Hungry Jack's NBL
Showcasing Offensive Game Behind Wani's Hawks Signing
Written for nbl.com.au by Chris Pike
Having proven himself one of the best defensive players in the NBL as part of a championship team he finally was there to embrace, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk wants the chance to show what he can do offensively and that's a large of why he's landed at the Illawarra Hawks.
Swaka Lo Buluk has now played 73 games in the NBL and won three championship rings, but for so many reasons the role he played and success he enjoyed at the Sydney Kings in #NBL22 were the standout experience to date in his career.
Having grown up in Perth, Swaka Lo Buluk got his first NBL opportunities at the Perth Wildcats and while he was on championship teams in 2019 and 2020, never truly felt part of earning those rings he now owns.
Then all of a sudden, the now 20-year-old found himself without an NBL home coming into the 2021/22 season until a chance came up to join the Kings as an injury replacement player.
There were no guarantees, but he immediately impressed new coach Chase Buford with effort and energy on the training floor, and more importantly the potential he showed to be the defensive stopper on a team loaded with offensive weapons.
By the end of the season, Swaka Lo Buluk ended up being a starter on the championship winning team where he played a key role of getting the biggest defensive assignment each and every night.
With superstars like MVP Jaylen Adams, Grand Final MVP Xavier Cooks, big man Jarell Martin and NBA champion Ian Clark around him, Swaka Lo Buluk embraced his role to make his mark defensively.
He thrived on that and embraced the eventual championship triumph, but at the same time he was craving more.
He knows he can do a lot more with the ball in his hands and at the offensive end than he had the chance to show with the talent the Kings had, and that's why he was quick to jump at the chance to join the Illawarra Hawks for #NBL23 and beyond.
"Obviously I was talking to Sydney about coming back but Hawks reached out and it just felt like a better situation for me to grow my game a bit more," Swaka Lo Buluk said.
"Coach Jacob has coached against me and he knows that he can be more of an offensive player so this off-season I will be focusing on building my confidence back up on the offensive end.
"They know what I can do defensively now and coach also has seen before what I can do at the offensive end, and it's just about gaining that confidence back. It just felt that Illawarra was the perfect fit and a good situation for me with a good offer from them.
"That's why I decided to take that and I also know some of the guys there on the team who know what their culture is about. I've got good friends with that I've known for a long time and hopefully this works out and things go well, and we can win a championship. That's the goal."
While he hasn’t had much chance to show what he can do offensively in the NBL, Swaka Lo Buluk has a lot of tools and gifts to call upon.
He has played on an experienced Warwick Senators team out west under the coaching of the legendary Mike Ellis and alongside another former Kings and Hawks player Cody Ellis, and for a while was a more than effective point guard on that team.
So he's proven he can run a team's offence and carry the ball, create and distribute. He's also able to create his own shot, can take it to the rack and can be a better perimeter shooter than his 25 per cent from three in #NBL22 suggests.
While Swaka Lo Buluk loved the chance to be such a key part on a successful Kings team, his confidence at the offensive end also took a hit when he only averaged 4.5 shots a game.
Now this off-season playing NBL1 North with USC Rip City and in pre-season with the Hawks is all about building up his offensive confidence so he show more at that end of the floor in #NBL23.
"It all starts this off-season for me just working out in the gyms and getting to play more freely with my offensive game. It's about really building my confidence back up with the ball in my hands," he said.
"This season was great, but I had to stand out and make defence my thing, but now hopefully over this off-season I gain confidence and do some things to show next season I can play more freely and show more of my offensive side."
Swaka Lo Buluk celebrated the championship with the Kings in front of a Grand Final record crowd at Qudos Bank Arena. While he's come down from that high now, the whole experience is easily his career highlight to look back on.
"Yeah, I've come down from it. I've been chilling and laying back just lately up here on the Sunshine Coast getting ready to start playing for USC Rip City in NBL1 North," Swaka Lo Buluk said.
"I've got those other two rings from Perth but it's hard to say they really count. The first one, I wasn’t even on the trip when they won it so I didn’t get to have that experience of the celebration on the court.
"Then obviously the second one was the COVID one when we were announced as the winners while we were sitting in a room. We didn’t get to hear the final buzzer go off or anything.
