The NBL’s Greatest International Imports

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The NBL is set to become a whole lot more glamorous this season with the arrival of five-star recruit LaMelo Ball.

Nearly a month after top NBA prospect R.J. Hampton announced his decision to join the New Zealand Breakers on a multi-year deal, Ball will play for the Illawarra Hawks this year in the hopes of following brother Lonzo Ball’s footsteps as a future first-round draft pick.

It’s a big move for the Ball family and an even bigger one for the NBL. Australia has long been a starting point for some of the NBA’s brightest young talent, while Americans have also enjoyed their fair share of success down under.

Before LaMelo’s dad LaVar Ball interrupts us, here’s a look at some of the NBL’s Greatest International Imports across its 40-year history.

Al Green (G)

  • West Adelaide Bearcats (1981-84), Adelaide 36ers (1985-90), Newcastle Falcons (1991-93)

Listed at 6-foot-2, Al Green’s height made him a hot prospect back in 1979, and not just on the hardcourt.

Despite never having played a single game of organised football, Green was drafted as a defensive back in the late rounds of the 1979 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers.

Things didn’t pan out so well on the field, leading Green to be drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the third round of the 1979 NBA Draft.

After failing to earn a contract in Phoenix, Green eventually wound up in the NBL where he started 340 games averaging 22.1 points-per-game.

The now 65-year-old still holds the record for most three-pointers in a single game as well as his own 59-point performance in 1984 against Coburg.

Brian Goorjian (G)

  • Melbourne Tigers (1977-85)

It wouldn’t be a list without Australia’s most successful basketball coach.

The current Xinjiang Flying Tigers coach originally started out as a player for Melbourne in 1977 where he captained the Tigers in their first-ever season.

Born in California,  he went on to coach six NBL championship sides between 1992 to 2009 also earning six Coach of the Year awards.

Bruce Bolden (F)

  • South East Melbourne Magic (1992-94), Sydney Kings (1995-98), West Sydney Razorbacks (1998-03)

Bruce Bolden was born in Jackson Mississippi, but he’s best known for his lengthy, and should we say very successful, NBL career.

Bolden led the league in rebounding in 1993 and also became the first player to have his jersey retired by the West Sydney Razorbacks.

He was voted the NBL’s Best Sixth Man in 1999, and continues to give back to the game as the founder of MyHoops, an Australian coaching service for kids.

Cal Bruton (G)

  • Brisbane Bullets (1979-81, 1985-86), Geelong Supercats (1982-84), Perth Wildcats (1987-89), Hobart Devils (1992)

Cal Bruton was born in New York, but it didn’t take long for him to become an Australian citizen after going undrafted in the 1976 NBA Draft.

On the streets, Bruton was known as a playground legend, but it was his skills at Wichita State that drew the Brisbane Bullets interest in 1979.

Bruton was scouted to be one of the top point guards in the country with the Shockers despite his small stature.

The 5-foot-9, 80kg showed incredible flair in the NBL to average 19.3 points in the 250 games he played, also shooting just under 39% from three.

Chris Williams (G)

  • Sydney Kings (2002-03)

Chris Williams’s NBL career was short and sweet, but he was around long enough to claim the 2003 MVP award following the Kings’ Grand Final win.

Williams passed away in 2017 due to blood clots in his heart four years after the Kings announced him as the starting power forward on their 25th-anniversary team.

He averaged 23.6 points-per-game and 12.1 rebounds in 38 games.

Darnell Mee (G)

  • Canberra Cannons (1995-96), Adelaide 36ers (1997-01), Cairns Taipans (2002-03, 2005-09), Wollongong Hawks (2003-05)

More recent NBL fans might remember Darnell Mee following his long 10-year stint in the NBL.

Drafted in the second round of the 1993 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors Mee was a contributor offensively, but he was a force to be reckoned with on defence during his time in Australia.

The 6-foot-5 guard used every bit of his wingspan to block shots on the way to Adelaide’s back-to-back title run in 1998 and 1999.

