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NBL Summer lovin'

Opening night of the 2016/17 NBL season may still be three months away, but make no mistake, the battle for next year’s championship is well and truly underway. This week NBL GMs and coaches will be taking the battle to the bright lights of Las Vegas, USA, as they converge on the NBA Summer League. Buoyed by the prospect of signing three imports for the upcoming season, representatives from almost all of the NBL’s eight clubs will be in Las Vegas this week. Joey Wright (Adelaide 36ers), Aaron Fearne (Cairns Taipans) and Andrew Gaze (Sydney Kings) are the three head coaches who will be in attendance. In addition, front office executives Nick Marvin (Perth Wildcats), Vince Crivelli (Melbourne United), Mark Beecroft (Cairns Taipans) and Jeff Van Groningen (Sydney Kings) are all either already in Las Vegas or are heading over in the coming days. Both the Brisbane Bullets and New Zealand Breakers have engaged American scouts to assist them on the ground at Summer League while the Illawarra Hawks are still contemplating the possibility of sending head coach Rob Beveridge at some stage next week. The Summer League showcases first and second year NBA players as well as a wealth of fringe NBA talent. It is a massive industry event and serves as a melting pot of recruitment for international leagues such as the NBL. “The goal at Summer League is definitely talent identification as there is such a huge pool of really, really good players,” Van Groningen explained. “Our competitors in looking at those fringe NBA guys are Europe, China, other destinations in Asia and obviously other NBL teams. And we all have our eyes on a similar calibre of player.” For the Kings, the plan is to sign two imports to join recent high-profile signings Kevin Lisch, Brad Newley and Aleks Maric as part of an exciting, revitalised roster. “We think we’ve got all the pieces once we get two imports,” Gaze told nbl.com.au this week. “We want to look at everything but we’ve identified some prospects already that we are going to take a look at.” As part of ‘looking at everything’, the Kings have not ruled out a possible return of star small forward Josh Childress as one of Sydney’s imports. “We are still interested in Childress and we understand he is still a chance,” Van Groningen said. “There is certainly dialogue between the two parties so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.” The Perth Wildcats front office, meanwhile, has stated its intention to sign three imports following this year’s trip to the States. Top of the shopping list is a centre, with former pivots Nate Jawai (Cairns Taipans) and Tom Jervis (Brisbane Bullets) recently signing elsewhere. The Wildcats have been successful recruiters at the NBA Summer League in recent times, inking deals with talented small forwards James Ennis (2013), DeAndre Daniels (2014) and Casey Prather (2015) over the past three years. As for the Taipans, Fearne is on the lookout for a point guard and a small forward, roles that were occupied by Markel Starks and Torrey Craig (Brisbane Bullets) last season. It was via the NBA Summer League that Fearne recruited All-NBL First Teamer Scottie Wilbekin in 2014. The star point guard helped propel the Taipans to their most successful season in franchise history and it’s that type of signing that Fearne hopes to replicate this time around. “Point guard is obviously a very important position in our league so we’re looking for someone who has the ability to make plays – someone you can give the ball to and say ‘go make us a play,” Fearne said. “With the 3-man, we’re looking for someone who is long and athletic and has a good basketball IQ. Guys in that position who have some athleticism really do well in our league.” Fearne indicated that the Taipans are also open-minded about the possibility of signing an import reserve big man. “There are some Australian options there as well so I’ll just have to play that one by ear right now and see how it goes,” Fearne said. According to Van Groningen, it’s the chance to view the intangibles about a player – things that don’t show up on a box score – that makes the Summer League recruiting trip so valuable. “What you get live is the ability to see their demeanour,” Van Groningen explained. “How do they react when they’re not playing? Are they arrogant? Are they humble? What does the body language suggest? You get a better look at those things when you’re actually there.” That’s precisely why three NBL coaches – Fearne, Wright and Sydney Kings assistant Dean Vickerman – will be coaching in the annual Worldwide Invitational while they’re in Vegas. The Worldwide Invitational runs alongside the NBA Summer League and serves as a showcase for players seeking overseas contracts. For those involved, it adds a whole new dimension to Summer League recruiting. “It’s a chance to get to know a guy’s personality – who they are as a person,” Wright told the Advertiser ahead of this year’s trip. “Those are things you don’t get through video. You can watch their eyes – do they look you in the eye? – and their body language, and get a feel for the player.” Wright, who is in the market for a third import to play alongside Jerome Randle and Terrance Ferguson, recruited Kenyon McNeail out of the Worldwide Invitational last year, before the athletic guard suffered a pre-season injury that led to him being released. In a nice moment for both player and coach, Wright recently selected McNeail to be part of his team at this year’s camp. So, with all the familiar NBL faces recruiting potential imports at the same place at the same time, how competitive does it get on those Summer League sidelines? “I think everybody works fairly well,” Van Groningen laughed. “We certainly don’t walk into a room and say ‘we’re close to signing this guy, what do you think of him?’ That’s an invitation for trouble. But by the same token you’re definitely happy to talk about the talent.” That ‘talent’ has the potential to shape the upcoming NBL season. In this case, what happens in Vegas won’t necessarily stay there.
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