Plenty of player drama beneath NBL surface

Chris Pike Columnist

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    The Adelaide 36ers' Nathan Sobey is a promising young prospect in Australian basketball. Image: NBL

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    In between some high-quality, exciting NBL basketball there are fascinating dramas taking place including management deciding two experienced players aren’t to be played by their coach while a Boomers star is having his own issues in Adelaide.

    Cody Ellis, Tom Garlepp and Nathan Sobey are all in the middle of their own dramas at present.

    The two that management have ruled are to be non-factors for their coaches are Garlepp at the Sydney Kings and Ellis at the Illawarra Hawks.

    Management at the two NSW clubs that have sent down the decree that the pair are not to play, and if they do it will be only minimal.

    That’s largely because they didn’t want the players back for the 2017-18 season and don’t want them in 2018-19. But they were contracted and both players had every right to stick to their guns.

    Despite both Ellis and Garlepp capable of still contributing and despite coaches Rob Beveridge and Andrew Gaze being willing to play them, it’s not going to be happen because of a ruling made above their heads.

    Garlepp’s case is tough one for many to get their heads around. The Kings have stunk since returning to the NBL from a hiatus for the 2010-11 season. They have made the playoffs once but even that was with a losing record and they haven’t come close before or since.

    jesse-wagstaff-tom-garlepp-sydney-kings-perth-wildcats-nbl-basketball-2016

    (Chris Pike)

    Playoffs look well beyond them this season as they sit on a 2-6 record following Round 5 losses to Perth and Illawarra. But over the last two seasons since the NBL issued a soft salary cap, the Kings have spent up big.

    They could well be spending the most money in the league. That money is going to players virtually in three positions. Between combo guards Kevin Lisch, Jason Cadee, Jeremy Kendle and Travis Leslie, and forwards Brad Newley, Todd Blanchfield and Perry Ellis, Sydney is spending big.

    But they don’t have a point guard or a centre outside of rookie Isaac Humphries and Indian captain Amritpal Singh.

    That management team led by Jeff Van Groningen who put that squad together is the same one that wants to make Garlepp regret seeing out his contract.

    Garlepp stuck with the Kings through some dismal times and won the club’s MVP award only two seasons ago. As a power forward, he is a capable role player and had every right to want to see out his contract this season.

    The club tried unsuccessfully to move him on in the off-season. When that didn’t work, the decision was made to not play him. He has hit the floor in five of the eight games but only been on long enough to score twice.

    That’s not going to change the rest of the season and for someone who has played 146 of his 244 NBL games with the Kings, it will leave a bitter taste.

    Ellis at the Hawks is another fascinating case. He is the son of Perth Wildcats legend Mike but following his college career, joined the Kings midway through the 2013-14 season. He then joined the Hawks in 2015-16 and has been a solid contributor since.

    He played his role on Hawks teams that made the playoffs the last two seasons before losing to the Wildcats in the semi-finals of 2016 and grand final of 2017.

    There was nothing to suggest what was to come in 2017-18. Ellis had a tremendous off-season playing back home with the Stirling Senators in the WA SBL leading into a hard fought three-game quarter-final series with the Geraldton Buccaneers.

    He was in the best shape of his career when he returned to Illawarra as one of the nine players returning from last season.

    Ellis scored 14 points over the opening three games. While his minutes were low, there wasn’t anything too unusual. But that’s when the decision was taken out of coach Beveridge’s hands.

    Club owners had made the call that Ellis was no longer part of the Hawks’ future and told Beveridge he wasn’t to play him anymore. He hasn’t hit the court for a single second over the past five games.

    While the decision to have management choose he plays and not the coach is bad enough, the fact that you are forcing your team to have ten players when the rest of the league is running with 11 is only hurting yourself.

    To the credit of both Ellis and Garlepp, they continue to hold their heads high and are the best supportive teammates on the bench. To watch their body language you would have no idea of what is happening behind the scenes.

    That’s not quite the case with Sobey and the 36ers.

    The NBL’s Most Improved Player went on to play with the Boomers in the off-season and even spent time in the NBA Summer League, but things haven’t clicked yet for him this season.

    Nathan Sobey runs with ball

    Image: NBL

    A clash at practice with coach Joey Wright has now seen his minutes dwindle despite being perhaps the most naturally gifted Australian player in the league.

    Sixers coach Joey Wright has never been one to hide his emotions and to shy away from telling players how it is. Sobey plays with great emotion and that’s how he gets the best out of himself. But it’s easy to see how he and Wright would butt heads.

    Despite Sobey coming into the season with great expectations of going another level on the back of 2016-17 and then off-season he had, so far it hasn’t quite worked out.

    He has still been effective at times highlighted by 25 points in a big win over Sydney after Wright lit a fire underneath him.

    But Sobey was forced to the bench on Saturday night in Melbourne following a tough night Thursday in New Zealand. He didn’t come on until two minutes left in the first quarter going on to play 12 minutes for two points and two assists.

    He is far too good and important to the Sixers to be playing that few minutes, that less of a role and putting up those low numbers.

    Wright played down any rift between the pair, but only time will tell what happens starting Saturday in a crucial clash for the Sixers at home to the conquerors of last season, the Hawks.

    While the Sobey case is a little different, all that Ellis and Garlepp need to look at to know hope is not lost is Lucas Walker this season with the Wildcats.

    Having played 159 games previously with Melbourne Tigers/United and Adelaide, he came to Perth as an injury replacement to start last season. He played two games and then was off the squad.

    But he remained around the team as a training player. For someone with his experience, to virtually lose a whole season was tough at the time but he could see the bigger picture.

    He was signed by the Wildcats for 2017-18 and is now starting as power forward, and having a massive impact with 11.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists a game in a team battling with New Zealand for top spot.

    Garlepp and Ellis can do the same somewhere in 2018/19. As tough as things are, an eye on the bigger picture and they could throw it in the face of current front office staff keeping them off the court.

    Round 5 NBL Fixtures (AEDT)
    Thursday

    New Zealand Breakers 92 defeated Adelaide 36ers 88
    Melbourne United 87 defeated Cairns Taipans 65

    Friday
    Brisbane Bullets 81 lost to Illawarra Hawks 112
    Perth Wildcats 93 defeated Sydney Kings 69

    Saturday
    Melbourne United 101 defeated Adelaide 36ers 84
    Cairns Taipans 70 lost to New Zealand Breakers 73

    Sunday
    Illawarra Hawks 93 defeated Sydney Kings 83

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