First Phoenix, then Boomer: On Kyle Adnam's relentless pursuit for excellence

Kyle Adnam's journey undeniably makes him an inspiration for slighter players with hoop dreams. The 6'1 guard, who has established his role as a spark plug for numerous NBL clubs, enjoyed a quality 2019/2020 campaign with the NBL’s newest franchise, the South East Melbourne Phoenix, and welcomed 2020 with a national debut at the recent Asia Cup qualifiers as an Australian Boomer.

Adnam, who has played in a backup point guard role with South East Melbourne this past season, has crafted his reputation as a formidable opponent who takes pride in effort and tenacity whenever his number is called. Now that the Phoenix’s inaugural season is in the books, the Kilsyth product reflected on his growth and need for continual improvement alongside an experienced crop of players, especially with the depth of quality guards on the team.

“Individually, I feel like I made strides in my game,” Adnam told SEM media. “I don’t want any drop off when I come on the floor. Whether it’s an import point guard in front of me or not, I want to come in the game and make an impact on both ends of the floor - just continuing to be that spark.”

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The 26 year old averaged career-highs across the board this season, while playing every game the season had to offer. Adnam took full advantage of increased minutes -and a larger role compared to his previous season with the Sydney Kings- with an impressive 51% shooting from the field and 87% from the stripe. His productivity and impact was felt across the league, as he was nominated for the ‘Best Sixth Man’ award for his ability to produce points with the team’s second unit.

Born and raised in Lilydale, around the aptly-named Heartland, Adnam had the chance to play in front of the south eastern community this season, as sellout crowds packed the State Basketball Centre. For Adnam, seeing the togetherness and joy a sporting club can deliver their fans is another motivator for his progression.

“I want to continue becoming a good leader, my goal is to be a starting point guard on the team, and I know I’ve got a lot of things I need to improve to be there. To play in my home town in that position, that would be a dream come true,” Adnam said.

The Phoenix were quick to create a distinction between themselves and cross-town rivals Melbourne, and their interactions with the community have helped establish a stable foundation for years to come. Winning four of their first six games made South East Melbourne a hot topic early on, but it was the leadership of Ben Madgen, Mitch Creek and Adam Gibson which helped inspire Adnam to perform.

“To see Madg, how he takes care of himself, how hard he goes in practice. And Gibbo’s leadership, combining those two things. I definitely watch the leaders in front of me and figure out how I can be a better leader and a better player myself,” Adnam said about the veterans at the club.

Earlier in the season, Adnam spoke on SEN radio revealing the most impressive aspect about teammate Mitch Creek. “... the best thing about [Creek] is his calming influence on the floor. As much as he may be vocal off it, on the floor it’s a very calm influence.” Creek's overall impact and calmness rubbed off on Adnam, who was tasked with limiting turnovers by making the right play alongside the team's second unit, acting as an extension of head coach Simon Mitchell.

A 2018 NBL champion with Melbourne United, Adnam’s game astutely resembles that of San Antonio role player and national hero Patty Mills, without the prolific three-point shooting. The Phoenix guard’s energy off the bench made him a fan favourite, but his efforts to stay involved in a league touted with exceptional guard play is a credit to his professionalism.

Adnam has always used his competitive spirit to make life difficult for opposition guards, even during practice he would act as an annoyance to Phoenix's starting guard, John Roberson. “We got into each other in practice and we annoyed each other a little bit. I think there’s a real mutual respect there.” Adnam explained to Phoenix media.

Roberson, who broke the NBL record for three-pointers made in a season, helped Adnam's growth by competing at a high level during training, pushing each to the edge. Playing on his fifth NBL team in seven seasons has enabled Adnam to learn from a variety of pros, and the support does not waver from someone like Aussie NBA star Joe Ingles.

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Adnam was selected in the Boomers squad alongside teammate Dane Pineau for the recent Asia Cup qualifiers against New Zealand and Hong Kong. It was a deserving selection following a standout year, and Adnam didn’t take his spot for granted. In game one, the Boomers suffered an upset loss to the Tall Blacks with Adnam playing 12 minutes, adding 12 points on 5/9 shooting.

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In the post-match presser, Will Weaver, who was appointed head coach for this qualifying series, spoke about the next wave of Australian basketballers. “We’re trying to sow the seeds that will be reaped down the line,” said Weaver. Despite being 26, this still applies for Adnam who is yet to receive more national exposure.

After solid productivity from limited minutes against New Zealand, Weaver unleashed ‘Wild Kyle’ against Hong Kong, playing him 20 minutes. Adnam contributed to the 63-point win with 14 points, four assists, while converting on all three of his long-range attempts. Although these performances highlighted Adnam’s readiness at the national level, the opportunity was earned with the games coming in the midst of the NBL postseason, with players engaged in the United States and Europe being unavailable. Getting a taste of Boomers basketball will only enhance Adnam's game moving forward.

Utilising his basketball smarts and next-play mentality, Adnam brought stability to a team that quickly formed an unselfish identity this NBL season. South East Melbourne's array of prolific shooters allowed Adnam to guide the offence, while also being a pest without the ball. Adnam’s involvement this season has made him much more than a backup point guard, he is yet another player who epitomises Australia’s gritty style of play.

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After two seasons with the Nelson Giants, Adnam will again compete in the New Zealand NBL league this off-season, this time for the Wellington Saints. With an expected starting job at Wellington, Adnam will attempt to improve his leadership skills and overall impact, continuing the positive journey.

“I want to keep challenging myself, in the defensive end, pushing up the floor, pressuring, making it difficult for opposing guards and then on the other end, just being a pest out there. Being difficult to defend and unpredictable.”