Voted the NBL’s Beste Defensive Player between 1999 and 2001, and again in 2005 and 2006, Mee was in the class of the elite.

Darryl McDonald (PG)

  • North Melbourne Giants (1994-98), Victoria Titans/Giants (1999-03), Melbourne Tigers (2003-08)

McDonald graduated from Texas A&M in 1988 before going undrafted a few months later.

He spent several years in the Canadian NBL before joining North Melbourne in 1994, helping steer the Giants into their second championship win.

McDonald went on to win two more titles during his time down under, this time with the Melbourne Tigers. He finished his career in 2008 a two-time All-Star Game MVP, as well as the NBL’s Best Sixth Man in 2004.

Derek Rucker (PG)

  • Brisbane Bullets (1990-91, 2003-06), Townsville Suns (1995-98), West Sydney Razorbacks (1998-03)

A year after leading Davidson College to the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats’ fourth all-time leading scorer somehow went undrafted in 1988 before being picked up by the Brisbane Bullets two years later.

Rucker quickly established himself in the NBL to win the MVP award in his debut season (1990) going on to average 22.8 career points alongside three All-NBL first team appearances and a lazy 51-point game.

After a decade in the league, Rucker is easily on the All-Time list of the NBL’s greatest offensive weapons.

Dwayne McClain (SG)

  • Sydney Kings (1991-93), Gold Coast Rollers (1996), Brisbane Bullets (1997)

Born in Massachusetts, McClain was selected with the 27th overall pick by the Indiana Pacers in the 1985 NBA Draft after winning the NCAA Championship with Villanova.

He played one season for the Pacers before departing for France, Canada and the Philippines, before eventually finishing off his career down under.

McClain played four seasons all up in the NBL averaging 25.4 points and five assists a game, barely missing out on a spot in the NBL’s 25th Anniversary team.

James Crawford (PF)

  • Geelong Supercats (1982-95), Canberra Cannons (1986, 2003), Perth Wildcats (1987-99)

Board man gets paid.

James Crawford averaged 9,5 rebounds across his lengthy 504 game career in the NBL, tacking on a handy 22.1 points average to complete the package.

Crawford, who ranged 6-foot-9, was lethal in the paint defensively and also one of the most sure-handed mid-range scorers from the field.

The Alabama native went undrafted in the 1982 NBA Draft before enjoying one of the most successful two-decade long careers in Australia.

James Ennis (SF)

  • Perth Wildcats (2013-14)

Now this is a success story.

Ennis played in only 33 games with the Wildcats before embarking on a long journey back to the NBA ranks.

Currently signed by the Philadelphia 76ers after being traded from the Houston Rockets earlier in February, it’s unlikely we ever see Ennis achieve the highs of his 2015-16 season in New Orleans where he averaged a career-high 15.9 points, but he still belongs on this list after a successful NBL stint.

Ennis helped the Wildcats win the title in 2014, and if he someday returns, you can bank on him causing chaos on the scoresheet once again.

Lanard Copeland (SG/SF)

  • Melbourne Tigers (1992, 1993-05), Brisbane Bullets (2005-06), Adelaide 36ers (2006-08)

Unlike a handful of others on this list, Copeland enjoyed some minor success at the NBA level before he ventured down under.

Copeland went undrafted in 1989 before signing as a free agent with the Philadelphia 76ers. He eventually wound up with the Clippers for a short three-month span, paving the way for a successful 532 game career in the NBL.

Copeland is thought of by many to be one of the top five international imports of all-time and with two All-Time NBL First Team awards and the 1997 NBL Grand Final MVP to his name, it’s hard to argue.

Leroy Loggins (SG/SF)

  • Brisbane Bullets (1981, 1984-01), West Adelaide Bearcats (1982-83)

Selected by the Detroit Pistons in Round 8 of the 1980 NBA Draft, Loggins quickly found a home with the Brisbane Bullets kick-starting a lengthy two-decade stint in the NBL.

