Ben Madgen on a possible return to the NBL and Jock Landale's rising star
Staying hungry, focused and at the top of his game – that’s what it is all about for small forward Ben Madgen.
Hailing from South Australia, Madgen has played across the world, and at 33, there is still plenty left in the tank as he explained with The Pick and Roll.
His career was established with foundation gained in US college and experience as a development player for the Adelaide 36ers in 2005, and from there his professional career flourished, going on to be named NBL Rookie of the Year in 2010 with the Sydney Kings.
After six years with the Kings he left the NBL to explore Europe, finding his way to the Belgium league for a season in 2015-2016. Madgen has since starred in the Lithuanian league and in the EuroCup with Lietkabelis and Lietuvos Rytas before joining German side Crailsheim in the Bundesliga. While on the surface, success has flowed for Madgen in his time in Europe, however it was not gained without challenge as he explained.
“My main goal was to play EuroCup, so when I got to Lithuania [I found that] it was extremely structured basketball," outlined Madgen on why he made the move to Europe.
"So after about a month, I really was left questioning whether or not I would be able to make it in that kind of system. I adjusted thanks to the coaching staff and my team-mates having a lot of confidence and trust in my ability, which meant it ended up being a great experience, and from that it really made me feel that I could play anywhere.
"It added another string to my bow by making me understand the structured game a lot better, and really boosted me as a competitor. The transition between the NBL and this league [Bundesliga] was very easy. Both leagues have a lot in common as they are fast-paced and player-read systems, a lot less structured [than in Lithuania].
“I’ve been able to combine everything I’ve learnt from the structured system in Lithuania with everything I learnt in the NBL, with that fast-paced and constant attack-mode style of play. From that I have been able to become more poised, and the game is slowed down which has allowed me to read the game better and become more of an all-round player for my team."
Sport is the centrepiece for Madgen and his siblings. His sister Tess plays for the WNBL defending champions Townsville Fire as well as being a part of the Opals squad, winning the silver medal at the recent World Cup in Spain. His brother Jack previously played basketball and is now a rising star for the AFL’s Collingwood Magpies. The code choice for Ben was clear.
“I really love AFL but basketball is much more suited to my wiry body type," Madgen said. "Jack has a larger build so he transitioned well and is seeing great results now. He was a development player and he was really trying to make a roster spot, but took the opportunity in the AFL, as those opportunities in basketball got smaller for him. My path was a little different as I was able to get a roster spot very quickly. So no, there was never any inkling for me to change codes.”
Although Madgen had continued to demonstrate that his fitness and ability across the court is not wavering, he has recently completed a Master of Business Administration through the Macquarie School of Management in Sydney to further his future opportunities. We also reflected on programs and initiatives being implemented to assist players post-career, such as those being driven by Lauren Jackson.
“I’ve already started thinking about what the next phase after basketball is going to look like for me," advised Madgen. "When your career is going well, you think it will last forever. But when you suffer an injury or your career is cut short you need to look at other career paths – which would be very daunting.
"So the more things that former players like Lauren [Jackson] are implementing in the game to give assistance to those aspects of post career is very important. I also have some ideas to help athletes’ transition into the working world, and will keep the conversation going, which will really help players - especially younger players - to see the greater picture.”
Understanding that with age comes a slowing of his career and opportunities, he has listened to his body and taken steps to ensure he can continue to compete at the highest possible level.
“I look after my body very well," Madgen enthused. "I’ve really made an emphasis on that when taking into account diet and training along with all the little things. When you are younger and you get a niggle you may leave it, but once you get older you really up to get on top of those things quicker. Work hard and maintain those levels between training and court-time.”
Although he sees his career being far from over as he continues to demonstrate on the hardwood with the Merlins this season, with the arrival of his second child later this month, his future career decisions take on a greater level of consideration and importance. Returning home to play in the NBL and raise his young family in Australia was definitely high on the agenda.
“I am leaving my options open," said Madgen. "South East Melbourne Phoenix have reached out to myself and my management about joining them next season, which is very enticing. Melbourne is a fantastic sporting city and they are building strong support. Tommy Greer [General Manager] is doing a fantastic job and I think Simon [Mitchell] will be a great coach. With Mitch Creek as their centrepiece signing, it definitely makes me want to continue the conversation about the opportunity.
