But not in the case of South East Melbourne and its new point guard Gary Browne.
The floor general who, last year, caught the eye of coach Simon Mitchell while leading the Puerto Rican national team, has inked a one-season deal with the Phoenix.
The former West Virginia captain was at the top of Phoenix’s list and projects as a set-up man who excels at getting his own shot in pressure situations — something they desperately lacked last season.
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“I’m going to bring leadership to the team,” Browne said.
“I know what I can do individually but I also know what I can do collectively, where I can help my team to be better.
“My whole thing is to make the guys better. I don’t worry about myself as much as I worry how good they are doing.
“It’s a team sport, It’s not about if one guy plays well every night, it’s about everyone playing together so we can win games, go to the playoffs and make it through to the finals.”
Browne has had pro stops in Puerto Rico, Israel, Italy and Turkey and owns a piece of his country’s basketball history — his 2019 three against Tunisia in the dying moments put Puerto Rico through to the second round of the FIBA World Cup.
Mitchell said the pair, last year, “hit it off” in a video call and it was an easy decision to ink the 185cm guard when he became available.
“We talked for an hour and we barely spoke basketball, we immediately fell into a groove,” Mitchell said.
“He already had a contract on the table in Turkey, so the timing just didn’t add up.
“I kept an eye on him during the year and thoroughly loved what he was doing.”
Browne isn’t a billboard name — yet — but Mitchell says Phoenix fans will be pleasantly surprised at abilities he calls “world class”.
“He just runs a team the right way on every possession, both sides of the ball. It’s a rare skill,” Mitchell said.
“It used to be what everybody looked for, now they look for wingspan and athletic ability.
“This guy is a throwback to when point guards ran your team.”
The 29-year-old has never been to Australia but said he already felt a familiarity with Mitchell and the Phoenix.
“Me and coach spoke about our family and about his kids and we had a great conversation,” Browne said.
“I think it goes a little bit further than basketball, I think we got to know each other in a short amount of time.
“In some way, we have been able to connect, have great chats and they show me how great it is to be part of the franchise and how great the guys are on the team.”
Mitchell said he’d love to lock away Chinese centre Zhou Qi to return for NBL23, but there are reportedly moves in the Chinese league to defuse the issues that led to a dispute with his team Xinjiang that could throw a spanner in the works.
Qi’s decision to skip the 2021-22 Chinese Basketball Association season opened the door for the Phoenix to swoop.
‘Full circle moment’ as Phoenix sign college whiz kid
A training stint during South East Melbourne’s inaugural NBL season has provided young Aussie Junior Madut with a “full circle moment”.
Sudan-born Madut, an athletic two-way guard-forward with deep shooting range out of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, has inked a two-year contract with the Phoenix.
Madut, in 2019, was part of South East Melbourne’s talent-recognition program, training and interacting with the senior team, before jetting off to Honolulu to play with the Rainbow Warriors.
Coach Simon Mitchell kept a close eye on the Blacktown, Sydney-raised Madut, who felt a return to the club was destiny after his previous experience.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Madut, who averaged 10.7 points and 4.2 rebounds in college, said.
“I’ve been talking to Simon, talking to a lot of the guys throughout the couple of years I have been at Hawaii.
“We’ve always had that relationship and it’s (South East Melbourne) always a place that I’d seen myself coming to.
“I definitely got into the culture, it’s a good group of guys. It was always fun being around them
“It’s exciting coming back.”
Madut, who counted Sydney Kings guard Biwali Bayles as a teammate in Hawaii, is currently training in Chicago but will arrive for pre-season. He will have a close friend in Melbourne embarking on his own professional sporting journey — college teammate Mate Colina was, last year, drafted by AFL club Richmond.
Mitchell said he was eager to bring the 25-year-old in as a full-fledged pro.
“Junior is someone very familiar with the Phoenix team,” Mitchell said.
“He brings great intensity and athleticism to our back-court on both sides of the ball.
“A tough defender with great lateral speed and is really competitive, always wanting the toughest match-ups.
“Junior can score from the perimeter, get on the rim and is great at getting out on the break where he can finish above the rim or create for others.
“He is a kid with great potential to be a long term pro.”
Born: Juba, South Sudan
Raised: Blacktown, Sydney
College: University of Hawaii at Manoa
Awarded Rainbow Warriors Ah Chew Goo Most Inspirational Award last season.
