Tommy Greer on the NBL's return to South East Melbourne
To say South East Melbourne is an important hotbed for Australian basketball would be an understatement.
Current global talents like Ben Simmons, Dante Exum, Andrew Bogut and Liz Cambage all spent developmental years playing basketball in the region, and over a third of Victoria's 240,000 players are registered participants from the area.
It makes sense then, that an NBL franchise should serve this thriving basketball community. Plenty have tried over the decades, from the South East Melbourne Magic to the Victoria Giants and then the South Dragons. For one reason or another though, each team has failed to last the test of time.
Over the weekend, the NBL announced once again that the league would be returning to the South East Melbourne region. This time, it feels different -- more permanent.
The new club will be bankrolled by Swansea City co-owner Romie Chaudhari and operated by new general manager Tommy Greer, who says the new club is entering the league at the perfect time and location.
"As long as I've been involved in basketball, this is the healthiest the sport has ever been in this country," Greer told The Pick and Roll.
"Our Boomers and Opals teams are world class. Participation numbers are the best they've ever been and both crowd numbers and viewership were way up last season. [NBL CEO] Jeremy Loeliger and [NBL majority owner] Larry Kestelman have created a healthy league that is primed for expansion with all the interest and local talent in the sport at the moment."
With the state government announcing they will spend $126 million revamping the State Basketball Centre at Wantirna South, Greer said South East Melbourne made the most sense when deciding on the location of the ninth NBL franchise.
"There were many bids coming in from all over Australia that we took the time to consider, but we had a strict set of criteria that we had to meet," Greer said.
"The refurbishment to the State Basketball Centre was a huge tick for us. When it's complete we will look to play at least two home games there a season with the rest being at Melbourne Arena. We will also be basing our operations and training from the State Basketball Centre. With us, the Melbourne Boomers, and potentially both the NBA Global Academy and Centre of Excellence being based there, it will cement the South East as being the heartland of Australian basketball."
The announcement of a new franchise representing the South Eastern Melbourne suburbs was met with a flood of support online, including from Aussie NBA star Joe Ingles, who tweeted he now had two Melbourne options to choose from, when his days in the NBA are over -- something that excites Greer.
"Joe is such a great advocate for the NBL," Greer said.
"Given how much of his time is taken up with his NBA commitments, what he does to promote our league here in Australia is fantastic. Obviously he is firmly cemented in the NBA at the moment, and we fully support him with that. Once it's appropriate though, I'm sure every NBL club would love to have Joe on their roster and we'll definitely throw our hat into the ring."
With the club set to play its first NBL season in 2019-20, Greer has a lot of work ahead of him in terms of constructing the roster.
"We're already starting to look at the local talent," Greer said.
"It's a little difficult because obviously we can't talk to currently contracted NBL players, but we are certainly planning our first roster. A name that has been circulating is Mitch Creek, and there is no doubt we have interest in him."
Before all that though, Greer hopes to have a head coach in place by December and a new identity for the club established.
"The first thing that people think of when they hear South East Melbourne is of course the Magic," Greer said.
"The people of South East Melbourne are very educated basketball fans and we'll really value their input when it comes to determining branding for the franchise. We'll ask for feedback from them and create a shortlist from there. Clubs that have represented that region in the past played a really important role in where basketball is at in this country and it's important that we honour them and remember the foundations they created while still looking to the future."
One of the things Greer is keen to replicate from the past is a traditional Melbourne rivalry, hoping his side will create a healthy and competitive match up with Melbourne United starting in 2019.
"Classic Melbourne derbies have made up a big part of the history of the league so hopefully we can recapture that again with United," Greer said.
"The work they have done since their rebrand has been phenomenal, and they deserve much praise. Them winning the championship was icing on the cake in a lot of ways. Seeing them fill out Melbourne Arena also shows it's time to reignite a Melbourne-based rivalry."
South East Melbourne deserves a fruitful NBL franchise. Both Greer and franchise owner Romie Chaudhari fully understand that and are determined to get it right.
"Expansion is all about doing things the right way,” Greer added.
“We know what South East Melbourne means to basketball in this country. Romie [Chaudhari] is an amazing guy, a family man. He has spent time out here and he knows what basketball means to the community. He’s deadest about making sure the club lives up to the expectations and the values of South East Melbourne, the NBL, and basketball in this country as a whole. So am I.”
Fans wanting to register their interest in South East Melbourne can go to www.southeastmelbourne.com.au.