'Roses are red, violets are blue, got a lot of work to do.'
That's not usually how the rhyme goes, but it's a motto that echoes within the Sydney Kings locker room prior to every game, and especially after victories, coming from none other than import forward Jae'Sean Tate. Not only does it encapsulate his work ethic, it's also how the dynamic forward approaches the game.
“We knew that going in that [what] a lot of what we liked about him was his relentless approach game after game, practice after practice.” Kings head coach, Will Weaver shared in a recent phone interview with The Pick and Roll.
From his college days at Ohio State, and first pro season playing with Belgian outfit Antwerp Giants, Tate has overcome many obstacles to arrive at where he is today. Now an important piece to the Kings roster, his ability to thrive on a robust squad creates optimism that one day he’ll live out a boyhood dream, competing at the highest level.
Tate exemplifies, and even personifies the game flow Weaver tries to impart to his men. The competitive, high-intensity Tate sees the game through a defensive lens, similar to the way reigning league MVP Andrew Bogut does it.
“[Bogut and Tate] know that [defence] is where a lot of their success has come in their basketball playing career ... and they are eager to make plays that stats don’t record, but produce wins. They measure themselves using that as a rubric.” Weaver shared.
The way Weaver addresses his squad -delivered through a nuanced basketball mindset- has helped the Kings claim top of the table after the opening six rounds. Grouping together players with similar desire, work ethic and inclusiveness has contributed to the team's success, and allowed the growth of Tate's game to continue in a hungry environment.
"In my experience, [Tate's impact] is a remarkably cyclical kind of pattern. Groups with lots of unselfish guys, kind of reverberate and bounce off each other until a level of unselfishness is displayed," Weaver explained.
Tate is in a quality situation at this stage of his career, and has earned the trust of his group by playing tough, hard-nosed basketball at both ends. Those plays, the low post battles, and all the little things that don't jump out in the box score, have had a snowball effect on the team, allowing Tate to consistently perform at a high level adjacent to some of the competition's star athletes.
It’s that unyielding, exhuberant energy which made Tate a fan favourite with the Ohio State Buckeyes, and it’s the same vigour that has Sydney, and NBL fans tuning in. His intensity draws total admiration from his coaching staff, and it is also strongly supported by his teammates.
Sydney veteran Brad Newley also spoke with The Pick and Roll about Tate's influence within the locker room. "He's always asking question about other players, what we do differently, how we go about it. It's another good attribute he has, he wants to learn. He's very into the whole Aussie mentality.
"He's done a good job adapting to the things we talk about and he contributes, he doesn't just sit there with headphones on... he's interested in what we do. And that prompts us to ask about what he does. That's real crucial to being a good import, getting along with guys outside the court."
A perfect example of how he's brought these attributes to the team, was magnified in a small, but significant play from Sydney’s Round 5 win over the Adelaide 36ers. The unbeaten Kings found themselves down three on the road with seconds remaining. Enter Tate. He lunged for the offensive rebound, drew the defence in with a pump fake, and fired a pass to an open Casper Ware on the perimeter.
Tate's high energy is matched with elite readiness to make the right play. There’s an astute desire about the way he operates at both ends of the floor, and it has allowed for him to mesh wonderfully into Sydney’s current identity and team-first mentality.
Playing on a team that offers matchup headaches, Tate has accepted his role in a well-oiled starting unit, going beyond what is expected of a player in his maiden NBL season.
“The aspect of [Tate’s game] that I maybe wasn’t prepared for was just what a good decision maker he was despite playing with such great energy," Weaver expressed. "He drives so hard, posts so relentlessly, and rebounds so doggedly and yet still seems like the game moves slowly for him.”
You could be excused for developing a belief that playing the undersized, 6'4 Tate next to Bogut wouldn’t work. Tate matches up with many small forwards alike, and it seemed the norm for him to be positioned there. Tate is a multi-talented player, in the mould of Golden State utility Draymond Green. The Swiss army knife type prospects help join the dots and build team chemistry, making them easily coachable, and Weaver has indubitably enjoyed watching Tate flourish.
“We really rely on him to do it all, facilitate, create, get us extra possessions, put fouls on people and finish.”
Through his opening nine games with Sydney, the 24 year old has contributed an average of 14 points, six rebounds and a couple of assists per outing. The confidence and boldness to Tate’s game helps separate him from the crop. Per spatialjam, from two-point distance, Tate has made 70% of his attempts taken this season. Out of all players to have logged at least 100 minutes, only Cairns big Cameron Oliver (71.7%-2pt) shoots at a greater clip.
After playing four games in different cities, across an eight-day span, Sydney is showing itself as a formidable team, but there's still plenty of basketball left. How Tate performs in the postseason is important to Sydney's title run, and it will also increase the likelihood of him taking the next step on his basketball journey.
Like those come and gone, helping Tate progress to the highest level of competition is in the best interest of those around him. But for now, you can bet your money on several things: more highlight dunks, vicious rebounds, Kevin Garnett-like howls, and plenty of Tim Tams to be consumed along the way.
Oh, and whatever this is.