Damian Arsenis takes a timeout with Santa Clara’s incoming freshman guard Kai Healy from New South Wales.
While the likes of Ben Simmons (LSU), Jonah Bolden (UCLA) and Deng Adel (Louisville) have been attracting more than their fair share of the spotlight, there is another Aussie young gun who has made the trek over to the USA to progress their career; Kai Healy.
Healy played most of his junior club basketball with Hornsby in Sydney and graduated from high school at The Scots College after an impressive year in which his school was runners-up to Dante Exum’s Lake Ginninderra in the national final. That season, The Scots College ran up an impressive 40-1 overall record – something almost unheard of in Sydney’s school basketball scene.
The promising 6’5″ swingman who boasts an impressive junior resume is a perennial New South Wales state basketball representative (twice as Captain) at the Australian Junior Championships. He also led the Australian U19 team in scoring at the 2013 FIBA Oceania Championships, and won a gold medal for his country at the 2013 Youth Olympics in the 3×3 competition.
With a large incoming class of first year players, Healy could be expected to play an important role with the Broncos. A jack of all trades, his on court toughness, competitiveness and leadership will be something that the Broncos may well need immediately.
The Pick and Roll’s exclusive interview with: Kai Healy
Damian: Thanks for making the time to catch up. So how did you end up choosing Santa Clara? Did you have any other interest?
Kai: No problem! I mean for me it was almost a no-brainer, as soon as I got an offer from them I committed. I think one of the reasons I chose Santa Clara was because I’ve seen a lot of Aussies compete pretty favorably in the West Coast Conference, so for me I knew that I could come in and at some point be making some big contributions to my team. Other than that, I mean you couldn’t ask for better weather or teammates. To be honest, I didn’t really have too much interest from other schools, besides the guys at Bellarmine University, which is a Division II school in Kentucky. I almost committed to them, however playing Division I hoops was always my goal, and when Santa Clara came along I was jumping at the bit to get over here with a chip on my shoulder and kind of prove to some of the schools that over looked me that I can play. So yeah, choosing Santa Clara was a no-brainer to me.
Damian: Was choosing the college pathway always what you were planning?
Kai: I mean, both my parents are American born and bred, so they always wanted me to go to college and have that same kind of experience that they both had, and as long as I can remember I was watching college basketball with my dad and two brothers dreaming of one day being on the TV myself. At one point though a year and a half ago, when I moved to The Scots College, I started to miss my friends from my old school and I had hardly any college interest. So I started looking at the possibility of going straight to the NBL and studying in Sydney, but as I settled into my new school, I came to the conclusion that if I could I had to go to the US, as you see the trend of college players coming back from school and playing big minutes professionally. It readies you for that next level. But yeah, that thought was kind of short-lived (laughing)!
Damian: We always hear about Saint Mary’s College back in Australia and you will now be playing against them in the West Coast Conference. What can you tell us about Santa Clara?
Kai: Yeah, I’m so excited to be playing Saint Mary’s for the next 4 years after watching Patty (Mills), Delly (Dellavedova) and the other guys from Australia on TV pretty regularly. Santa Clara is located about an hour south of San Francisco, so it’s a lot warmer here than down in San Francisco, and in my opinion, it has to be one if not the most beautiful campus’ I’ve been to. It’s about 6 or 7 thousand undergraduates here right now and I think the plan is to make that number bigger over the next few years. In regard to basketball, last year we were kind of middle of the pack in the conference, but I see much bigger things on the horizon over the next few years.
Damian: I believe you have been on campus now for the past 3-4 weeks. What adjustments have you had to make? What is the biggest difference between life in Australia and now at US college?
Kai: I’ve been at school for right around a month now. The biggest adjustments for myself right now would be cooking my own food and the speed of the game. The cooking is hard because the cafeteria is closed because it’s summer school right now, but I’m getting a little better each day.
The speed of the game is what everyone seems to say about coming to college and adjusting, but I feel it’s more mental than anything else. Athletically I feel I can compete with my teammates fairly well, but getting used to having to make decisions much quicker is a thing that’s been difficult for me so far, as I have been making some pretty inconsistent plays – one possession I’ll make a great play and then the next possession I might as well have been asleep! The biggest difference is I don’t have to travel far for my workouts and stuff like that, which makes it much easier for me to get into the gym, get shots up, etc.
