Earlier this year, Mitch Creek had some hard decisions to make.
Dreams of a maiden NBA contract were no longer fanciful, and the 26-year-old Victorian was faced with two options.
Leave the NBL, the only professional league he had ever known, and plunge into the uncertain world of international club basketball? Or double down, continue developing in the NBL and hope to garner enough NBA interest from half way around the world? Creek chose the former.
He left the Adelaide 36ers, his basketball home of eight years, briefly pivoted in Europe, before landing with the Long Island Nets for the 2018-19 G League season.
Playing with Long Island, the Brooklyn Nets’ minor league affiliation, places Creek within touching distance of the league he's long dreamt of. Creek’s Nets play their home games out of Nassau Colosseum; a once-mighty beacon in suburban New York, located just 34 kilometres from Barclays Centre, home to Brooklyn’s NBA outfit.
Creek is, literally, on the NBA’s doorstep, although he isn’t tangibly closer to the NBA, versus when he left an NBL floor for the last time in March. A breakthrough NBA pact still eludes him.
Speaking with The Pick and Roll in Long Island, Creek still questions if coming to America was the right move.
“I didn’t know whether coming over here would be the right or wrong decision,” Creek said. “I still don’t know.
“I could have stayed in Australia, averaged 25 points a game and made the NBA that way. Who knows? I don’t know. But ultimately, this is the decision I made and I am proud of this decision.”
Creek made another choice last week, when he decided to sign a contract with the South East Melbourne Phoenix in the NBL.
If his basketball career was an instrument on a financial exchange, then Creek's signing with South East Melbourne would be synonymous to purchasing a put option to hedge all negative downside. It's a risk mitigation exercise.
He is genuinely enthused with what the Phoenix are building. The next time Creek steps foot on an NBL floor, it will be in South East Melbourne. He just doesn’t want to be there next season. Grander ambitions await in North America, and placing the NBL in the friend zone allows Creek to focus on his NBA dream, unencumbered, knowing that his long term future is secured.
Worst case, Creek returns to Victoria, plays in front of friends and family, and attacks the NBA via a secondary pathway. Just don’t count on seeing Creek back in the NBL anytime soon. He is rapidly gaining momentum in America.
“I have made some great relationships over here in America,” Creek shared. “I went to a [Brooklyn] Nets game the other night and all the players were there. They are saying hello and I was hanging out with them. Stuff like that. It’s a really damn cool feeling when you walk into an NBA organisation and people know you are.”
Creek is slowly establishing his brand on the G League circuit. His box score averages – 14.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 31.1 minutes per game – don’t jump off the page, but traditional metrics have never defined his game. Dig a little deeper, and you quickly recognise the Australian’s value. Long Island posts a 15.9 net rating when Creek sees the floor; that is the best mark among all players on the team. In his own ways, Creek is leading a transient Nets roster with traits NBL fans have witnessed for years.
“I respect his acumen, his diligence and his toughness,” Will Weaver, Creek’s head coach in Long Island, explained. “I rely on him heavily to get this team where we want it to go.”
Weaver, who doubles as a Creek’s assistant coach with the Australian Boomers, appreciates what the Horsham native brings to the table better than most. He has seen Creek blossom under his watch; witnessing firsthand how a fringe NBL athlete has risen through the global basketball ranks. Through it all, Weaver has grown in appreciation for Creek’s commitment to the process of constant embetterment.
“Of the things that are the most appreciated about Mitch, his relentless process-oriented approach is great,” Weaver said.
The devotion Weaver speaks of is evident when hearing Creek explain his mindset in Long Island. Being a professional athlete, located on the doorstep of New York City, offers a bounty of seductive trappings. Creek acknowledges the frivolous nature of his new reality, frankly accepting the cultural transformations of life in another country.
“There are a lot of differences over here,” Creek said. “Food, culture, people, travel, traffic; I mean… everything is different.”
Alterations to his way of life are just milestones on Creek’s march to the NBA. He is able to bunker down, avoid the gluttony, and maintain his focus with one eye firmly affixed to the end game. Creek has purchased a car so that he can get to and from training efficiently. When he wants extra training sessions, he can do it, on his terms. It’s all about the job at hand, not getting lost in the big city and voracious North American sporting industry.
“I go to training and I come home,” Creek said. “I eat well. I do the right things and look after my body. Do what I can to be 100% on that court every single day.”
On the basketball court, Creek is just days away from his biggest opportunity yet. The G League will converge on Las Vegas next week for their annual winter showcase. The four day long event draws in NBA general managers and player personnel executives from all 30 NBA teams, and is an opportunity for Creek to impress prospective employers. “It’s obviously a big event we have coming up,” Creek said of the showcase.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, Rockets center Clint Capela and Minnesota Timberwolves wing Robert Covington have all used the event as an accelerant for their NBA careers. According to the G League, more than 50 players have received NBA contracts following prior showcases.
Vitally, the showcase takes place right before NBA teams can sign free agents to 10-day contracts. Being granted a 10-day opportunity is Creek’s most realistic pathway into the NBA. A strong performance in Las Vegas could propel Creek into the NBA. He is ready for an opportunity to show his wares at the highest level.
“I left a great impression there [with the Brooklyn Nets] in training camp and hopefully I can get the chance to showcase what I can do over 10-days, 20-days and then over a season in the NBA.
“To show the impact I can help leave on a club. For me, it is an amazing feeling, to be around this environment.”
Creek took a chance this year. He bet on himself and swung for the fences. Independent of whether it leads to a maiden NBA contract, Creek has already triumphed in innate ways, that he will carry for the rest of his life.
“I’m going to look back at this at the end of my career and remember this as the first time I took a big leap for my dream,” Creek explained.
“Whatever happens from here, I will think back to this interview and be like ‘were we right or were we wrong?’ We don’t know.”
Creek is chasing down his dream in North America. In doing so, he invokes memories of young Santiago, a fictional character in Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist. In The Alchemist, Coelho wrote that, “people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”
Mitch Creek is living proof. He is living out his own vision, as he searches for NBA treasure. Every second of Creek’s search brings him closer to his dream, and closer to fulfilling his own personal legend.