Throughout Australia's state leagues, the New Zealand NBL, and other domestic competitions, there are plenty of able veterans, up and comers, or naturalised imports that are vying to stand out and get a chance to prove themselves at the NBL level.
In this final piece of the "He should be in the NBL!" series, we look at some names in the domestic scene that could help an NBL team next season.
In the NBL1, Ray Turner was a force this past season, putting up 22.8 points and 12.3 rebounds a game in only 28.4 minutes. The Texas native first came to play in Australia in 2014 with the QBL's Rockhampton Rockets, and has been a dominant participant in Australian state league competition every year since.
The 6'9 center spent time with the Sydney Kings last season as a third import. While he is unlikely to get a similar gig going forward in the NBL on an import spot, if naturalised, Turner would be extremely good big man depth as a local pickup, providing size and interior play. Now settled down and married to an Australian, and having spent five years competing in the country, Turner could be eligible for naturalisation, and if so, should be a no brainer to be picked up at the NBL level.
Another import that would benefit from potential naturalisation is current United import Dillon Stith. While Stith's role earlier this season filling in for the injury-prone Casey Prather has been an opportunity based on convenience and familiarity, securing a more permanent NBL career would likely require his eligibility as a local.
Stith has been playing in Australia since he left college in 2015, where he was picked up by McKinnon. One of the Big V's most dominant players, Stith has won multiple Big V Championship Men's MVP's. In 2019, Stith averaged 26.5 points a contest on 56.4% from the field and 34.3% from 3, as well as 11.2 rebounds a game.
Stith has already won over Melbourne United, who have been using him as an energy forward in limited minutes this season. His size and athleticism is not easy to find among candidates for local spots, and he'd be sure to carve a role somewhere on an NBL team in that capacity. Stith is already committed to remaining in the country next season, as he's signed on to play for the Knox Raiders.
Another player who may qualify as a local is Earnest Ross. The now 28 year old wing was born in Guam, and played for the Perth Wildcats in 2014 as a local. Since that time, he has had stints with the Ballarat Miners, Geraldton Buccaneers and most recently in 2019 the Joondalup Wolves, with whom he averaged 19.47 points per game. In October, Ross successfully tried out for the Los Angeles Lakers G League affiliate, South Bay, and subsequently made the roster, however on December 3rd, he was waived.
He also is based in Australia at this point, with an Australian wife and child.
Ross is 6'6 with a massive frame and a quality shooting stroke. For the FIBA Asia World Cup qualifiers, Ross led Guam in scoring with 22 points a contest, along with 2.3 steals. For comparison, NBL star Tai Wesley averaged 13.6. Ross has been a quality contributor in state leagues in Australia for a while now, and would be valuable as a '3 and D' option on the wing for an NBL team.
However, as of 2017, Guam has been excluded from the NBL's rulings, as the newly updated 'special restricted player' rule was revised to only include countries deemed to be 'major Asian markets' (this is the same amendment which changed Tai Wesley's status from a local to import).
In 2018, Guam Head Coach EJ Calvo called for leagues such as the NBL to revisit the rule in allowing pacific nations such as Fiji, Guam and Tonga to be classified once again as locals. Unless this rule is again revised, Ross' best chances of returning to the NBL would be if he is successful in lodging application for naturalisation.
The final naturalization candidate is Indiana native Jeremy Kendle. Like Turner and Stith, Kendle has also had limited time at the NBL as an import with both the Sydney Kings and Adelaide 36ers over the last three years. Kendle could have had potential interest for this year's NBL season as well, but unfortunately tore his ACL in May 2019.
Kendle has been a quality scoring guard in his NBL opportunities, and has been playing in Australia's state league's since 2015. Like Turner and Stith, he has also married an Australian and appears settled in the country. In an interview with Aussie Hoopla in 2017, Kendle said he would love to spend the rest of his career in the NBL, and looked in to the process of naturalisation. If that can successfully come through, he is a clear NBL talent that should be able to find a home for the next NBL season.
Tad Dufelmeier, the son of the former Canberra Cannons star of the same name, returned to Australia last year after two seasons with Concordia University, where he played for the Southern Huskies. It was a successful season for the young point guard, averaging 18.7 points, 6 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game, all whilst shooting 50% from the field and 35% from three.
Dufelmeier was fortunate to acquire a spot as a development player with the Cairns Taipans this season, where we've seen him hit the court for occasional garbage time throughout the season. At 23 years old, Dufelmeier is only getting better and could be worth a full NBL roster spot soon.
Another familiar name, Emmanuel Malou, had a disappointing 2019 NBL1 season, registering 11.5 points and 5.7 rebounds a game over 25 minutes a contest. However, Malou has had a tumultuous career to date, and is worth tracking purely for his tools and potential.