“A couple of other teams in the NBL have also contacted us about next season as well. I’ll keep playing the best I can here for my team in Germany and then at the end of the season I will weigh up my options and go from there.”
Mitch Creek's signing with the Phoenix is a coup for the newest NBL club for next season, with Madgen fully aware of the situation at hand given the star forward's NBA aspirations.
“As an athlete sometimes it’s hard to make a decision like that," explained Madgen. "He has a dream of making the NBA and Phoenix obviously wanted a franchise guy to build around. The deal works for both Mitch and the Phoenix. Hopefully he gets a shot at the NBA but if he doesn’t Mitch will be a great cornerstone for that club.
“He is an outspoken guy and he says it how it is, which is very refreshing in sport where you have a lot of politically correct answers. I really respect him for doing that. I know him as a player and a person, and if he was playing for either [South East] Melbourne or in the NBA, his approach is always going to be the same – professional and play his heart out for any team. Mitch is showing the way for a lot of younger players that it is worth chasing your dream and going after it and that it is very possible.”
Having played overseas for a number of years, Madgen has seen a lot of Australian talent excel in Europe. Most recently, Jonah Bolden was drafted to the Philadelphia 76ers after playing with FMP in Serbia before then stepping up with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel and the EuroLeague. He would go on to explain that Jock Landale who is currently starring for Partizan in the EuroCup and Adriatic League could well be the next one to make the jump back across to the US in the NBA.
“Being in Europe and playing in the EuroCup for the past couple of years – seeing what Jock [Landale] is doing for Partizan is really impressive," Madgen outlined. "Especially for a first year pro, and in such a tough competition for a club rich with tradition, would bring a lot of pressure, which he is handling easily."
"I was really impressed with his shooting ability and had no idea he could shoot like that, which is a great skill for a big man to have where he can go down low but also step out into space. At the end of the day that’s what teams want, especially in Europe and now in the NBA, where the three-point shooting ability is such a key weapon for teams.
"He keeps showing what he can do and I can see him in that Jonah Bolden pathway. Where it may not have worked out straight away out of college, but with a couple of years showcasing what you have against tough competition, it carries a lot of weight with the NBA. I can see him getting a shot in Summer League or training camp next year which would be great to be able to see another Aussie in the NBA.
“You have Ben Simmons, Patty Mills and Matt Dellavedova leading the way for Australian players. But beyond that we also have Joe Ingles playing very well and Aron Baynes in that valuable role for Boston. There a lot of guys in the NBA from Australia and it only increases the talk internationally about our talent. It only excites me to further to think about Tokyo 2020 and the squad we will be able to put together for that to have a real shot at a medal."
Madgen's excitement for the success of Australian basketball and his fellow countrymen on the world stage was contagious. While he did not anticipate to be included in the Boomers squad, he recognised the importance his peers are playing in growing the sport back home and the NBL, a league Madgen unable to hide his enthusiasm for, and the amazing array of talent in action.
“I played against Lamar [Patterson] last year in Italy in our EuroCup group," Madgen shared. "He is a very talented player and I knew his game style would suit the NBL better than Europe, as he has that size who can use that strength he has in the open court. When I saw that Brisbane Bullets had signed him, I knew it would be a great signing and he would be very dominant in the league.
“The [Andrew] Bogut signing by the Kings was very great for the league! A lot of players here in Europe, when they heard about that signing, were talking about it and it created greater conversation about the NBL across the globe. He has done so much for basketball and it’s not often that those guys come home to finish their career in the NBL. I think it’s very admirable and only positive that he joined the league and we will see greater number of fans supporting the league and the game.
"Basketball in Australia is really going great guns. So it’s an exciting time for both the men and women.”
With such varied experiences across the globe in the sport, Madgen can draw upon many achievements, but there is only one place he calls home.
“When I came to Europe I always said I wanted to finish my career back in Australia in the NBL and bring back my experience to pass onto younger players but also be able to play at that high level," outlined Madgen.
“To be able to finish my career on home soil would mean so much to myself and what the game has meant to me.”
Oh what a curtain call that would be for an advocate for our great game.