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Beyond Europe: Broekhoff's Rio success key to unlocking NBA career
Ryan Broekhoff has enjoyed an outstanding start to his professional career since graduating from Valparaiso. After two outstanding years in Turkey with Besiktas Istanbul, Broekhoff signed on with Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar in Russia and has continued to excel.
While the Euroleague Final Four awaits, the Olympics are also on the horizon. Following his success in Europe, it might not be too much of a stretch to imagine the NBA as his next stop.
We managed to catch up with the sharpshooting swingman on his thoughts about Euroleague success both as a player and as a fan favourite, and his undeniable excitement at playing for Australia in Rio.
Coming off Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar's epic 3-2 Euroleague quarterfinal series victory over FC Barcelona Lassa, Broekhoff was obviously buoyed by his team's success.
"It was a big achievement for the team," shared Broekhoff in speaking with The Pick and Roll.
"The club has never gone to a Final Four before. To do it the way we did against Barcelona was amazing; it was an amazing experience."
Ryan Broekhoff | Credit: Lokomotiv Kuban Press Service
Throughout the first four games, Broekhoff had been quiet, especially on offense.
During the decisive game 5 however, the forward underwent a resurgence. He rediscovered his shooting touch to help spark Lokomotiv to victory on the big stage in front of a boisterous home crowd.
Broekhoff connected on 4/6 three-pointers on his way to 14 points with 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 blocked shot. Defensively, Broekhoff was outstanding all series, and it his defensive capabilities coupled with his deadly perimeter shooting that continues to provide value to his team.
"It was a rough series personally," Broekhoff commented. "However, the coaches and my team mates told me to stay positive, to keep working hard and keep shooting, as eventually my shots would start dropping. Thankfully they did start dropping in game 5, and I was happy to do something positive and help my team to an important win."
"When things are not going to plan offensively, I try to focus more on rebounding, defending and creating opportunities for team mates. Do the small things that the team needs. Things have turned out well."
Broekhoff also spoke glowingly of the home fans in Krasnodar, and credited their unwavering support for getting the team over the line against Barcelona.
"Both venues for the series against Barcelona were pretty much full for all the games," Broekhoff enthused. "Our stadium is a little bigger and we had a few more fans cheering us on. The atmosphere was electric. We got a little extra push from the fans, especially in the third quarter when Barcelona made a run at us in game 5. The fans really got behind us and allowed us to dig deep and earn the win."
And win they did, sending both Broekhoff and Lokomotiv to the Euroleague Final Four for the first time.
In 29 games during the 2015/16 Euroleague season to date, Broekhoff has averaged an impressive 8 points while shooting the three-ball at an amazing 46.8% clip, alongside 3.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1 steal in more than 24 minutes per game.
A fan favourite
Life in Europe has been kind to Broekhoff. Not only did he perform on the court during his stint with Besiktas, he also became somewhat of a hit with the Turkish fans.
"Besiktas is a fantastic club. I got a lot of support from the fans, they were great there. However there was one really crazy fan, he even set up his Twitter profile with my name. He arranged t-shirts and went to every game, the hotels, everywhere. He was one very passionate fan."
Broekhoff's willingness to engage with his team's supporters is what has endeared him to the fans. Earlier in the year with Lokomotiv, he also took part in a New Year's Eve 'prank' with one of the team's loyal supporters. The connection he has been able to establish with both his team mates and the general public has certainly helped establish a positive persona.
"The team's media guy knew the lady personally," added Broekhoff. "It was good fun, and afterwards we took her to a little party. It was good to do something out of the ordinary and have some fun with one of the fans. They team did some other similar pranks during the season. It has been a great way to connect with some of the closest and biggest fans of the club."
Playing an NBA-type schedule
Broekhoff has been posting even better numbers in the VTB United League, with averages of 10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals in 27 minutes a night.
In his last start --a quarterfinal game 1 road loss to Khimki-- Broekhoff starred in landing 5/9 triples on his way to a team-high 21 points with 5 rebounds and 1 assist.
