With the two wooden spoons now a distant memory for the Brisbane Bullets, their sole focus this season is to return to the finals and contend for the 2019/20 NBL championship.
Being crowned NBL Blitz champions was the almost perfect start for the Bullets. Yet for Matt Hodgson, he understands that the hard work has only just begun.
Hailing from Ipswich, Matt Hodgson attended the local Grammar School before heading to the Australian Institute of Sport on a scholarship. While at high school, he played for Danny Breen – a coach he holds great respect for and attributes for making him the player he is today.
“Danny was instrumental in getting me into IGS [Ipswich Grammar School] and was really the main coach who really took the time with me and helped me work on my skill level and basketball IQ,” outlined Hodgson in speaking with The Pick and Roll. “He was an unbelievable coach for me and really taught me how to read the game and understand how to play the way I play.”
His basketball career had been launched and would include stints with two college teams; Southern Utah University and Saint Mary’s College in California. Before joining the river city team in Brisbane, he played three seasons with the Adelaide 36ers.
After playing with the 36ers side who played in the 2018 NBL Grand Final series, Hodgson requested a release from the final year of his contract, making the decision to return to his home state for the next chapter in his hoops career.
“Most people assumed it was because I wanted to come home, but to be honest that didn’t really have much to do with it. Before I joined the Bullets I hadn’t been back in Queensland for more than two weeks over the last decade.
“The real reason was the opportunity to play under Dre [Andrej Lemanis]. Luckily I have had the chance to get to know him and play for him with the Boomers but at the end of the day wherever he was coaching I was going to be – I just love the confidence he gives me as a player and the way I feel being coached by him. So really that was the only reason I came to play in Brisbane.”
Having suffered injuries that included a major meniscus injury which derailed his time as a development player with Melbourne United, Hodgson reflected positively on this period of his career.
“That knee injury completely overhauled how I approach physical preparation for a season,” explained Hodgson. “I’ve become a lot more professional in that area, since hurting my knee. It’s been a fun journey for me, and through trial and error, I have been able to find the best way to set myself up to compete at the highest level each night.”
Last season he joined the Brisbane Bullets and in his first season for the squad he was led the league with a 63% field goal percentage. With his height and scoring efficiency, Hodgson was quick to respond to how he saw his role with the squad this season.
“Rim protection! As a squad we are fairly small so anything I can do is inside the paint at both ends and I feel that is the difference in how I can best help this team.
“The thing I want to bring to the team this season especially is the ability to rebound defensively as I know that I have never been able to be efficient in that area. With us continuing at that level in terms of size I think being able to bring that will be massively important for us as a pack.”
Earlier this year he re-signed with the squad on a new two-year deal. He is excited for this season which tipped off last week with the Bullets taking the win over Illawarra Hawks 90-81.
“In contrast to last year there we so many questions because there was basically a whole new group that got put together but now there is a stronger sense of familiarity as we have been able to have that time together. With guys that we have gotten in like Sobes [Nathan Sobey], EJ [EJ Singler] and Taylor [Taylor Braun], they are great guys and really have fit in well. So now we feel like we are gelling really well and excited about the things we can potentially do this year.”
This season also sees the Bullets move to a new home that the squad is looking to turn into a fortress – to rival the likes of ‘The Jungle’ or ‘Snake Pit’. That venue is the Queensland State Netball Centre located at Nathan which is already being referred to as ‘The Armoury’ among the Bullets faithful.
For the first time since re-entering the competition, the players will be able to practice, play and recover at the one facility, a point that Hodgson takes great pride and excitement in.
“We love it! These facilities put us up there to be up there with the best. I really think they are the best facilities in the league as they allow us to train and play in the same place and we are one of the only teams who do that. The Bullets are trying to be one of the most professional teams in the league and these facilities allow us to take a massive step in the right direction in doing that.”
With his injuries now firmly entrenched in the past, Hodgson explained he was feeling energised for the remainder of the season.
“The body is feeling really good. That was the major focus in the off season as I didn’t play anywhere else and stuck to ensuring I was ready to go. I felt really fresh in the first game of the season and it was like the best I have felt in terms of moving around the basketball court probably since I was a teenager out there.”
Hodgson is a guy who respects where he has been and the opportunities he has received. Through the many personalities and intense talent the league has on the court, we spoke on three players he has played against or alongside that he can really pinpoint to making his career enjoyable and continuously competitive.
“Mika [Vukona] was a massive one for me. He was the guy I respected the most in the NBL during my career [to date] and he is obviously one of the most respected guys in the league across the board. He is a guy I’ve always said I would love a chance to play alongside and to get that chance last season, and this one is actually really special.
“Of course [the player] to play against would be Boges [Andrew Bogut] as another big one. I have been following his career for a long time since he was the number 1 draft pick and to see what he has done and finally being able to have that first hand experience to play against him has been really cool as well.
“The third one is easy for me – Nate Jawai. For the same sort of reason to play against Boges playing against Nate has meant the same thing. When I first started playing basketball it was his rookie year with Cairns so watching him tear up the league and getting the chance to play against him has been really cool.”
Hodgson is enjoying his time with the Bullets and living in Brisbane, but he has also NBL offseason.
“I’m really happy here and I’ve signed on for the next two seasons. In the offseason I would really love to play overseas somewhere and give that a try. The NBL is a great league and if I can continue to develop more and more that’s where I will continue to enjoy being competing at the highest level every time I have the chance to.”