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Tai Wesley eager to get started with Melbourne United
The excitement in Tai Wesley’s voice is palpable.
Whether it’s talking about the immense level of talent in the NBL or seeing Cedric Jackson on the first day of Melbourne United training, you can’t wipe the smile off Wesley’s face. Having just arrived fresh off New Zealand Breakers' championship culture, the power forward seems to like what he's seeing in Melbourne so far.
"The way we go about practice is different [at Melbourne], but as far as that competitiveness and the drive and wanting to win? It’s no different,” Wesley told The Pick and Roll at United’s season launch.
The 30-year old power forward, who won an NBL championship with New Zealand in his rookie season, is quickly getting adjusted to the Melbourne culture. Having ex-Breakers teammate Jackson on the roster has obviously helped.
"Seeing Ced on the first day, running up to him like little kids, giving each other hugs and checking up on each other, reminiscing on how things are different here than what we’re used to,” Wesley said.
“It’s just great to have him here.”
Wesley has teamed up with numerous NBL superstars throughout his career, including Jackson, Corey Webster and Thomas Abercrombie. The NBL has never experienced an infusion of talent like it has this offseason, though, with a handful of former Boomers, players with NBA experience and projected NBA lottery picks coming down under. Wesley understands the challenge at hand and cannot wait to get started.
“This is by far, the toughest NBL in the history of the NBL,” Wesley said. “It’s exciting to be apart of it. Going to the blitz [preseason tournament] was exciting because we got to see everybody. It is very talent rich on every team and it’s very even.
“It makes you have to bring it every single night, which is what you want in a league, what you want in the competition and we’re excited about that.”
As much as Wesley is keen for the competitive juices to kick in, he remains very much a fan of the game. United came close to winning the title last season, before getting eliminated by, coincidentally, Wesley’s Breakers. However, with the likes of Jackson, David Andersen and Devin Williams joining mainstays like Chris Goulding and Todd Blanchfield, United is set to boast one of the more capable squads in the league – something Wesley is eager to watch develop.
“I’m excited, I’m a fan and I want to see them [Jackson and Goulding] go well together and throw in a guy like Dave Andersen and get Dave Barlow healthy, throw him in the mix and some new talent, Ramone [Moore] and Dev.
“It should be a very exciting year for us, and hopefully a successful year as well.”
Wesley is coming off a mightily impressive stint of games at the inaugural Australian Basketball Challenge. Across three preseason outings, Wesley averaged 20.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and shot 69.3 per cent from the field, while alternating between starting and coming off the bench. As the regular season nears, Wesley doesn’t expect much to change in his preparation.
“I don’t expect anything to change [in terms of his season preparations] and that’s how I will approach it,” Wesley said.
“I’m going to go in confident, shoot the ball when I’m open and do the things I’m comfortable doing. Helping the team win, that’s the most important thing."
Both Wesley and Melbourne fell short of the ultimate prize last season, as the Perth Wildcats raised another trophy. This creates a great conundrum for players: do you use last season’s shortcomings as motivation or do you enter the season with a fresh mindset and a clean slate? Wesley’s noticed United has spoken about the semi-final defeat minimally and with a strong offseason, the forward expects bigger and better things this season.
“A little bit of both,” Wesley said. “There has been a little talk about [the defeat] but not a lot about last season.
“The thing I think they’ve said the most is that we brought in the right pieces to go further than we did last season and I believe that. I feel like the management has put a phenomenal team together that has a lot of different pieces that we lacked a little bit last year, so it should be good.”
There is no denying Melbourne’s disappointment in not winning the championship last season, something Wesley's definitely noticed. However, that was one of the main drivers towards his decision to join United and he expects big things with his new team.
“That’s what draws you to a place like this though, because you want to be disappointed if you don’t win the championship. Your expectation is [to win a] championship,” Wesley said.
“So, it’s a pro and a con, but that’s why we’re here and that’s why we play.”