"We actually had a game in between the Euroleague win and the VTB United [quarterfinal] game 1 loss to Khimki," added Broekhoff. "We dropped the last game of the [VTB United League] season to [Zenit] St Petersburg. I managed to put a good few games together, but obviously the end result was not there."
Broekhoff also described the rigour of back-to-back games, and likened it to the relentless pace of a typical NBA schedule.
"We are always travelling and playing, whether it is in the Euroleague or the VTB United League. I have been on some very interesting travels and trips, including places like Astana in Kazahkstan and in vastly different time zones.
Besiktas plays in the Eurocup intercontinental competition, the second professional tier behind Euroleague. Broekhoff went on to explain some of the differences between the two competitions.
"The intensity of the games, the skill level of every player is just much better in Euroleague," Broekhoff emphasized. "There is no one that has any weaknesses at either end of the court on any side. You have to respect everyone with scouting reports and video analysis. The level of players and physicality of the game, and how smart the players are at this level, is where there is a big difference."
Right now, Broekhoff is concentrating on the series against Khimky, who also took part in Euroleague this season. It goes without saying, that this will be good preparation for Lokomotiv ahead of the Final Four.
Shooting for gold in Rio
With the 2016 Rio Olympic games fast approaching, Broekhoff is hoping to make a positive impact as the team aims for a medal.
"We have stated that our goal is to go and win gold," Broekhoff reminded. "Everyone in the group honestly believes that we can do just that. We have the team and talent to compete with the best in the world. Not having to crossover with the 'States [USA] helps us, giving us the best possible chance to advance."
"It is very exciting, with not long to go. It is in the back of my mind right now, but the excitement is building."
Much has been written about the camaraderie of the Aussies currently playing in the NBA who caught up together during the All-Star break.
Broekhoff explained that it has been harder for the Boomers playing in Europe to keep in touch in much the same way.
Unlike the NBA, which allows its athletes a break over All-Star Weekend, the VTB United League does not have a break, and that the only other fellow Boomer he has seen much of, is Žalgiris Kaunas forward Brock Motum.
"I played against Brock [Motum] a couple of time in Euroleague; we caught up after the games and went out for a bite to eat. Apart from that, we generally sending some text messages here and there."
Technology --especially WhatsApp-- also helps keeps the team engaged and in touch with each other, despite the distance.
"We also have a WhatsApp group for the Boomers guys, and we keep connected via that channel. Golden State, and [Andrew] Bogut going for the NBA record for regular season wins was a good topic. It really helps keep us together and connected."
Broekhoff's immediate focus is on the VTB United League quarterfinal series against Khimki, and then the Euroleague Final Four. However he has already blocked out the dates for the Boomers selection camp, which means we might not see Broekhoff in this year's NBA Summer League.
"I will be at the [Boomers] selection camp at the beginning of July," advised Broekhoff. "It will be a great honour to represent Australia in Rio."
"At this stage, I am not likely to play in Summer League this year, as it will likely conflict with the Boomers' preparation. I have to pick one or pick the other - I'm choosing the Boomers."
Similar to how Aron Baynes gained NBA attention through his play with the Boomers, a solid performance at the Olympics is likely to enhance his NBA prospects. Delivering on one of the biggest stages in world sport against the best in the world is likely to be looked upon more favourably, a sentiment Broekhoff agreed with.
"Yeah - scouts and GMs will definitely be watching at the Olympics," Broekhoff agreed. "Summer League is great, but sometimes you can get caught in the shuffle of everything. Personally, my game does not fit into that one-on-one type game. Going to the Olympics and playing within a team system will show off my skill set and capabilities better."
Broekhoff has long been cast as a potential "3 and D" player, the kind the modern NBA thrives on with its switching defenses, uptempo pace and torrid three-point shooting. As one of Europe's best three-point shooters, there is no doubt that Broekhoff's shooting can and will help spread the floor. Add his defensive capabilities and excellent rebounding instincts to the picture, and there is no denying his fit as a potential NBA player.
Count on it: Broekhoff's performance with the Boomers might just be the key that unlocks his budding NBA career.