Hungry Jack's NBL
Mark Worthington: Living the Dream
Cairns Taipans forward Mark Worthington is literally living the dream. During his formative years growing up in Bunbury, south of Perth, Worthington imagined himself one day playing in the NBL. He supported the Wildcats, of course, idolised Andrew Vlahov and spent his quiet moments visualising a career in Australia’s professional basketball league. Tonight, twenty-something years down the track, Worthington will play his 300th NBL game when the Taipans host Melbourne United at the Cairns Convention Centre. It’s an achievement the 32-year-old is rightfully proud of. “It was always my dream to play in the NBL,” Worthington told nbl.com.au this week. “For a kid from Bunbury to have not only played but have got up to the 300 mark, it’s a really good feeling.” Worthington debuted in 2005, when he joined a Sydney Kings team gunning for a fourth consecutive championship. He finished that season with Rookie of the Year honours and has since played ten tumultuous seasons in the NBL, including stops with the Kings, South Dragons, Melbourne Tigers, Gold Coast Blaze, Melbourne United and the Taipans. It’s been a wild ride for one of the past decade’s top Australian players. “I don’t think there’s been too many players in the NBL that have had the roller-coaster that I’ve endured,” Worthington said, citing the demise of the Kings, Dragons and Blaze. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs but it’s been a great ride.” One of those ups was, of course, the ‘09 Championship with the Dragons. Worthington finished fourth in MVP voting that season and it was a title all the more satisfying after the agony of ‘06 and ‘08 Grand Final defeats with the Kings. His teammate (and housemate) at the time, Utah Jazz swingman Joe Ingles, is thrilled to see his good mate achieving the 300-game milestone. “Wortho has been a great player through his career to date,” Ingles told nbl.com.au. “He’s always been a leader and someone who puts the team first. We had great memories on and off court that year in ’09 and whenever you win a championship together, it's special.” Of course, it was a friendship that only developed once they were wearing the same jerseys. “I hated playing against him,” laughed Ingles. “He is a guy you hate to play against but love on your team. He’s always doing the little things which help the team. “Of course, he couldn't guard me though which is why he moved to the Dragons.” Worthington’s teams have rarely missed the playoffs throughout his career and he has been a member of the All-NBL First Team on four occasions (2008–2010, 2012). He’s arguably one of the most versatile players the League has ever seen; scoring (from both inside and out), passing, handling the ball, defending and rebounding all at a high level. Two-time NBL MVP Chris Anstey has spent time with Worthington as both a teammate (in the NBL and at the Olympics) and a coach. He believes the driving force behind Worthington’s outstanding career has been his intense will to win. “Probably Wortho’s defining skill is his competitiveness, which over the years – and I’m sure he would take this as a compliment – has rubbed opposition players and fans the wrong way and has endeared him to the fans of whichever team he’s playing for,” Anstey commented. “You don’t find many mediocre players who are disliked by opposition fans.” Anstey also believes Worthington has been one of the most bankable players of the past decade, consistently bringing maximum effort for his teams. “He’s resilient and he brings that competitiveness and edge every single game. You can depend on him,” Anstey said. Worthington’s influence is currently helping Ingles compete on the biggest of sporting stages; the NBA. “Early on in my career I watched him closely and learnt a lot from him,” Ingles said about Wortho. “He is a pro and always goes the extra yard to make sure he is ready for games and practices. That commitment obviously shows as he has achieved a lot.” Worthington was co-captain at Melbourne last season and was named United’s MVP after averaging 13 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game. His departure from the club wasn’t entirely amicable but Worthington insists that does not make tonight’s game any more important than it already is. “At the end of the day it’s just another game for myself and we’ve got to win and protect our home court. Both teams have a lot to play for,” he said. Contracted for next year with the Taipans, Wortho’s unsure what lies ahead beyond that deal. In the meantime, there are games to be won and playoffs to be made. Living the dream.