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Dominic Gilbert back in form after returning to Croatia
After a 2020/21 season that saw Sydney-raised forward Dominic Gilbert don three different uniforms, the 25 year old is back in Croatia and getting more usage and floor time.
Photo: KK Alkar
After four seasons ascending towards the top of Croatian basketball and punctuated by victories in the domestic league and cup, Dominic Gilbert faced a tough start to the 2020/21 season. A dangerous cocktail of coaching mismanagement, lacklustre perimeter shooting and the cloud of COVID-19 infection sealed the Sydney-raised wing’s exit from national heavyweights KK Zadar and, for the first time in his professional career, out of Croatia.
Gilbert landed in the Netherlands, where at Heroes Den Bosch, he helped his new side finish second in the domestic league and got a taste of FIBA Europe Cup action, before being knocked out at the Round of 16 stage.
After his season finishing in Den Bosch, where Gilbert said he struggled to find cohesion with teammates chiefly concerned with “pumping their stats so they can go somewhere else next year”, Gilbert received a call “completely out of nowhere” asking if he’d be interested in a promotion fight with ADA Blois in the French second division, to which he said yes, and thus adorned his third uniform in the one season, if only for four games.
Speaking to The Pick and Roll in June following his whirlwind season, Gilbert said he had few plans for the 2021/22 season, apart from returning to his European base in Croatia, as a free agent, and getting right into his offseason training.
A down tick in Gilbert’s shooting figures across stints in Croatia, the Netherlands and France was a large contributor to a difficult 2021/22 on the continent. While largely heralded for his finesse within the arc and on the rim, a burgeoning three-point shot found Gilbert success in his early seasons in Croatia, across both the domestic and continental ABA League (47.6 per cent 3PT FG in 2017/18 national, 45.2 per cent 3PT FG in 2018/19 ABA League), which grew his trust within the coaching staff and increased his presence on the floor. This peaked in the 2019/20 season, where Gilbert was afforded over 26 minutes per Croatian League contest, typically as a starter while shooting 41.9 per cent from three and 51.9 per cent from the floor.
In August last year, Gilbert reaffirmed his stay in Croatia, signing with Premijer liga side KK Alkar in a move to reset his career after a season that he said matured him.
The move to the small town of Sinj, which is about 35 kilometres north of Split, primed Gilbert for greater playing time than with typical heavyweights and former employers Zadar and Cibona, so while the chance to compete for trophies looked slimmer, the opportunity to establish a better rhythm on the court beckoned.
After 17 games in Alkar, Gilbert looks to have rediscovered his niche after the craziness of last year. Gilbert ranks second on his side for points per game (16.1), first in rebounds (8.6) and third in assists (3.1), and is set to be a key piece for the struggling Alkar (4-13) in a looming relegation battle.
Gilbert has been selective in his three-point portfolio (he currently is shooting 27.5 per cent on just above two attempts per game), but has maintained his strength inside the arc, which has now turned into a reliable scoring avenue for Alkar.
While shooting just under 50 per cent (47.2) from the field, Gilbert’s slashing and pull-up game has been integral to Alkar’s wins this season. This was identified as a concerted area of improvement for Gilbert entering the offseason, saying in June that he thought his mid-range pullups were “underrated and [a] very effective shot”, but conceded that he needed more consistency to add this as another solid wrinkle to his game.
In a victory against Dubrava Furnir earlier this week, Gilbert played a team-best 36 minutes, while shooting 5-13 from two-point range, and getting to the free-throw line three times to help steady his side to a seven point win. Gilbert finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds (4 offensive) and four assists. Strong performances from Gilbert will be vital for Alkar this season, who presently sit one point above cellar dwellers KK Sonik-Puntamika, with last place at season’s end resigned to a place in the second division next campaign, while the second-last placed will have to play again in the relegation playoffs.
After a whirlwind previous season, a change of scenery in a familiar league seemed the appropriate move for Gilbert. After starting his career in Croatia following being scouted while on a family holiday in 2016, Gilbert’s career only continued to ascend through his stints with Kvarner, Cibona and Zadar, and seemed to be sharply disrupted by a series of unfortunate and perhaps unfair events following the arrival of a new coach on the Dalmatian Coast, and an unknown virus which threw all professional sports out of whack.
Now back in Croatia, Gilbert’s career looks like it has found the reset - and, by all signs, the resumption - that it needed. For a team struggling for wins, and seemingly set for a relegation fight, it looks like it will be more than just Dominic Gilbert who is betting on his game to keep rising.