Averaged 10.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2 assists per game in 2021-22
Represented South Sudan at 2021 FIBA Afrobasket
‘Nix give Kiwi way out
Dynamic South East Melbourne defender Izayah Le’Afa has been granted a release from the final year of his contract at the Phoenix.
The 25-year-old Kiwi guard has spent the past two seasons at the Phoenix, the first as a development player, before, last season, winning a full roster spot and a two-year deal.
He averaged 9 points, 2 assists and 1 steal in NBL22 and has signed with New Zealand on a two-year deal.
The Breakers have been targeting New Zealand-born players under new coach Mody Maor, with King Tom Vodanovich, Tom Abercrombie, Rob Loe, Sam Timmins and Dan Fotu locked in to NBL23.
The Kiwis have also secured sharpshooter Cam Gliddon from the Phoenix on a two-year deal.
‘Glizzo’ is one of the NBL’s nice guys, having spent the past two seasons at the Phoenix, following stints in Cairns, then Brisbane, winning a Commonwealth Games gold medal with the Boomers along the way.
The deadeye marksman’s NBL22 campaign was cruelled by injury, Covid and illness.
Creek, Mitchell recommit to Phoenix
One of the NBL’s biggest free agents is off the market after Mitch Creek made good on his commitment to South East Melbourne — and his coach will be back, too.
Creek, 30, has been locked away on a three-year deal, while Simon Mitchell has been handed an extra 12 months by the Phoenix, coach and player signing on together in a show of solidarity they hope will be the genesis of an NBL title run.
Mitchell, last year, guided the Phoenix to the precipice of the NBL grand final but endured questions about his future after his team missed this year’s top four, despite an 11-5 start.
“I made it clear if I was going to be playing in the NBL it wouldn’t be anywhere else as long as we could find a mutual respect between myself and the club and they have always done that from day one,” Creek said.
“Once I heard Simon was committing, I was jumping back on board straight away.
“I know who he is, so I support him and stand by him and his ability to coach and make us a championship team.
“There’s a lot of people who were really hard on him. I’ve been in that situation as well and, understandably, I put a lot of support and a lot of trust in him.”
Mitchell said he was aware of the noise about his future after the Phoenix could not maintain their early season dominance and lost all but four of their last 11 games, following leader Ryan Broekhoff’s shoulder injury.
“We’ve had a bad season, so there will always be a little bit of ‘need a new coach’,” Mitchell said.
“We’re (he and the club) comfortable with a one-year deal. It’s more like an extension at the end of the season.
“I think the way that they’re looking at it is ‘OK, we think you’ll do well, we think you’re going to be a good team next season, let’s do the one and we can re-up at the end of it’.
“I want to make sure this club’s in the best position to win. If I feel like I’m not the man for the job, then I want to be able to walk away without a conscience.
“Losing Rowdy was certainly an eye-opener for us and it will be my job to make sure we’re not as reliant on him moving forward. I’m excited to bring back the core of this group and mount another challenge.”
Phoenix boss Tommy Greer was naturally pleased to ink both coach and player.
“Simon is one of the hardest working coaches in the NBL, his peers respect him, and the players love playing for him,” Greer said.
“As a club, we believe continuity is important, and Simon is the right man to lead the team into NBL23.
“Mitch had his best year yet on the court and was again in the MVP conversation for much of the season.
“In addition to that, he continued to connect with our fans off-court and remains a favourite player among the Heartland faithful.”
There is a synergy in personality between Creek and Mitchell. But the coach believes it is their differences that have brought them together.
Talk to Mitchell and he feels like there is unfinished business after the disastrous finish to last season. Creek doesn’t agree.
“There’s a lot of chemistry there for sure,” Mitchell said
“Off the court we get along and we’ve got a good basketball relationship on the court.
“We do have the ability to challenge each other and that’s good, that’s healthy, and I think it’s a good match.”
Creek has made an effort to put the basketball away since the end of the season, instead hopping states to catch up with family in Brisbane, friends in Adelaide, some promotional work in Sydney — and some track time at Eastern Creek.
“I’ve literally done one shooting session at (former Adelaide 36ers coach) Joey Wright’s place that he’s got in Adelaide for about 45 minutes and that was it,” he said.
“Preparation starts now and taking time off is a key to having a great season. You need to refresh your mind and your body.”
Horsham-born Creek averaged 20.46 points and 5.75 rebounds for the Phoenix last season, was named in the All-NBL Second Team and won the club’s MVP award. His contract contains an NBA out clause.