The new crop of NBL imports has been hailed as the best in a decade heading into the new season starting on Friday.
The best crop of imports for a decade have National Basketball League insiders predicting a boom season when the 2014-15 campaign gets underway on Friday.
The NBL has had it’s share of off-court issues over the past decade, with teams folding in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Gold Coast, but there now appears genuine cause for optimism about what’s happening on-court.
The Perth Glory-New Zealand Breakers duopoly of recent years was broken as Adelaide emerged to face the Wildcats in last season’s finals series, and just three wins separated the fourth side from last-placed Townsville.
Competition for top four spots could be even more intense this year with almost every club recruiting a high quality import or boasting one that is already proven in NBL combat.
“People keep telling me this is the best group of imports the league has probably seen for at least 10 years,” said NBL CEO Fraser Neill.
“I think nearly every team this year has got a real quality import that’s really going to light up the game.
“The standard and the quality of the competition has risen.
“Where previously people have spoken about maybe one or two teams as potential title holders, they are probably saying it’s up there for anyone at the moment, (with) at least six genuine ones.”
Sydney pulled off the biggest recruiting coup, signing Josh Childress, who has played 391 NBA games, but are rated just seventh of the eight teams by one leading bookmaker.
Other imports tipped to make a big impact are Townsville’s former NBA centre Mickell Gladness, Cairns point guard Scottie Wilbekin and Wollongong’s high leaping guard Jahii Carson.
Adelaide, who have lost key players Daniel Johnson and Gary Ervin from last season’s team, are listed as the rank outsiders.
Ervin, Carson and giant centre Luke Nevill have helped Wollongong compensate for losing last season’s league MVP Rotnei Clarke.
Rebranded Victorian club Melbourne United, have recruited top notch Australian talent in David Barlow and Daniel Kickert.
Defending champions Perth are considered the favourites despite losing star forward James Ennis to NBA club Miami.
“Perth have made 28 finals in a row so they are going to be there, so there’s only three spots up for grabs,” Melbourne coach Chris Anstey said.
“If they were not to make the finals it would be one of the greatest upsets in Australian sports history.”
Perth coach Trevor Gleeson who has added big Guam-born guard Earnest Ross and American forward DeAndre Daniel, believes all other seven teams are capable of challenging the Wildcats.
“The teams outside the playoffs (last season) you’ve got New Zealand with (a former NBL) MVP Cedric Jackson coming back, Townsville won the (pre-season) Blitz, Cairns have recruited very well and Sydney have probably recruited the second best after Melbourne,” Gleeson told AAP.
“There’s no game this year you can put a tick next to before the event.
“It’s going to be a lot (more) even competition this year and it’s going to be a great challenge.”
The NBL has yet to land a major sponsor for this season. Neill stressed there had been interest, though not at the level he was looking for.
“Previously maybe there were fire sales at the 11th hour (previously), I just don’t believe in that,” Neill said.
Neill confirmed a Brisbane franchise was set to contest the league next season, with the possibility of two more teams, from unspecified regions, also joining for the 2015-16 season.
MEET THE NEW NBL IMPORT CREW
Four of the best of the latest crop of imports to hit the NBL.
* JOSH CHILDRESS (SYDNEY) A versatile player, who arrives in Sydney as arguably the most accomplished NBA player to hit the NBL. Played 391 games in the world’s premier comp and averaged double digit scoring in his first four seasons at Atlanta.
* MICKELL GLADNESS (TOWNSVILLE). Played 26 NBA games, Holds the all-time NCAA record of 16 blocks in a single game and, in his junior year in college, led the nation in blocks. He has the largest wingspan in NBL history.
*SCOTTIE WILBEKIN (CAIRNS). Comes to Cairns after a stellar US college career, finishing his senior year with the University of Florida as Southeastern Conference (SEC) Player of the Year. He was named 2014 SEC Tournament MVP, earned third-team All American honours as a senior and was named to the SEC All-Defensive Team in each of his final three years in college.
*JAHII CARSON (WOLLONGONG). At 178 cms, Carson is one of the smaller guards in the NBL, but has genuine hops. He won the pre-season Blitz dunk competition and at the NBA Pre-Draft Combine last May, recorded the equal-best maximum vertical leap from the 59 draft prospects. His measured leaping ability was equal eighth all-time for NBA draft hopefuls.