A long, athletic 6'9 forward who can run the floor fluidly, play above the rim and handle the ball, Malou has plenty of ability to transfer to the next level, but needs to build up his frame, increase the efficiency of his outside shot, and find consistency in his performances. Now fairly removed from the 2019 NBL1 season, it'll be interesting to see what level Malou is currently at and whether he's close to contributing at an NBL level.
Another man with plenty of name value is Anatoliy Kolesnikov, better known by NBL fans as Anatoly Bose. After bursting on to the NBL scene in 2011, winning the ROY award after averaging 15.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists a game, Bose ventured overseas to play in his birth country of Kazakhstan. Primed for an illustrious NBL career, Bose instead made a name for himself (going under the name 'Kolsenikov') overseas, winning multiple player of the year awards and championships.
At 31 and off the radar for years, Bose is likely a very different player to the one we saw with the Sydney Kings 8 years ago, but he has recently returned to Australian shores, competing in Sydney's Waratah League over 2018 and 2019 seasons.
In 2018, Bose averaged 21.8 points a game on 51.9% from the floor. He appears in form, and teams have been monitoring him closely. Bose joined the Sydney Kings for the 'Atlas Challenge' in China in 2017. In 2018, Olgun Uluc suggested that Bose was one of the names the Kings were looking at bringing in for one of their final roster spots.
It's 2019 and we still haven't seen Bose return to an NBL outfit, but given his form and standout talent level throughout his career, he may be able to contribute at the NBL level still as a skilled swing-man.
Of the NZNBL talents, one of the most intriguing talents yet to have cracked an NBL roster is 20 year old New Zealander Taane Samuel.
Samuel had plenty of allure coming out of a high school, with a stocky but athletic 6'7 frame, and a versatile offensive skillset. He was also a standout for New Zealand in junior FIBA play. In 2017, he averaged 12.1 points a game (tied for second on the team behind junior standout Tai Wynyard) during the 2017 U19 World Cup.
After a season playing in the Phillipines with De La Salle University which was plagued with injury setbacks and issues with the team, Samuel elected to return to New Zealand and pursue professional opportunities. He was picked up by the Manawatū Jets, where he had a successful season displaying glimpses of his ample potential, and has now been picked up by the reigning champion Wellington Saints.
“Taane’s upside might be as high as anyone’s in New Zealand basketball," described Saints Head Coach Zico Coronel. "The combination of size, athleticism, skill and basketball IQ is not found frequently. We believe coming home to Wellington, with the excellent support structures the Saints club and wider community can provide, will help Taane to progress towards reaching his potential - a delectable proposition!”
Samuel's unique physical profile offers th potential to be a unique matchup headache the four spot, as he has the strength and to handle bigger players whilst exposing them on the offensive end with his combination of quickness, ball handling, and an encouraging outside stroke.
NBL teams will likely look for Samuel to make further growth this upcoming NZNBL season before making a decision on him, but given his age and potential, it would be unsurprising to see Samuel get an NBL opportunity next season.
There are many other NBL1 players on the fringe of the league, many with prior NBL experience hoping for another opportunity. Adam Doyle, Igor Hadziomerovic and Mathiang Muo are veterans coming off great NBL1 campaigns. Dexter Kenrich-Drew and Kuany Kuany are two other NBL1 players on the fringes of the league, with Kenrich-Drew playing for United during the NBL Blitz, whilst Kuany was a King until he was unfortunately waived to make way for the signing of Xavier Cooks in November. Likewise, Deng Deng, who was brought in as a temporary injury replacement for New Zealand after spending the season prior with the Sydney Kings, is also currently out of an NBL gig, but is worth a look as an athletic wing to provide depth for a team going forward.
Between all the the different avenues featured throughout this series, there is plenty of potential NBL talent to be acquired going forward. Whilst many more names have been cited here than there are available roster spots, there is always outgoing talent, whether through overseas offers, NBA opportunities or retirement.
While they won't appear in the league until 2021, the imminent Tasmanian expansion will offer further opportunities to lure Australian talent into the league as well.
While Next Stars and higher budget imports are exciting options and welcome developments to the league as it continues to grow, the ultimate goal for sustainable prosperity should be aiming to create a league where there is enough opportunity and incentive for as many non-NBA rostered home grown talents to play at a competitive and financially lucrative level as possible.
Australia has bundles of talented professionals and soon to be professionals plying their trade across the world, but are relatively obscure to more casual fans. If these players can be brought home at an increasing rate, it would establish a greater local talent base foundation for the league to build on, and affirm the increasingly interested Australian sporting public of our countries talent level at the sport.
Between the return of Xavier Cooks, Mitch Creek, Ben Madgen, Jo Lual Acuil, Ater Majok, Daniel Dillon, and Mirko Djeric all this season, we're already seeing an influx of guys return from around the world. Hopefully this is a trend that continues.
We all know, Australia is really good at basketball. Let's try and reflect that in our league as best as possible, especially while a record number of eyes are watching.