"But with this one, I got the full experience. I got to actually play and then when the buzzer hit, the excitement from everyone on the court and in the crowd was just unbelievable. This one's obviously No. 1 for sure."
Swaka Lo Buluk will always be grateful and thankful for the chance the Kings provided him and the fact that he ended up being a starter on a championship winning team.
He knew that to make a go of things with the Kings he had to find a way to stand out. It wasn’t going to be easy to do that on the offensive end given the talent on the team, so he knuckled down defensively and found a role, and it could scarcely have turned out better.
"I liked the role that I was given and it was a very important role i guess because coach obviously trusted me to guard their best perimeter player every game," he said.
"That's good and even my teammates trusted me so I took that and knew I had to do whatever it took to help my team win so I tried my best to hold the other teams' best player to tough shots.
"You have to accept they'll still make tough shots and I was cooked a lot of times by good players, but as long as I tried to make their life hard then that's the best I could do. Now as I continue to move forward and grow, I can do better in more areas but I was glad that I had that role on the championship team at the Kings."
What makes Swaka Lo Buluk even more grateful and thankful to the Kings for the chance to do what he did as part of their championship team was because only months earlier it appeared he might not even be part of the NBL season at all.
He parted ways with his hometown Wildcats and hadn’t received any offers elsewhere. He was prepared to just work on his game and keep himself ready should a call ever come, but really there were no guarantees.
However, that's when a chance popped up with the Kings and immediately he knew that there were no certainties that it could turn into anything more, or also that this wouldn’t be his last opportunity to prove himself in the NBL.
Six months later, he had played a significant role in winning a championship and he'll be forever grateful for that.
"I had no offers an no teams were really looking at me because the past couple of years I didn’t really get to show what I could do so when Sydney offered me a chance, that was all I had and I took it and wanted to make the most of it," Swaka Lo Buluk said.
"I came in early in the pre-season and just put in the work day in, day out and then had to be one of the hardest workers.
"I had to stand out somehow because we had so many talented players and I had to differentiate myself somehow, and my calling card became playing hard defensively and making an impact somehow with my defence.
"We had a super talented team all across the board so defence was the way I could stand out because it's all about effort. I'm blessed to have some tools to help me with that to use to my advantage, and then put in the work to stand out and that's when Chase started to have trust in me, and it all went on from there."
While Swaka Lo Buluk has nothing but good things to say about his experience playing under Buford in Sydney, he hasn’t heard anything but things to make him excited ahead of now playing for rookie coach Jacob Jackomas at the Hawks.
"I've heard a lot of great things about Jacob from a lot of people whose opinion I trust," he said.
"I spoke to Robbie McKinley about him and he told me a lot of great things, and then I know a couple of guys on the Hawks team already who seem to love the guy. It seems like I would love playing for him too and I can't wait to get started, and I'm excited for it."
Swaka Lo Buluk is now settling into life on the Sunshine Coast getting ready to play alongside the likes of Kouat Noi, Isaih Tueta and Eric McAlister under the coaching of Nathan Arousi before getting back to Wollongong ahead of #NBL23.
"I'm excited to get started playing here either this weekend or next," he said.
"We've got a pretty good team too and last year these guys made it to semi finals with a couple of guys switching teams and stuff, but I was there the other night when they beat a pretty good Logan team.
"They just have guys who want to compete and have fun at train, and I love to play with a good group of guys like that who love to compete but also to have some fun at the same time."
Swaka Lo Buluk is looking forward to spending the next couple of months enjoying living and playing on the Sunshine before beginning to set up his new life in the 'Gong.
"I'm loving it up here apart from the weather so far over the past week or so. It's more vibe with how laidback and chilled it is around here, I guess that's more me so I'm loving it so far," Swaka Lo Buluk.
"I just hope the weather gets a little better so I can see what the Sunshine Coast is like because a lot of people say a lot of great things about it.
"I can't then wait to get back to Wollongong. Guys have told me how great a place to live it is and how laidback it is, and that's definitely me.
"I like to chill but also Sydney's not far away and I love the city of Sydney too so I can go there too I guess anytime I have a day or two off, and want to go do something. I'm really looking forward to it and I'm excited to see what's to come."