School of Hardwood Knocks III: Liam Santamaria

For NBL writer and broadcaster Liam Santamaria, it's difficult to imagine existence without basketball. His reputation for creating informative and entertaining content has made him a much-loved figure in the Australian basketball community.

His work as an NBL broadcaster on Fox Sports and presenter on the popular NBL Overtime show is quickly making him a household name among Australian basketball fans. However, his journey into the limelight has been one that required him to adapt and reinvent himself.

Like most kids who pick a basketball up, Santamaria’s dream as a boy was to play at the highest level. With two older brothers already involved in the sport, it seemed natural that Liam would play basketball at a young age, with lofty goals in mind. “Playing the game was my life for a long time. From age five or six, playing dominated my basketball experience until my late 20s.”

After a career that included a stint in the NBL with the now-defunct Victoria Titans, Santamaria finally hung the sneakers up in 2008. “After my playing career was done I stepped away from the game for a little while, [but] I was keen to try and stay involved in the game in one way or another. Coaching was always an option for me, but I started covering the game and writing about it.

“Once I got my toes in the waters I realised how exciting and enjoyable it was. I also felt like there was a market there, and a space to get involved in. I threw myself into that as much as possible, like I did when I was playing.”

So, in 2013, in his 30s and with a family in tow, Santamaria began the incredibly difficult task of building the foundations of a new career.

“In my first couple of years in this game there were a lot of late nights, a lot of 3am finishes. That was a lot of hard work. And to begin with, a lot of it was unpaid while I was trying to get going.

“There were periods of time where I was wondering, ‘Is this going to lead anywhere? Can I make something of this?’ That period of time in the early [days] was tough.”

Things finally clicked in 2015. In the lead-up to a clash between the Boomers and the Tall Blacks in Melbourne Santamaria wrote an in-depth breakdown on how the Boomers should defend their trans-Tasman rivals. For Santamaria, the process of creating that article was a lightbulb moment.

“[The article] was a perfect mix that tapped into my experience playing, the experience of being in the huddle and the locker room, being in the video analysis sessions. I mixed all that with my writing and I had so much fun… For me personally, [it] lit a bit of a fire.”

2015 marked another milestone in his basketball journey. At the preseason NBL Blitz in Townsville Santamaria got his first taste of TV broadcasting. It was a nerve wracking experience, but a vital hurdle in his broadcasting career. The significance of the moment wasn’t lost on him. “[At the time] I remember thinking ‘I’m swimming, I’m not sinking,’” chuckled Santamaria.

It was during those formative years that he learned the most valuable lesson, one he is at pains to communicate to up-and-coming writers. "Keep working… You’ve just got to put in the hours and work hard and then hopefully you work hard enough where the standard of your work gives you opportunities.”

Perhaps the most widely recognised validation of his ethos came last year during NBAxNBL in Salt Lake City Utah, a world away from Townsville. Sitting at the commentary desk, next to seasoned NBA broadcasters Thurl Bailey and Craig Bolerjack, Santamaria was the Australian voice for Australian basketball on an ESPN broadcast. “To have a chance to promote our league to the wider audience and be a part of that NBLxNBA process was fun. Coming out of those couple of games and not messing those moments up gave me a lot of confidence going into the last season and getting on Fox Sports.”

Now as an established NBL personality, his daily routine revolves around staying as informed as possible on the machinations of the NBL. For Santamaria, it’s vitally important for a writer to work hard to maintain their expertise and authority on the subject they cover. “I like to be in constant communication with a bunch of people around the league and during the season keep tapping into the knowledge of coaches and players, to see how things are going and what’s going on in their teams.” As they say, information is power.

Now, with his transformation from player to broadcaster complete and with the grind for recognition now behind him, Santamaria’s only goal is to have fun with his work. “I just cover basketball because I absolutely love it, I live and breathe it. So being able to make a living out of covering it, analysing it, talking about it, writing about it; that’s just super fun. At this point, that is the biggest motivating factor.”