Tom Garlepp is not your typical NBL journeyman.
Like many others, he’s certainly traversed the NBL landscape. Garlepp signed on with the league as a youngster, straight out of the University of California (Santa Barbara) to the Perth Wildcats way back in 2007. Since that initial 2-year stint across the Nullabor, Garlepp has played for the now-defunct Gold Coast Blaze, and the Adelaide 36ers.
After arriving at the Harbour City in 2012 as an unproven curiosity, the man known as “Tommy” has worked diligently on his craft and his off-court leadership, and became an integral part of the new age Sydney Kings. His tireless work ethic has arguably led him towards his finest NBL season to date, culminating in being awarded the Sydney Kings’ Club MVP award recently.
From basketball nomad to club champion, has Tommy finally found his home?
I caught up recently with the Sydney Kings co-captain and chatted about a variety of topics, including his best year in the NBL, the toughest covers in the league, and his Boomers aspirations.
The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Q: First of all, congratulations on another good season and on winning the club’s MVP award. Would you rate this as your finest season yet in the NBL?
A: I think there’s some things that I did particularly well this year, and there’s some things that I did that I wasn’t as proud of, as in previous years.
To get [the field goal percentage] right up there. Make some more threes at a good clip, and I think that was the best I shot free throws [in my career]. So those things I put a lot of work in, and I was really happy to see all that work out.
But I think defensively, I’ve been better in previous years.
Q: From a scoring standpoint, it just seems that your confidence has gone to another level. And the numbers show that you’ve had your most efficient season yet. Individually, what would you say was your main focus heading into the season?
A: Actually, it was completely different to how it panned out.
When we recruited our team, we were pretty potent –well, we had planned on being pretty potent– and I kind of trained all off-season to be a hustle guy. You know, get some rebounds, a lot of assists, and stuff like that.
And to be honest, that was the way I tried to play over the first month. But my role changed a lot over the year, and amongst all that, after that first month [I realised] that I really needed to start putting my foot down a little bit on the offensive end. So that’s where I think that all came about.
Q: What’s been the key to your consistency on that end of the floor?
A: I got a ton of shots up — it was really the work I did outside of training.
I got in early and stayed late, like I always do. On my days off, I always tried to shoot and I put in a lot of work with Jacob Jackomas, our assistant [coach].
I had another off-season where I put in a lot of work. I probably put up more shots this off-season outside of training, than I [ever] have, and I probably saw the fruits of that.
Who has been most influential in terms of your development throughout your career? Have you modeled your game on any particular player?
I think in my first five years in the competition I played for four teams, and I played with a ton of good power forwards in a stretch of five years. All the guys who have been pretty good for a while, like [Alex] Loughton, [Shawn] Redhage, Benny Knight, those guys at the Gold Coast: Jacob Holmes, Adam Ballinger. Whether or not they were kind of hands-on or giving me advice, I just got to sit behind those guys and have a look at how they play.
I suppose I took some of their moves. The one-footed runners, I took that from Redhage. The midrange stuff was a lot of Loughton. That’s just a couple of examples. I guess when you’re behind a lot of good players, and you have to sit there and watch them play, and then you play against them at training, you have an opportunity to copy them and see what works.
Q: Speaking of that midrange jumper… that’s elite! Looking at your shot chart, and you’re deadly from there. What’s your secret?
A: I think I was up there last year as well! I’ve always been a pretty good 2-point shot maker in the ABA and SEABL — fadeaways, shots off the dribble and little face-up jumpers. So I guess a lot of the midrange stuff was just me adjusting to the NBL level, and the NBL defense.
I feel like I’ve had that as part of my game for a while, but the consistency in the NBL is probably just the time I’ve spent in the league now, and just being a little more comfortable.
Q: From a team perspective, it’s probably fair to say it’s been a disappointing season. What were the key contributing factors to expectations not being met?
