The Sydney Kings are a superstar team, but any success they have will always be based around captain Kevin Lisch.
Lisch has just reached his 200th game ahead of Monday night’s Melbourne Cup eve blockbuster.
Having a talent-laden roster is nothing new for the Kings in recent years and while it hasn’t led to any success, there’s every reason to suggest things will be different in 2018-19 and the last couple of weeks have seen things come together.
Coach Andrew Gaze hasn’t been able to find a way to get talented teams to click the last two seasons and even with adding Andrew Bogut and Daniel Kickert to Lisch, Jerome Randle and Brad Newley this season they lost their first two games.
But they’ve now won their past three in impressive fashion heading into the highly-anticipated clash with the reigning champs Melbourne United at Melbourne Arena this Monday night on the eve of the Melbourne Cup.
Lisch has been there for those tough last couple of seasons in Sydney after moving from his second league MVP winning season with Illawarra on the back of starting his NBL career at the Perth Wildcats where he won a championship, his first MVP award and was named grand final MVP.
After a slightly slow start to the season too in the opening two losses to Adelaide, he has been tremendous over the wins against New Zealand, Cairns and Illawarra averaging 17.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists.
That included him celebrating his 200th game in the NBL on Friday night with a win at home against the Hawks.
While the arrivals of Bogut and Kickert give Sydney a different look in the frontcourt this season and even future NBA star Brian Bowen is attracting plenty of attention, there’s no question that a firing Lisch will be pivotal to however far the Kings are able to go this NBL season.
Lisch provides that veteran leadership along with an imposing backcourt duo alongside fellow former MVP Randle, but for him the focus is on making sure the team performs to the level they are capable of.
“I know we have a group who can do some really good things but what makes it special is there’s a couple of guys like myself and Brad Newley who have been on this three-year journey,” Lisch said.
“You go through those times that are really tough and each season we have, and we will go through those, but you really just have to embrace that because you can look back on your seasons or your career and say that things didn’t go the way you wanted.
“But at the end of the day if you have the right outlook they’re all just really good learning opportunities. It makes it fun and interesting, and something new every day.
“That’s the thing I love about sports is that you never know what’s going to be around the next bend but hopefully we are starting to figure some things out and hopefully keep that going.”
While ultimately a second NBL championship is his aim, he doesn’t feel like that’s what he needs to make his journey to be a 200-game player in the league worthwhile.
“It wouldn’t validate things that I’ve done or make it all of a sudden more worthwhile, as great as it would be and obviously I’d love it,” he said.
“But in no way would it validate anything in my mind and I’m fine with that, but my motivation is as high as it’s ever been.
“The thing about me is that I’m pretty simple and I just love practicing and putting in the work day to day, and being around the guys and figuring out ways to try and get better.
“That’s what we are ultimately going for but regardless of what happens, if we go about it the right way good things will come from that and I’m happy with it.”
From the moment Lisch first arrived in Australia in the off-season of 2009 as a rookie import following his college career at Saint Louis, his remarkable work ethic, hunger to improve and be the best he can be, and the love of the game has been remarkable.
Over a near ten-year journey a lot certainly has changed, with that young rookie who was a single man in a foreign country now being married with four children and an Australian citizen who has represented the Boomers at the Olympic Games, his passion for the game remains the same.
“It hasn’t diminished one single bit actually and that’s what has kept it fun and interesting. It’s like a problem-solving thing every day but it’s with basketball,” Lisch said.
“There’s times when you can feel frustrations or different things but it’s really just great learning lessons and I think I’ve enjoyed that aspect and being around the guys, and my teammates. That camaraderie is something I’ll always cherish which makes the game so much fun for me.”
It’s been some journey for Lisch to become a 200-game NBL player, two-time league MVP, grand final MVP, a Best Defensive Player recipient and named three times to the All-NBL First Team.
Add in the fact that he went to the 2016 Rio Olympics and it’s a basketball life he couldn’t have dreamed of.
There was also know way of knowing the Illinois-native would end up calling Australia home when he first arrived ten years ago.
He certainly wouldn’t have believed any of that had you told him when he first signed to play for Rob Beveridge’s Wildcats for that season that ended in a championship in 2009-10.
“If you told me that, my mum probably wouldn’t have let me get on the flight at all and she probably would have tried to keep me back home. But I never imagined this journey and where this game would take me,” Lisch said.
“Mostly being married with four kids is my happiest thing out of all this. But to be living out here and be a citizen now, and for the last eight to ten years to have my career in Australia most of the time is amazing.
“If you told me all that back then, I probably would have said you were crazy and those things never crossed my mind but I guess my short-sighted nature is one where I work best when I work day by day and don’t look too far ahead.”
Round 4 NBL fixtures (AEDT)
Brisbane Bullets 108 defeated Adelaide 36ers 98
Sydney Kings 86 defeated Illawarra Hawks 79
Perth Wildcats 92 defeated New Zealand Breakers 78
Cairns Taipans 85 lost to Melbourne United 98
Adelaide 36ers 90 lost to Brisbane Bullets 93
Melbourne United v Sydney Kings – Melbourne Arena 7.50pm