Michael De Lacy brings us an exclusive interview with Australian basketball great and current Melbourne Tigers coach Chris Anstey. To kick things off, we look back on his successful playing career that spanned Australia, America and Europe.
It all started when he went to the Melbourne Tigers in 1994 after dismissing a possible tennis career. After a promising start to his professional career, he then moved across to the now-defunct South East Melbourne Magic from 1995 to 1997, earning Most Improved Player in 1996.
The NBA came calling, and Anstey was selected at #18 overall selection of the 1997 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks. On 17 Mar 1998, he scored a career high 26 points against the Boston Celtics, but was was traded to the Chicago Bulls after two seasons with Dallas. During his NBA journey from 1997 to 2000, Anstey attained NBA career averages of 5.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG and 0.4 BPG in 155 games with 23 starts.
Chris then returned to the NBL with the Victorian Titans in 2001-2002, winning the Best Sixth Man award that season.
In 2003, Anstey moved into playing in Russia where he led Russian club Ural Great Perm to runners up in the Russian Championship, and was named ULEB Cup MVP. In 2004 he signed with UNICS Kazan and led the team to a Euro Challenge Championship where he averaged 13.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.1 assist per game.
Anstey subsequently returned to the NBL with the Melbourne Tigers in 2006 and enjoyed plenty of success including 2 championships and 2 MVPs, not forgetting 2 appearances at the Olympics at Beijing and the Sydney Olympics.
These days, Anstey keeps it low key . . . sort of. Currently living in Melbourne with his fiancée Ilsa Wakeling and his two children Isobel and Ethan, he also coaches the Melbourne Tigers and at Caulfield Grammar School.
Should Chris Anstey be considered a top 5 Australian basketball player? We certainly think so.
It’s hard to believe you started playing basketball at age 17; is that true or does Wikipedia need updating?
It’s true. I played tennis until Easter 1992. I still thought I’d go back to it after trying basketball while having a break from it.
Can you share with us as to how you came to take up basketball in the first place? Did you have a choice between sports?
I always played all sports as a kid, mostly socially. My younger brother and uncle played in a men’s C grade team at Keilor Basketball Stadium and only had 4 one night. I agreed to fill in and found it reasonably easy at that level. I improved pretty quickly and was fortunate to have been given a few opportunities usually reserved for players who had been on the system longer.
You were also instrumental in Australia winning gold at the FIBA U23 World Championships, winning the MVP. What was the experience like for you?
Amazing. To start the tournament slowly but peak at the right time was amazing. Beating the USA still stands out as huge, but the semi and final were career highlights. I’ll never forget different moments throughout the tournament. Sam Mackinnon making amazing plays, Simon Dwight’s second half against the USA and Aaron Trahair’s game winner versus Argentina. I think it proved that Australians, including myself, could compete with the rest of the world.
So after a successful career launch in Australia, the NBA took notice and you were selected as pick #18 in the 1997 NBA Draft with the Mavericks. What happened from there?
I was able to finish the season with the Magic. We lost in the final game of the grand final and I was on a plane the next morning at 6am. It was a tough transition, I needed to get better and stronger quickly and really needed all the training time there was to adjust as best I could to the NBA game.
I’d be silly not to ask as to your experience with the Mavericks and the Bulls! What was your experience like, and looking back now, what stands out for you?
Playing with Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki, putting on a Chicago Bulls singlet with my name on it. Beating the Bulls while in Dallas.
You came back to Australia to play in the NBL and then headed to Europe. Who did you play for and what was it like in comparison to the NBA and Australia?
Played for the Victoria Titans under Brian Goorjian. Wanted to spend more time with the best coach I’d had to keep improving. European basketball is slower but tougher and much more technical. Ball movement, position and the ability to shoot from all positions is vital.
Was it challenging playing in a country where English wasn’t the main language?
Absolutely. Nobody spoke English in Perm or Kazan.
You’ve been blessed enjoying success with the majority of teams throughout your career; which team have you most enjoyed? Is there one particular moment that you look back on and remember fondly?
The South East Melbourne Magic taught me how to work, how to be a team-mate, what success looked like and what was possible in basketball. I wouldn’t have had my other successes without that team.
Do you often wonder how players like Tim Duncan are still playing so strongly? There is only one year difference between both of you.
No, everybody is different. D-Mac won a championship at 42. My body broke down.
What do you rate the quality of European basketball compared to Australian? What can we do to get up there?
We are up there, but people forget how small and isolated Australia is on a global scale, and how few corporate dollars we have to support so many sports.
Missing the 2004 Olympics must have been tough, but I’m interested to learn as to what your biggest career disappointment or regret has been?
I don’t have any regrets. Missing an Olympic Games through injury sucked, but some of my lowest moments were my best learning experiences in hindsight.
Can you imagine how different your career could have gone if you had re-signed with the Bulls?
If I was good enough I would have re-signed. I wasn’t.
Everyone is hoping you can bring a championship back to Melbourne. Other than Perth’s Ennis, what challenges are you going to have overcome?
Ennis is getting a lot of publicity but let’s see what he looks like later in the year. I was interested to hear him say he didn’t want to play down to the level of the NBL. We’ll see.
This is exactly what the NBL needs: not fights but big rivalries which can increase people coming to games.
What do you think the NBL needs the most to get back up the top where it deserves to be?
Any advice for any aspiring young basketball players?
Work harder than everybody else and be ready at any time for your opportunity. Nobody will tell you when it’s going to be there, and most likely it will be when you think nobody is watching.
Thanks Chris, I hope you can continue with your success over the coming seasons with the Melbourne Tigers and future career aspirations for the coming years, our deepest thanks from everyone at The Pick and Roll for taking time out to share your thoughts.
Chris Anstey can also be found on Twitter at @ChrisAnstey13.