Adelaide 36ers: Players break silence after Joey Wright's public criticism on Froling and imports
Friday, 28 February was a huge day for the NBL. League owner Larry Kestelman travelled to Tasmania and announced his intention to place the league's tenth team in the Island State, while the Cairns Taipans and Perth Wildcats prepared to tip off at the 2019/20 NBL semi-finals.
The overtime blockbuster in Perth however, was overshadowed by the Adelaide 36ers, who grabbed a big chunk of the headlines. Despite so much positive news around the league, 28 February could still go down in infamy as the day the 36ers imploded.
It all started with an interview with recently released coach Joey Wright, shared to Twitter by commentator John Casey late on Thursday night. In the near ten-minute clip, Wright discussed his time in Adelaide, the season gone and what lies ahead.
Most notably, though, he singled out four players from this season's roster for criticism. While the rest of the team garnered praise from their coach, he derided the efforts of Aussie big man Harry Froling and imports Jerome Randle, Eric Griffin and Ramone Moore.
"Our import contingent just didn’t get it this year... those three let us down, we would have probably like a little more out of Harry [Froling] this year as well. The rest of the guys were very committed and worked their butts off and were just great human beings and great people, but that’s a pretty big chunk of what we’re trying to do if we don’t get those four right," Wright said.
While comments about the team's culture and a lack of community support also raised eyebrows, it was the jabs at his now-former players that drew an immediate backlash. First, it was team captain Kevin White that took to Twitter to defend his teammates. He also shared a screenshot of a group chat, where Wright appeared to say he wanted his imports to "hang themselves".
It was a stunning breakaway by a respected member of the playing group, and it opened the floodgates for more 36ers to speak out. Not all agreed with White, as development player Alex Mudronja was quick to support his former coach on Twitter.
"We don’t all feel like that about Joey. He’s done a lot of good for a lot of us and he did everything he could to help our team last season. It was made impossible by people who did not buy-in to his philosophies... if I was to screenshot some of [Kevin]'s comments in our group chat a lot of people would be disgusted too," Mudronja said.
By this point, the NBL had released an official statement saying that they were "aware of the comments" and treating the matter "very seriously". The discourse was barely even beginning, though, as more and more players took to social media to defend themselves.
Of the players singled out by Wright, Ramone Moore was the first to respond. In a long Facebook post, he said that his relationship with Wright deteriorated during the season as he struggled with a "personal issue".
"Granted in team sports you win as a team and lose as a team I didn’t know 4 individuals was the reason for our lack of success but for somebody to say 'I got ya back bruh' and go out and throw dirt on my name is crazy," Moore wrote.
"You can’t go in the media and bite our back out then want pity come on man! Nobody would have never said anything public if you didn’t set up a whole media tour to publicly f*** over 4 dudes to make us look bad after you and the club decided to split ways. That’s 'weak' minded shit!"
Big man and Best Sixth Man runner-up Eric Griffin was next. After implying earlier in the day that he too had messages from Wright that he would share, he instead chose to air his thoughts in seven tweets late on Friday night.
Despite holding back those screenshots, he certainly didn't hold back with his criticism of his one-time coach.
"Who goes on a day long press conference tour to bash the very imports you spoke so highly off? WHO DOES THAT!? I would say that isn’t characteristics of a man, but you know nothing about that. Pointing fingers and passing out blame is what you’re good at," Griffin said.
"You guys have no idea the BS that we as imports and team have dealt with and tolerated over the course of this season. I wouldn’t wish any of that on my worse [sic] enemy... to be frank; you were a disgrace to the organization and you served no real purpose to your players."
Griffin was again in the spotlight later on Friday night, this time sharing the microphone with fellow 36ers import and former MVP Jerome Randle. In an interview with Fox Sports Australia's Olgun Uluc, both players spoke of "pleading their case" and defending themselves after Wright's comments.
"He’s trying to sabotage our names in a bad way. He’s trying to mess up our resume and our reputation when, in actuality, it wasn’t that at all. It was more deeper than what he’s saying," Griffin said.
Both players also strongly criticised Wright's coaching during the season, as well as the way his departure had been handled.
"The environment was not good. It wasn’t as good as it needed to be. There was a lot going on,” Randle said.
"He’s just throwing us under the bus for no reason. He could’ve just resigned and that could’ve been it; he could have got a new job. But he wanted to protect his name and protect himself about bullsh*t that’s not true,” Griffin said.
In fitting with much of the day's events, Wright's final comment (for now) on Facebook left more questions than answers. He alluded to what he seems to think is a conspiracy behind the scenes, saying that "these comments coming when they came isn’t by accident and are part of a bigger plan".
Whether that is true or not, it's almost certain that this issue won't be put to rest for some time yet. Whether more Adelaide players will speak out, whether Wright will have more to say and whether the league will take any action remains to be seen.