Damian: Heading to college you are now a student first and an athlete second. What are you studying? Do you see this as something you may pursue in life after basketball (hopefully a very long time away)?
Kai: Right now I’m enrolled in arts and sciences, but I want to change in my second year and get a business major from Santa Clara. Yeah for sure, I see myself pursuing this career after basketball, but I mean I’ve got the chance to potentially make some money while doing the thing I love, so right now I’m putting a lot of effort and time into basketball while still maintaining good grades. Like Mark Watkins would say, don’t put all your eggs in one nest.
Damian: Sound advice from a very good coach. Can you fill me in on your junior career in NSW. How did you come to take up basketball and which club(s)/school did you play for?
Kai: Ok, well I started playing basketball competitively at the local basketball stadium around 1st or 2nd grade, and started playing representative basketball for the Hornsby Spiders at the U12 level when I was 10, and stayed with Hornsby until I just moved to the US.
I was an average player in the league until the time between U14 bottom age and top age, when I kind of took that next step. I remember the team was kind of just Sukhman Bhinder and I passing to each other and running a pick and roll for each other, no offense to the other guys on the team of course! In U16’s when I was bottom age I just missed out on making the state team, and was named as a reserve. I remember being so intimidated in the trails by the players a year older than me like Nick Duncan, Mirko Djeric, Gerard Martin, Fabijan Krslovic, Obi Mbakwe and Siatua Solese that I didn’t even want to make the team; I played scared and at the time I just didn’t think I could do it.
The following year I made the state team and was named captain, and I was playing really well, dominating that representative campaign before a back injury really set me back for nationals. I remember I was doing almost 3o mins of work before each game with the physio just so I could play, and I didn’t perform as well a the Nationals as I would have liked. I made the following U18 team bottom aged with the same group of guys, Nick (Duncan), Gerard (Martin), Mirko (Djeric), etc. and because of an injury to Obi (Mbakwe) I was named to the starting team with those guys which was crazy! The rest of the starters were all Australian representatives, and that gave me a lot of confidence in my own ability. We won that year, beating Dante Exum, Ben Simmons and the rest of that extremely stacked Victoria Metro team.
The following year in 2013, I was named to the Australian 3 on 3 team with Jack Mcveigh, Tanner Krebs and Tad Dufelmeier, to play at the Youth Olympics which we ended up winning. Playing with those guys once again gave me the confidence that I was able to play with anyone in the country, if not be one of the best for my age. I was again named captain for the U18 state team, and unfortunately I didn’t live up to the big expectations I had put on myself coming in to the tournament. Looking back I’m sure that my poor play probably lead to my lack of interest from colleges. Then finally this year I played at the U20 nationals and even being bottom aged, I enjoyed arguably my best nationals statistically speaking. School-wise I played at Barker College from year 5-11, before making a switch to The Scots College for my final year. Sorry about giving you my life story (laughing)!
Damian: All good! I recall hearing about some controversy about your move to The Scots College. What was that all about?
Kai: I mean, our team at Scots was seriously stacked, quite possibly, in my opinion, one of the best teams ever in the GPS, and maybe even the state. We were the first team to ever be undefeated and people really got kind of nasty towards us. Schools were threatening to boycott us from next years’ competition because apparently we just paid for the best players in the state. Personally, I wasn’t on a scholarship, and I think only a small number of guys on the team were on any kind of financial support. People were hating over that, but those guys on financial aid wouldn’t have been able to afford to have gone to a private school, let along the fares at The Scots College, so the school was giving them a great opportunity that I don’t think anyone could actually be mad over. Personally, all the media hype over the subject was crazy and kind of ridiculous to me, I couldn’t believe it.
Damian: Wow. That’s something else! You mentioned you played state basketball for NSW. What was the experience like – what were the highlights for you?
