Back when Ryan Broekhoff was in primary school, he was told to write about his ambition as part of a school assignment, about what he would like to be.
Everyone holds different dreams, but one could tell even back then, basketball was on young Broekhoff's mind. He wrote a simple sentence. Something that seemed so far away back then, he might as well have been writing about becoming an astronaut.
"When I grow up I want to play basketball in the NBA."
Unlike a lot of us where childhood ambitions fade away and go unrealised, Broekhoff's dream has come true this week, as he signed with his first NBA team, the Dallas Mavericks on a 2-year deal.
"I think it was possibly in grade 5 or grade 6," Broekhoff laughed. "I'm not 100% sure, but I can say that my handwriting has not improved much!
"We were setting goals, and I also had playing at the Olympics on that list too, so to be able to tick something else off that list from all those years ago is pretty amazing."
On finally reaching the NBA
Following his outstanding collegiate career with Valparaiso where he guided the Crusaders to the NCAA tournament, and a further 5 years playing in some of the best leagues in Europe, the reality of a lifelong ambition had yet to sink in.
"It's still all too surreal, all sort of sinking in slowly," said Broekhoff on his feelings about becoming Australia's latest NBA player.
"There has been so much love, so much support from both here in the 'States and back home in Australia. I am going to try to get back to everyone to thank them for all their support."
The Frankston connection
Australian NBA players are still a rare breed despite the recent increase in numbers, yet Frankston has remarkably produced two, with Broekhoff joining David Andersen who played for the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors across two years.
"Frankston is a an amazing club and has been for a long time, going right back to the Frankston Bears days when they played a season in the NBL," shared Broekhoff. "It is really funny that two guys that have come from the Frankston area – a place that has had a pretty bad rap about it - have made the NBA. Hopefully it can inspire more in future."
Well-wishes from the Boomers mates
It hasn't been a surprise, that out of the countless congratulatory messages Broekhoff received, many of it have come from his Australian Boomer compatriots.
"All the Australian Boomers have reached out, including the NBA guys... that's been awesome."
Broekhoff revealed that it had been a difficult decision for him not to join the Boomers for their recent FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers against Japan and the Philippines, but would not go into detail about the events that marred the latter game.
"It was really hard for me to not be a part of the Boomers this summer [in the US], and not pulling on the green and gold and keep playing. But for my career, I needed to give [the NBA] a shot – I needed to give it everything I could and it has paid off. Playing for your country though is for me remains very special, and it is something I look forward to with next year's World Cup and the Olympics to follow."
The European journey
Broekhoff enjoyed an outstanding season in Europe in his final year with Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar. He averaged a team-best 12.3 points with 5.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 26.6 minutes per game in the EuroCup, shooting a remarkable 50.6% from beyond the arc on his way to being named to the All-EuroCup Team. The swingman also won the three-point competition at the 2018 VTB United League All-Star game, attracting plenty of interest from NBA scouts and other EuroLeague teams, paving the way for his transition to the NBA.
Having participated in the NBA Summer League with the Denver Nuggets in 2015, the 2016 Rio Olympian explained that participating in the event with his age and experience was never an option for him this year.
"[Playing] Summer League was never on the agenda this year. I am sort of at a point in my career that I felt I was well-known enough, and been around long enough, that playing would not have really helped me.
"Summer League style of play is not the kind of style that really helps me showcase what I can do. I just wanted to try out and do some individual workouts with NBA teams, not just seeing me play through a video screen or on tape, but in person. Show them how I move, how I play and what I can do."
Broekhoff revealed that he in fact worked out for seven NBA teams, including the Washington Wizards, Brooklyn Nets, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies, and two teams (Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks) that had Australians on their roster.
“Delly’s one of the nicest people you will ever meet, he’s always looking to help out everybody, so it meant a lot to me for him to help me get to where I am now.
Surprisingly, the Mavericks were not on that list.
"I never even worked out for the Mavericks," shared Broekhoff. "It was a was a pleasant surprise to when the offer came around.
"I was just waiting for an actual offer to come through, as a few teams were definitely interested. But most teams were waiting to see how free agency went. The Mavs however came with an offer, and I wasn't going to wait around. I've signed on, and will now realise my dream."
How the actual news broke
Currently staying with his fiancée's family in the US to relax following his workouts and to celebrate the 4th of July, Broekhoff detailed how he found out he was set to become an NBA player.
"I got a call the next day [after arriving] at my fiancée's family's lake house. I was told by my agent that I [might be getting] an offer. Then about 1 hour later, around 1-1:30pm in the afternoon, I missed his call and he left a message - nothing that seemed exciting or urgent, just to give him a call back. I called him back and he said 'Dallas had come through with an offer – what do you think?'
