Australian players intrigued to see how they match up against Suns

Oct 13, 2017, 6:42 PM | Updated: 8:05 pm
The Brisbane Bullets practice before Friday’s game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Reso...
The Brisbane Bullets practice before Friday’s game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. (Photo by Eric Newman/Cronkite News)
(Photo by Eric Newman/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX —The Brisbane Bullets’ visit for the Suns’ last preseason game of the year could provide a stepping stone to promote both Australian and NBA basketball throughout the world.

Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis said the opportunity for his team to play against NBA competition is a blessing and a chance to see, in person, the skill level it takes to perform among the best in the United States. It is also a chance for his players to improve their own games by observing the techniques and movements of the Suns in action.

“Any basketball player around the world aspires to play at the NBA level. It’s the best competition in the world,” he said. “So for them, truly understand what it means to play here.”

Along with coaching the Bullets, Lemanis has coached the Australian National Team since 2013 and was tasked with facing the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics. As a coach, he said he enjoys the personal challenge of competing against the world’s highest competition and taking time to experience the best basketball possible.

Another Australian basketball personality who made her way to the United States to play, and eventually coach, is Phoenix Mercury coach Sandy Brondello. 

Brondello said the game between Phoenix and Brisbane is not just a positive for the players and coaches involved but for Australian basketball overall.

“Basketball has been popular for many years but it is still a poor sister or brother to other mainstream sports like football or cricket in Australia, although I do think is starting to change,” she said. “The (National Basketball League has) come on in leaps and bounds the past few years.”

The contest is one of three NBA preseason games against Australian clubs, including a thriller that saw the Oklahoma City Thunder narrowly escape Melbourne United 86-85 on Sunday.

Another solid performance, regardless of a win or loss, by the Bullets, could serve to promote Australian basketball, and grow fan bases for the NBL throughout the world.

“Playing a NBA team is great exposure and promotion for the NBL in Australia.  Everyone knows the NBA and this exposure will hope the league gain more fans coming to games and watching on TV,” she said.

The positive momentum will not be confined to Australian basketball, as the Suns and the rest of the NBA are set to benefit as well.

 Friday’s matchup serves as another event, along with the active efforts put forward to make basketball a global game since more international players are contributing significantly to NBA teams each year. There is also a continual movement toward marketing the game internationally.

“(It’s) just exposure, building a fan base beyond the normal other country we usually play in. The China trip, the London trip, Mexico City, continuing to touch different continents,” Phoenix Suns coach Earl Watson said.

Getting past the pleasantries, though, Suns forward Dragan Bender, who played many years overseas before coming to the NBA himself in 2016, said that the main goal for he and the Suns in this game is still to prepare for the NBA season, and compete for roster spots and playing time.

“NBA is overseas, we’re a global game. For us to come on the court with them will be good,” Bender said. “We’re trying to come out on the court for the last game of preseason and implement our system for the regular season, try to get ourselves ready.”

The same goes for Lemanis, who said one of his main goals Friday is to attempt to slow down the game. He said that a low-possession, half-court contest could mitigate some of the size and athletic advantages the Suns have over Brisbane, which could be in danger of getting run out of the gym.

However, because of the teams’ unfamiliarity with one another, he said there is still plenty of potential for flashy plays and entertaining basketball.

“We’ll see how much scouting Phoenix has put into it, and how much the players respect our players at the end of the day. Perhaps we’ll get away with some of our favorite moves that we hope to do in Australia.”

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