A longtime member of the Adelaide 36ers, Mitch Creek could have easily ventured overseas in the past. Instead, he chose to keep his talents in Australia. That was true right up until earlier this year, when the 26-year-old forward felt it was time to direct his focus overseas once more.
In April, Creek signed with BG Gottingen for the end of the season in the German Bundesliga. He played seven games in Germany, averaging just a tick under 12 points per game. After that first taste of German hoops, Creek signed on for the coming season with S.Oliver Wuerzburg. For the first time in his professional career, the forward committed to a season abroad, over his long-time home in Adelaide.
"I think it was just the best choice for me [to leave Adelaide]," Creek revealed to The Pick and Roll in Vegas.
"It didn't end the way it should have, but we’ll look at our options over the next few years. At the moment we feel like my basketball is going to take me overseas and hopefully to America."
Despite the commitment to play in Germany, Creek has not lost sight of his greater personal goal, that of joining his fellow Aussies in the NBA. Creek signed a Summer League contract to join the Dallas Mavericks in the 2018 Las Vegas showcase, a year after playing in the same tournament with Joe Ingles' Utah Jazz.
Known for his hardnosed style of physical play, Creek came into Summer League prepared to battle and make the most of every opportunity that came his way. His debut for the Mavericks personified this mantra, as he came off the bench playing impactful minutes against the comparatively star-studded Phoenix Suns lineup.
An energised Creek post-game, left no secrets as to his mindset for the rest of the fortnight in Nevada.
"I'm going to attack the rim. If I'm open, I'm going to shoot it," Creek said. "I'm going to play defence first and dive on a loose ball. I want to challenge guys physically, and if I can do that then that's me helping the team."
That physical challenge came early in the piece, as Creek came face-to-face with number one overall draft pick Deandre Ayton of Phoenix in his first Summer League appearance of 2018. Getting tangled up on one play, Creek was spotted jawing at Ayton on another.
Creek's aggressive play was noted by Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle at the announcers booth. Carlisle, who was doing a guest spot that game, commented on Creek's AFL-like effort on the floor.
One of the complexities of Summer League, is the lack of cohesion among squads heading into the tournament, given how late they are thrown together. On the surface, this did not appear to hinder Creek's style of play. When it comes to a war of attrition among individuals fighting for their basketball future, energy and effort plays not only change the game, but often stand out prominently,
"We put 14 guys together and [got told to] play basketball. We’ve only had two and a half days to get ready, so realistically it’s going to take some time," Creek said with a smile.
"None of the guys have scrimmaged together before, so after one or two games it will make it a little bit easier for us to transition into playing some good team basketball. I thought there were a lot of learning curves [today] that we can be proud of."
Those thoughts certainly rang true for Creek, who was able to break through to the Mavericks' starting lineup for their final three games. Averaging 9.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game over those three starts, he had a fierce influence on the game as Dallas eventually bowed out of the knockout phase of the tournament.
In what has arguably been his his best performance of Summer League, Creek burst out of the blocks in his first start against the Golden State Warriors. He finished the night with 13 points and 7 rebounds, his mature body already accustomed to the rigours of professional basketball, which allowed him to to battle in the paint against opponents far bigger than his 195cm frame.
The play above provides a perfect illustration, as he fights though heavy contact from Xavier Cooks to finish the highlight reel layup. A finish which by the way, in combination with teammate Kostas Antetokounmpo's crossover and dish, was included in Sports Center's Top 10 later that night. Not bad.
The definitive moment of the tournament came in his final outing, when Dallas played against Washington. The game was one Wizards three-pointer away from being tied, and only 11.9 seconds remained on the clock. Washington, who had the final possession, could still send the game into overtime.
Creek's trademark determination rose through to secure a last-up victory for Dallas. When Manu Lacoste missed his second free throw, the Australian forward busted through his Washington opponent's box out attempt and tipped the ball back in, extending the lead to 5 points.
It felt appropriate that Creek's hard work would be paid off in a way that did show up on the box score, after a week of gut-busting effort plays that had largely flown under the radar.
It signified the end of a eyecatching week for Creek, who came into the tournament without feeling pressured, despite knowing that everything he's ever dreamed of could be on the line.
"Last year I was really nervous and I didn't know what to expect. This year, I felt completely different," Creek admitted. "You just have to stay mentally ready every single time. You can sit for a quarter or two and then you have to go in and play hard."
As Summer League came to a close, it became clear that the Dallas Mavericks would be unlikely to award Creek with a 2-way contract, as Kostas Antetokounmpo had been signed to one of their two available spots. NBL media however, reported that the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers remain interested in Creek ahead of training camp, set to commence in September.
Either way, Creek is at ease with his decision to leave his comfort zone and venture overseas, adamant that the best opportunities lie ahead, in what has already been a stellar career in Australia.
If his performance in Vegas is anything to go by, Creek belongs overseas, and is destined to continue to make the plays that will endear him with his team's fans. Whether that team is to be in Germany or the US remains to be seen. Regardless, Creek is ready to give it a shot.