"I wasn't saying no!"
Broekhoff confirmed that his 2-year deal with the Mavericks was guaranteed for the first year, with the team holding an option for the second.
"I agreed to the 2-year deal they offered - it included everything we wanted. I said to my agent, 'Are you kidding?' It just did not seem real. It really turned out to be such an awesome day. Hopefully I can prove myself well enough for them to keep me for a second year.
"All the teams I worked out for had interest, and we had heard from a couple of other teams too, so there was plenty of interest around. The big fish usually get snapped up first – you know, the LeBron [James] thing, the [Kawhi] Leonard thing going on. We really were not expecting anything to come until later in July.
"Having this down early, takes a lot [of] stress and nerves off me."
How would Europe have worked out?
It had been reported that Broekhoff had received a number of attractive European offers for next season already, including EuroLeague sides Khimki Moscow and Anadolu Efes Istanbul. He was quick to clarify the situation.
"Had things not worked out NBA-wise, I would have gone to Efes at this point of time. But the chance to play in the NBA was not one I was going to pass on at this stage of my career. There was interest from Khimki too, but nothing firm unlike Efes."
There had been speculation that the Brooklyn Nets may have been close to offering him a deal too, but Broekhoff reaffirmed that apart from plenty of NBA interest, no other deal had actually materialised to date.
"The Nets definitely showed interest, but I did not know if it was more or less than anyone else. I did have a decent workout for them too."
Looking ahead to the Mavs
With Broekhoff being the latest addition to the Mavericks roster, attention now turns to what he can do to help Dallas in 2018/19. He suggested it might be too early to preempt what his actual role will be, but is definitely looking forward to joining the team and the opportunity to play with Dirk Nowitzki, his idol growing up.
"I spoke to coach [Rick Carlisle] who welcomed me to the team and advised he was looking forward to having me. As for the basketball-side of things, my role will probably be determined when preseason starts and the final rosters are done.
"I actually idolised Dirk [Nowitzki] when I was growing up! I had his jersey and he was my favourite player when I was 12 through to 16 - when the NBA was everything I loved to watch. To have that come full circle and now to be able to play with him, and to be able to learn from him, that is something I will take advantage of."
Broekhoff explained he had also seen plenty of Slovenia's EuroLeague MVP Luka Dončić, and was hoping to create some on-court chemistry with the rising star, who was selected with the third overall pick by the Atlanta Hawks before being traded to the Mavericks.
"I have seen plenty of Luka play in Europe. It is exciting to be playing with him, and I hope to get on the end of some of his bullet passes!"
Many have compared Broekhoff to his Australian Boomers teammate and current Utah Jazz star Joe Ingles, who trod a similar European path to the NBA. While they both share three-point shooting prowess and can play very good defence, Broekhoff agreed that they are not the same type of player.
"There will be comparison until I hopefully establish myself and my own game in the NBA. We are of similar build and size. Joe is fantastic as an on-ball player and in pick and rolls, but I got pulled away from doing that stuff in Europe and was used more as a shooter off the ball. It is something that I have been working on, but rebounding is a facet of my game I am very strong in."
When you take into consideration the NBA's trend towards defensive switching and versatility, it's easy to see why Broekhoff holds value on both ends of the court. He's more than just a three-point specialist, and hopes to show more of his defensive game in the days ahead.
“Three-point shooting is what I’m known for and that’s the skill I’ll bring to the NBA, to help spread the floor for the other guys to get to the rim," Broekhoff shared with NBA Australia's Benyam Kidane."But I think I can surprise people on the other side of the floor with my defense.”
“I’ll show that I can guard multiple positions in the NBA,” Broekhoff said. “I’m a little bit quicker than I may look and I will lean on my ability to be versatile and play a few different positions."
2018 will see considerable change for Broekhoff on and off the court. He is expecting to meet the team at NBA Summer League, before heading back to Australia and then getting married in August.
"Everything is all a bit of a blur and getting worked out, but we will most likely go to Summer League and meet the front office, coaches and a few of the players. We will then head back to Australia, and officially get married in August in Bali. After that we will head back to the US, get settled and start training camp in September."
In Broekhoff, the Mavericks have landed a talented, hardworking player who is also a great all-round guy. If he can go anywhere close to translating his European form to the NBA, he will not only put smiles on the faces of Dallas' front office staff, but also those back home in Australia.
Nothing is impossible. If anything, Broekhoff is living proof that if you set yourself a goal and work hard, dreams could really come true.