Kai: As I said before (laughing), playing for NSW was amazing, the tournaments were so exciting and I loved comparing myself to the other top talents in my age group and seeing how I fared. The highlight had to have been beating Dante Exum, Ben Simmons and the rest of that stacked Victoria Metro team. Other highlights were playing alongside Thon Maker at U16’s, playing against Ben Simmons that year, playing Dante (Exum) in U18’s and actually beating his team, while playing on that crazy starting line-up of Australian representatives . Also playing alongside my mate Jonah Bolden who’s headed to UCLA to play this year, even though we went down in that 2013 final.
Damian: So can you tell us more about your experience with the Australian team?
Kai: Yeah, at the 2013 Youth Olympics, but then also with the U19 squad at the end of 2013 in New Zealand at the FIBA Oceania Championships in the build up of the 2015 U19 Worlds’. The Youth Olympics was great fun, I’ve honestly never bonded with a team better than with Jack McVeigh, Tanner Krebs and Tad Dufelmeier. We won the 3 on 3 tournament which was great fun. The latter was also amazing, playing against grown men in New Zealand against the Oceania teams. We didn’t win, but it was a great experience pulling on the green and gold in normal basketball and playing grown men, I think that really helped my game.
Damian: Sound awesome – I can only imagine! Up until this point, who has had the greatest influence on your career to date, and who is your role model?
Kai: My dad undoubtedly has had the greatest influence on my career! He has a love for basketball that is probably greater than mine, and he’s the reason I got started into basketball. He’s my biggest fan, along with my Mum, and no matter what he is always pushing me to be my best. Quite frankly, he always believes in me, even when I don’t. I’d say my Dad is my role model, if I can be as good a person as he is then I’m doing alright in life.
Damian: How would you describe yourself as a player? If there was one NBA player you would compare or aspire to, who would that be?
Kai: I like to think of myself as a bit of an all-rounder, I love playing both ends of the ball, and play really hard. I mean, I’m not the most athletic, or the best shooter, or best passer, or best defender, and so on… but I think I can do a bit of everything and do it well. However if I had to single out one part of my game as my best, it would probably be getting into the lane with my strength and using a variety of finishes with my footwork and body positioning in the half court and transition. I’m not in the slightest trying to compare my game to Kobe Bryant, but his game is the thing I most want to emulate, even if on a lesser level. He can do everything on the court, score from every spot on the floor, is creative, a competitor and plays defense… he’s a winner. I don’t really know who is a good comparison for me, sorry, a kid watching me scrimmage with the team the other day said Klay Thompson but I don’t really see that at all (laughing).
Damian: What are your own expectations for the year ahead as a player and for the team?
Kai: I want to come in off the bench and provide a spark on both ends of the floor. I’m not going to set lofty expectations for myself for once, I’m just going to take everything as it comes and react appropriately. I want to see myself knocking down a three or two a game, getting in to the lane and making a few plays here and there and providing energy on the defensive end. Anything more than that would be absolutely amazing. For the team, we think we can compete with Gonzaga and maybe knock them off the throne. We might not win the conference, but I can almost certainly promise that we’re going to improve next year.
Damian: What role are you expecting to play?
Kai: As I said earlier, I see myself coming off the bench and making critical plays on both ends of the floor while providing a spark off the bench. I can’t promise anything else right now, but who knows?
Damian: Everyone has goals and ambitions. Fast-forward four years and life at college has come to an end; where do you see yourself in the future?
Kai: I see myself playing professionally somewhere in the world. I don’t think I can really single out one league over another right now, and obviously it would be a life-long dream to play in the NBA, but right now that’s extremely far away in my opinion.
Damian: I like to try to find out just one thing that very few people would know about you that we can share. Hopefully you can make it interesting!
Kai: Well I’ve kind of used of the fact that my real name is Michael, not Kai… so I’d have to say that I like to put barbecue and tomato sauce on my sausage sandwiches, sausage rolls, meat pies, etc. A lot of people think it’s weird to put both on, but I just think it’s such a good combination, the thought of it is making my mouth water right now (laughing)!
Damian: Hang on…you name is not like really Kai? How does that work?
Kai: I was actually named Michael Healy after my dad and his dad – so that makes me Michael Healy III! I was however called Kai almost immediately by my parents and that is how I am known through to this day.
Damian: Thanks! A great way to end a great chat Mike, umm, I mean Kai! Good luck for the season ahead.
You can follow Kai Healy on Twitter: @HealyKai