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Illawarra Hawks come out flying

If the Illawarra Hawks are still flying under your radar, it’s time to invest in some new equipment. Beginning their 2016-17 NBL campaign in brilliant fashion, the Hawks absolutely crushed the Adelaide 36ers on Friday night in front of a delirious home crowd. The Hawks scored 122 points against the 36ers, the most ever scored in a non-overtime game during the NBL’s 40-minute era. In the process, they threw a remarkable 36 assists on 40 made field goals; setting another league record, this one for dimes in a 40-minute game. All in all, it was a beautiful exhibition of ball-movement from one of the league’s most dynamic offensive teams. “We know when we move the ball and are unselfish, we are very, very good,” Beveridge said post-game. Incredibly, Hawks assisted on every single one of their 21 made baskets in the second half. “That’s special and it just shows the unselfishness of this team when they’re making the extra pass because we’ve got so much firepower out there,” Beveridge added. Illawarra had nine players with multiple assists against Adelaide, Marvelle Harris leading the way with seven. In a terrific debut performance, the import swingman also added 21 points, 2 rebounds, 3 steals and a block. Harris, who recently averaged 20.7 points per game as a senior at Fresno State University, believes his reputation as a scorer has people underestimating his playmaking capabilities. “I’ve never been a selfish player and I’ve always enjoyed watching my teammates score,” Harris said. “A lot of people see that I’m the all-time leading scorer at Fresno State but I’m also one of the leading assists guys there too. Passing the ball has never been difficult for me and it’s fun to see your teammates score and everybody happy.” Whipping the ball through hands is not the only way the Hawks will be demonstrating their unselfishness this season. ‘Buying in’ and sacrificing court time at various times will also be vitally important. “We’ve had conversations right from day one that we’ve got 11 contracted players and in 40 minutes it’s very, very difficult from a coaching perspective to get everybody the minutes that they deserve,” Beveridge said. “But we’ve got players who are so unselfish and say, ‘don’t worry about it, coach, we’re doing this for each other and the team.’” Also crucial to Illawarra’s championship aspirations is their defence. The Hawks gave up the third most points per game (88.5) in the league last season and ranked last in opponent field goal percentage (46.1%). They also struggled to clean the defensive glass, an area Beveridge has addressed with the additions of Michael Holyfield and Nicholas Kay. Don’t get me wrong, Illawarra did defend last year. Of course they did, ‘Bevo Ball’ is largely based around being disruptive at the defensive end and the semi-finalists actually led the league in turnovers forced per game (15.1). This time around, the Hawks are looking to be similarly disruptive, while finishing possessions on the boards. “I know that we can put points on the board, there’s no question about that, but we’re trying to teach our players that the way we’re going to put points on the board is through our defence,” Beveridge said. After giving up 34 in the second quarter against the Sixers, Beveridge challenged his players to lift their defensive output. They responded, keeping Adelaide to only 10 points in the third while racking up 34 of their own. “We put on a show in the second half, particularly defensively. That allows us to run, allows us to shoot and allows us the freedom.” It’s a message that seems to be quickly sinking in. “You have to play defence, you have to get stops,” Harris said. “When we play good defence and we get stops, it leads to us scoring more points. Defence is going to be key for us.” With Illawarra following their pre-season ABC title with a record-breaking opening win, the cat is officially out of the bag. It’s clear now, like a highly visible warning sign: underestimate these Hawks at your own risk. “We’ve been tipped to come second last and I’m more than happy to have that underdog status,” Beveridge said. “But I think, unfortunately, we’re no longer under the radar.”   Written exclusively for NBL.com.au by Liam Santamaria    
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