The Roar
The Roar


Chris Goulding and Casper Ware deliver NBL championship for Melbourne

(Chris Pike)
4th April, 2018

It appeared Melbourne United would claim an NBL championship from the moment they began putting together star-studded rosters, and thanks to Chris Goulding and Casper Ware, this season they achieved that inevitability.

Putting together world-class talent will usually pay dividends. While there were some challenges in recent years, everything all came together in the 2017-18 season for Melbourne United.

There was a false dawn back in 2015-16, when they finished top of the table with a squad full of talent, but things just didn’t click – whether that was because of the coaching or too many individuals and not enough team play. Whatever, they were shown up by the New Zealand Breakers, losing in two games in the semi-final series.

The NBL loosened its salary cap rules heading into the 2016-17 season and that appeared set to best suit a club ready and able to spend up big.

Melbourne weren’t short on talent, that’s for sure, but a lack of chemistry on the floor and some injury problems, along with issues with the team culture under coach Dean Demopoulos meant, like the Sydney Kings, they didn’t even qualify for the playoffs.

That was despite spending multiples more than teams like the Cairns Taipans and Illawarra Hawks, who did play in the finals.

Talent wasn’t the issue though. Neither was spending enough money to get quality enough players that could win a championship.

So with Goulding, Ware, Boone, Tai Wesley, Dave Anderson, David Barlow, Majok Majok and Kyle Adnam back again, topped up with two-time Wildcats championship winner Casey Prather, Peter Hooley and Craig Moller, it was a championship-calibre squad.


What Melbourne needed was the right coach. Demopoulos had strong credentials but lacked the understanding of the NBL and Australian basketball, and just never could get that connection right with his players.

He allowed his team to play with too much freedom and a lack of discipline, which proved costly when things got tough.


Dean Demopoulos (Chris Pike)

The appointment of Dean Vickerman, a long-time assistant at the Breakers who then took over from Andrej Lemanis before leading them to a 2015 championship himself, appeared the right fit.

He still had to get a team full of talent, but also egos, to gel, and he did so by getting them to buy in defensively, to be willing to sacrifice their numbers for the good of the team’s success and to play a strong, hard-nosed style that would stand up come playoff time.

The end result was Melbourne finishing the regular season on top of the table, with a 20-8 record, on the back of winning 14 of their last 16 games.

They then overcame their New Zealand hoodoo by beating the Breakers in two games of the semi-finals to have home-court advantage in the grand final against the Adelaide 36ers.


In what could very well be the best NBL grand final series of all time, Melbourne ended up prevailing on the back of that home advantage by winning Game 5 on Saturday night 100-82.

It was a dominant performance by United and it was that star back-court of Goulding and Ware that delivered the title. They scored 23 points apiece combining to shoot 14-34 from the field and 7-17 from three-point territory.

With support from Prather (19 points, 11 rebounds), Wesley (14 points, nine boards, three assists) and Boone (10 points, 12 rebounds) they just had too much firepower against a Sixers team still without superstar import Josh Childress.

After securing the championship in front of 10,300 fans at Hisense Arena, Vickerman couldn’t have been prouder of the change in culture everyone at Melbourne United was willing to buy in to make to deliver the title.

Casey Prather tall

Casey Prather (AAP Image/Hamish Blair)

“In the end, everyone bought into sacrificing a little bit for each other. Once we worked it out about who is going to score at different times, we’re a team that if we find a mismatch we want to just keep going to it,” Vickerman said.

“Everybody accepts that if it’s not working we move onto the next guy and we share the basketball.


“Chris’ leadership, Casper’s leadership and other people stepping up a little bit more as well.

“Their ability to talk about the things that we wanted as a group and as a culture and for them to really drive that the second half of the year and for me to take a little bit more of a backward step was huge.”

It was a first championship too after 256 games in the NBL for grand final MVP Goulding. The regular Australian Boomers representatives was proud that defence was behind Melbourne’s success in winning the 2018 championship.

“There were some shaky times but we handled them well and it was all based on our defence. I think we got nine stops in a row at one point and that is something we probably hadn’t done throughout the series,” Goulding said.

“We went back to our baseline and said ‘how did we become the best team in the league?’ It was by getting consecutive stops – being tough to score against – and we did that in that third and fourth quarter.”

NBL grand final results
Game 1 – Melbourne United 107 defeated Adelaide 36ers 96
Game 2 – Adelaide 36ers 110 defeated Melbourne United 95
Game 3 – Melbourne United 101 defeated Adelaide 36ers 98
Game 4 – Adelaide 36ers 90 defeated Melbourne United 81
Game 5 – Melbourne United 100 defeated Adelaide 36ers 82