A: The injuries played a big part in it, but we started off the season poorly too. We had the opportunity with our home court run at the start of the season, to consolidate an advantage and we just never took it.
There’s probably a few excuses we could use but I don’t think we really rose to the challenge. A lot of people talk about your New Zealands [Breakers] and your Perths [Wildcats], how they’ve had chemistry, and all that, and that’s probably true.
But they’ve also got ten good players. At the start of the season I felt that we had [a good team]. So I think, in that first part as a playing group we didn’t really rise to it as much as we should have, and that put us on the back foot.
Then you find yourself in a bit of a hole, you get a few injuries, and all of a sudden the league is a lot tougher now. And the schedule’s pretty tough now too. So you just have to be ready to go.
I just feel at the start of the season, that first month, we weren’t quite ready to go, and we weren’t quite ready to cover the loss of [Josh] Childress, as a group. We probably should have been better early. When you roll all the other misfortune we had together, it just ended up being quite [a] poor [season].
Q: Who is the toughest cover in the NBL at the moment?
A: Probably Kevin Lisch in the iso. [Jerome] Randle is tough, and [Chris] Goulding. Those are probably it in terms of the guards, when I have to switch onto them. They all hurt you and kind of embarrass you in different ways.
But I suppose if I’m talking about the big men, the guys that I match up on, it’s probably [Daniel] Kickert. He’s just smart in the way he mixes up one-on-one isos, and then just flicks it to Goulding or [Stephen] Holt, plays a little two-man game, and then that gets you on the back foot. I think his ability to do that and mix it up, for the bigs, is the toughest in the comp.
Q: I notice that the Kings do a lot of switching when defending the pick and roll – very Golden State Warriors-esque. Come to think of it, it seems most teams in the league do it. Is that an emerging trend in the game? What’s the thought process going on there?
A: When you break down the percentages of success rate defending an on-ball [pick], that’s when we move to the switch. And if it happens, it always happens between a 4 [power forward] and the guards.
I’ve played on teams that only switch, 1 through 5, and it’s a kind of risk you run. But I don’t necessarily think that it’s an emerging trend. I just think that it depends on who you’ve got at the 4-spot, and where they’re running their pick and rolls.
Q: It’s an Olympic year, so let’s talk Boomers aspirations. With the development of your game over the past few seasons, do you think making the Boomers squad is a realistic goal?
A: I’ve always wanted to just be part of a squad, and be part of a camp. But honestly, I understand where my age is at and where I sit on the pecking order. But obviously it’s something that as an Aussie kid, coming through the ranks, and doing all the rep stuff, you always want to be a part of the Boomers program.
That’s never really changed for me. I understand the realities of it, but I’d love to be a part of it, and whether I am or I’m not, I’ll always really support the Boomers and really, really hope they do well in any competition that they’re in.
Q: By the way, what are your thoughts of the team heading into Rio? Those guys in the NBA, Aron Baynes and Patty Mills, have openly said that the team should be realistically competing for a medal.
A: I think so. I think it’s good to have your sights set really high. It’s going to be tough. You watch the qualifiers, it’s so, so tough. I was thinking about going to the Philippines and having a look at the qualifiers there, because the teams that are going to be there are just so talented. And those are the teams who aren’t even in the Olympics.
I do believe that if it’s not this one, then it will be the next one that we medal in. But I’d love to see them medal — it’s something I want to see in my lifetime. But it’s going to be tough.
Q: You’re a free agent now. What are the future plans for Tommy Garlepp?
A: Oh mate, I’d like to stay in Sydney and hopefully that works out. They still have to finalise their coaching [situation] and I think when they’re sorted, they’ll come to me and we’ll chat. But for now, I’m just sort of going to sit back to spend some time with my family, and hopefully it all just works out for the best.
Hopefully for my family, we get a nice situation whether it’s here or somewhere else. But I’d really like it to be here.
Special thanks to Tommy Garlepp and the Sydney Kings for making this interview possible.