Scott Machado: Barramundi, beaches and basketball Down Under

It’s safe to say that Scott Machado is enjoying his new life Down Under. As well as all of the positives that come from living in the tropical far north—he says the barramundi and the kangaroo steaks are among the early highlights—he’s managed to avoid a rite of passage that most American imports struggle to stomach.

“Vege-mart? What’s that?”

He may have dodged the Vegemite taste test for now, but he tells me he’d try it regardless if someone offered him a spoonful. After a career that has taken him from his home in New York to France, Estonia, Germany and Spain, with a few stops in the NBA along the way, he’s still keen to expand his horizons in his latest port.

“It was more so the new opportunity… I wanted to come out here, play in the league and see what I could do, see what the talent was like, see what the difference was like,” he said.

The fresh destination may have been appealing, but Machado still has his eyes on a return to a place he’s been before. His time in the NBA was only brief, with ten games across stints with the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers, but the 29 year old still hopes to make it back to the top of the basketball mountain.

“I’ve been trying to get back into the NBA for some years now and it’s still something that’s been on my mind and in my heart, it’s still something that I would like to chase.

“I knew that [the NBL season] was a shorter year and I knew that a lot of eyes were going to be on this league and I wanted to come out here… and then also be able to go back after six months and try to get back into the NBA.”

Machado has played at a high level in every league he’s visited, and he undoubtedly would have had plenty of offers from around the world heading into this season. While the shorter schedule was one drawcard, he says the rising quality of the NBL also caught his attention. The influx of talent in recent years, as well as the addition of the Next Stars program and the publicity that it has brought, has made the league a viable stepping stone to the NBA for players like him.

“Bringing in the young talent that the NBL has brought in… guys that have been in and out of [the NBA] and guys that will eventually go to it, it can only get better,” he said.

“I think that the attention that it has this year alone will only bring more eyes to it and to how competitive the league is as well.”

It helped that Australian basketball suited Machado’s game so well. He’s a run-and-gun playmaker that loves setting up teammates in transition, and he says the style of play in Australia is much more “up-and-down” than in some other countries. He’s found the perfect partner in Cairns, too—when he was hired two years ago, head coach Mike Kelly said he was most looking forward to recruiting an uptempo team. For Machado, playing in Kelly’s system on exactly that type of team has been an enjoyable ride already this season.

“I love it— I’ve always been a transition type of player, I’ve always loved to be out in the open court. It’s not only exciting for me, but it’s exciting for my teammates, everybody gets to touch the ball, and then on top of that the fans love it,” Machado said. “It just makes the game fun and faster and it’s just something that’s kind of undeniable… it’s a joy, man.”

As a natural playmaker with the ball in his hands, he's also relishing the extra freedom that Kelly gives his charges in crunch time.

" In other countries, coaches like to dominate the ball and make sure that things are run the way they want it to be run... one of the biggest things I’ve noticed down here in Australia is that the coaches allow the players to make decisions and try to do the best that they can."

Right from the moment he signed, it was clear that Machado would be the leader of the Taipans in the traditional on-court sense, running the offence and setting the table for his teammates. As one of the few experienced heads on a team full of youth and new faces, he’s been thrust into a leadership role in all facets of team life. He says that’s something that he’s become accustomed to as his career has progressed, to the point that he now relishes the opportunity.

“It’s always a challenge, but it’s a challenge that I always want to take on and I’m always ok to do. You deal with a lot of personalities, a lot of different types of athletes, different types of players that want the basketball in different places,” the Taipans point guard shared. “Nowadays it comes more naturally, it wasn’t something that I naturally had the habit of doing, it’s something that grew on me throughout the years.”

His presence has certainly had an immediate impact, as the Taipans have seen almost every measure of their offence improve this season—their offensive rating, assist percentage and effective field goal percentage have all risen drastically compared to last year. That hasn’t always translated into wins, though, as they have won plenty of quarters but struggled to hold a lead for a full game.

That’s a big issue for Cairns, but one that Machado thinks will improve with time.

“I think it’s just the consistency, being able to do it throughout the whole game, all 40 minutes, and just being able to stay with the gameplan,” he said. “That comes with maturity, we have a lot of young guys and I think that’s something that can only get better. We learn from our mistakes and try to get better for the next one.”

Personally, Machado has been one of the NBL’s standouts in the early season, as he leads the league in assists by a wide margin and is in the top ten for steals. That impact on both ends of the floor has made Cairns consistently competitive, but he knows he’ll need to be even better if they’re going to reach their full potential. That may sound like a tough task, but it’s a jump that he says he’s fully capable of making.

“I think that I started well, but I know that there’s another notch or two that I could go,” Machado comments. “For us to be a little bit better as a collective team and as a whole I know that my play has to go even higher than it already is, so that’s just something that I’m looking forward to doing and trying to prepare myself.”

If it sounds like he’s enjoying life on the court in Australia, Machado might be enjoying his time off it even more. The son of two Brazilian parents, and with a mother who always loved taking her kids to the beach at any opportunity, he’s been making the most of the country’s famous coastlines.

“Almost every city I’ve been to in Australia, if there was a beach nearby, I went… I’m a big beach person, I’m Brazilian so it’s kind of in my blood,” he said.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that he’s taken to life in the tropical paradise of Cairns so readily. In fact, when asked for his favourite thing about Australia, there’s absolutely no hesitation in his answer.

“I love Cairns, man, I like Cairns a lot. Not only is it very diverse, it’s very tropical, very peaceful, everything is within reach… it’s not a difficult living.

“The fans that come to the game, the people that I work with, my living, everything has been really good and I can’t complain.”

For Taipans fans who have dealt with some discontent from the team’s previous imports, Machado’s glowing praise would be music to their ears. Should their relationship ever sour, though, there’s surely a jar of Vegemite with his name on it.