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NBA scouts target NBL

International interest in Australian basketball took another step forward last week, with NBA scouts converging on the NBL’s new Australian Basketball Challenge in Brisbane. The Australian Basketball Challenge felt a bit like the NBA Summer League at times, as scouts from the world’s biggest and best competition chatted with local coaches and exchanged cards with agents. Numerous NBA franchises were represented in Brisbane, with teams including, Sacramento, Denver, Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Cleveland in attendance. They were in town to watch Adelaide 36ers import Terrance ‘2K’ Ferguson, the teenage phenom who is a potential lottery pick in next year’s NBA Draft. With well-trained eyes following his every move, Ferguson had an eventful tournament. He underwhelmed in Adelaide’s opening game against Cairns before hurting his knee late in the Sixers’ second outing against Melbourne. Ferguson played well against Melbourne, scoring 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including 2-of-4 from downtown. The injury turned out to be minor but the concern in the building at the time was palpable. NBA scouts were busily seeking footage post-game as well as eye-witness accounts of Ferguson’s contact with the hardwood. One NBA scout, relieved that Ferguson was ok, said that almost all thirty NBA teams will have somebody on the ground in Australia this NBL season. They may not all be here right now, the scout said, but they’re coming. “There’s a huge interest in him. I would think that at least half the league will take the trip down to Australia this season to see him live, if not everybody,” the scout said. “He’s got some characteristics that are pretty special.” An added benefit of the interest in Ferguson is the increased visibility of some of the other young talent across the NBL. Local players like Mitch Creek (Adelaide), Todd Blanchfield (Melbourne), Jason Cadee (Sydney) and Mitch McCarron (Cairns) are all 25 or younger and possess the talent to earn workouts or Summer League opportunities at the next level. Cam Bairstow (Brisbane), meanwhile, spent the past two seasons with the Chicago Bulls and would no doubt relish another opportunity in the Association. “There are definitely Australian kids who could have a chance and could benefit from that,” one Western Conference scout told NBL Media.  “There were a couple of guys I saw in Brisbane who were very impressive.” And then, of course, there are the imports.  Casey Prather (Perth), Greg Whittington (Sydney), Travis Trice (Cairns), Marvelle Harris (Illawarra) and Devin Williams (Melbourne) are all operating on the NBA bubble. Those guys will already have their games against Adelaide circled on their schedules. “It definitely is a bonus for them because teams like us will come out and watch them live,” one scout said. “We’ll all be here to watch Ferguson, obviously, but while we’re down here we might as well check out some other guys who we’ve followed over the past few years, maybe in the D-League or guys who went undrafted. “Even if it’s just to bring them back to a D-League team to see how much they have improved or bring them to a Summer League.” Melbourne United head coach Dean Demopoulos, who spent many years coaching in the NBA before coming Down Under, relayed that the scouts in Brisbane spoke very highly of the basketball on display. “Those guys were really, really impressed with the level of play,” Demopoulos said. “They were excited about the league and its prospects.” One scout told NBL Media that the league’s compacted season and the recent changes to the player contract and salary rules have had a positive impact on the league’s reputation overseas. “This league continues to step forward,” he said. “Having those Euro-based guys back here like (David) Andersen from Melbourne and Brad Newley from Sydney and having three imports, which aligns the Australian league a bit closer to the European leagues. “And also just the way your season is structured, it’s a relatively shorter season so guys have options when it’s finished.” Demopoulos, whose team defeated the 36ers in one of the ABC’s most enthralling contests, believes NBL players could definitely benefit from all the Terrance Ferguson buzz. “No question, I think it’s a win, win, win, win,” Demopoulos said. “The more they like coming here, the more guys those teams will send, the more times they’ll be here and the more exposure the league and the players in it will get.”   Written exclusively for NBL.com.au by Liam Santamaria
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