He used that time to get to know Goulding off the court, which he hopes has helped their on-court relationship. “We were roomies also, so got to know each other quite well and have some good fun together, good times. You don’t really talk tactics off the court, just try and click, but we know each other pretty well on the floor and we do a good job of playing together from the Boomers team. And now we’re trying to get that to happen well with Melbourne – if he’d just get his ankle right.” Andersen knows CG43 is a huge piece of the United puzzle and without him, the team’s ability to fully function as intended is in some ways delayed. “Coming into the club I knew they’d built a good team around certain pieces, so it’s just one of those things. We’re hoping to obviously do really well and click a bit better on the court as a team and get some more wins on the board, but it’s early days.” On top of the on-court adjustments, Andersen and his wife are getting used to life back in Australia after 17 years abroad between Europe and the United States. “It’s been pretty good,” Andersen said of being home. “Obviously getting used to all the Aussie ways. Having friends and family so close by which we haven’t had for a long time, it’s been a little bit of an adjustment as obviously everyone wants to catch up, so I have to sometimes explain that I’ve got to go to work, I have a long day of training, but it’s been really great. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s just good being at home and being in Australia.” On the court, the sweet-shooting big man is still figuring out how to be most effective with this group. He’s currently averaging 10.1 points, 4.4 rebounds but hitting at a shade under 40% from the field. Even at 36 years of age, like most professional athletes he is looking for areas of improvement. “I want to do more,” he admitted. “Every player obviously wants to be doing more; playing better, getting more rebounds and scoring more points. I’ve talked with the assistants as obviously I want to improve my rebounding game, have a bit more influence and be more positive on the court, push the ball a bit more – that kind of style. It’s not been an easy start.” As the Captain of the team and the player with the most experience in winning and in general, Andersen has been vocal with his new teammates after their early struggles. “As I told everyone after our tough loss to Cairns, we’ve got work to put in, but it’s a long road so let’s not get our heads down and start sulking. Let’s just put our heads down and start working.” After this round, United’s schedule eases up a little with no more double headers until round 10. That gives the team a much-needed opportunity to not only get over some injuries, but also work more in practice to sharpen their play and build more cohesion as a group. “It will help obviously,” Andersen said of the lighter schedule. “We’re nursing a few niggles and injuries, me included. So it will help there and also in fine-tuning our style of play and our defences, getting everyone on the same page a bit more there.” “It gives us a bit more time to bond as a team,” he further explained. “We’ll get out with the guys and do some paintball or go-karting or some recreational stuff with the team to make the bond closer and help with chemistry.” Before then, Melbourne is trying to get back on the right side of the win-loss ledger. “Right now we’ve got a crucial weekend coming up with New Zealand and Illawarra,” said Andersen. “Those are two games that we need to get good wins and we need to get back to our winning ways.” As preseason favourites, Melbourne is obviously not where they want to be, but their Captain thinks that’s about to change. “I think everyone’s getting on the right track. You start a season one way and yes you need wins, but it’s really important how you finish the season.” Finishing the season with a Championship is the goal and while some may say the pressure will start to mount if United don’t start showing they’re capable of that, Andersen sees it differently. “There’s always pressure to win. I mean I’ve played on teams like CSKA Moscow where if you lose one game it’s considered a black week. FC Barcelona was the same. If you lose a game it’s tainted the whole season. There are always expectations to win. “Yes we do have high expectations as a team. Obviously they built the team with a Championship in mind and that’s good; I like it. I think that’s a great thing. You’ve got to look at it as a positive, not a negative. It means that you’re in the spotlight; you’re where you want to be. “So for me, I don’t look at it as pressure, I look at it as opportunity and for us it’s a great opportunity to do something as a team.” He can see that he’s got the opportunity to be a part of something special and it’s not a short-term process. “We’re trying to build a good solid program here, not just for one year but hopefully for a few.” David Andersen returned home to end the basketball-playing chapter of his life where it began. His career has been defined by success and he’s squarely focused on continuing that with Melbourne United, but he’s also just enjoying being back home. “One thing I’m enjoying is the atmosphere of being able to talk in English to everyone; talking trash included. “Also living at home in Melbourne; it’s a great feeling playing in front of friends and family.” He’ll do that again when Melbourne host the New Zealand Breakers to tip-off round 5.    
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