Winning championships in 1982, 1985 and 1987, Loggins was also a three-time NBL MVP as well as a nine-time All NBL First Teamer.

As far as all-rounders go, Loggins set the bar high both offensively and defensively to eventually represent the Boomers in 1992.

Mark Davis (PF)

  • Adelaide 36ers (1985-02)

Of course a three-time NBL champion belongs on this list.

Born in Philadelphia, Davis joined the NBL in 1985 with the then South Adelaide Panthers, the start of a lengthy 17-year career in South Australia.

Davis played three years of College ball at St. Augustine’s averaging 20.5 points-per-game before becoming the 1987 NBL MVP, an eight-time All-Star and a four-time rebounding champion.

Simply put, there was, and still is, nobody better on the boards than Davis.

Ricky Grace (PG)

  • Perth Wildcats (1990-93, 1994-05)

Ricky Grace tasted success fairly early in his basketball career helping guide Oklahoma to the 1998 National Title game against Kansas.

The Sooners would lose that game, but Grace’s career was just getting started as he was drafted month’s later by the Utah Jazz in the third round.

Grace failed to earn a spot on the roster, and after playing a season for the Topeka Sizzlers, he quickly made his way to Australia to play under Perth Wildcats general manager and head coach Cal Brutton.

The rest is history as Grace currently holds Perths all-time leading record in games played (482), points (8,802) and assists (3,470). Inducted into the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010, the four-time NBL Champion is quite easily one of Australia’s biggest success stories.

Rob Rose (G)

  • South Melbourne Magic (1992-93), Adelaide 36ers (1994-95), Canberra Cannons (1996-98), Townsville Crocodiles (1999-06), Cairns Taipans (2007)

New York’s very own Rob Rose played four seasons at George Mason before going undrafted in 1986.

He, like so many others, wound up in the NBL nearly a decade later to play 472 games across a lengthy 15-year career.

Rose is most remembered for his scoring efficiency, but he was also a versatile defender capable of locking down even the most explosive guards.

Rocky Smith (SG)

  • St. Kilda Saints (1980-81)

Very short sample size, but Rocky Smith left his mark on the NBL during his two seasons with St. Kilda.

The 1980 MVP played a huge part in the Saints championship win averaging 31 points-per-game on 51% shooting from the field.

Scott Fisher (PF)

  • North Melbourne Giants (1987-90, 1990-92), Perth Wildcats (1993-02)

As a player, Fisher was nothing short of dominant.

He’s most remembered for his nine-year run with the Wildcats where he averaged 22.1 points-per-game and 9.9 rebounds, but his time at North Melbourne also saw Fisher win MVP honours twice.

Fisher gave back to the game coaching the Wildcats for four years between 2004-2008, while he’s since taken his talents back to the States as the coach of Ohlone College.

Steve Woodberry (SG/SF)

  • Gold Coast Rollers (1995), Brisbane Bullets (1996-99), Sydney Kings (2000)

College Basketball nuts will know Woodberry as the current assistant coach of Wake Forest, but before he joined the sidelines, he enjoyed a short and successful stint in the NBL.

Woodberry earned MVP honours with the Bullets in 1999 before his final season in Australia with the Kings.

It was only a brief five-year career, but Woodberry still managed 24.2 points-per-game scoring from just about anywhere on the court.

Terrance Ferguson (SG)

  • Adelaide 36ers (2016-17)

It took Terrance Ferguson all of 17 minutes to score 10-points on debut for the 36ers in 2016.

NBL fans will probably remember him most for his strike on Mark Worthington two games later, but Ferguson still played a big role in helped the 36ers to the Semi-Finals.

Six months later Ferguson was selected with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 21st pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, going on to average 3.1 points in 61 appearances off the bench.

Ferguson started in 74 games for the Thunder last season shooting 42% from the field, and remains one of OKC’s brightest prospects on the bench.

Honourable Mentions

  • Steve Carfino
  • Wayne McDaniel
  • Rick Brunson
  • Jonny Flynn
  • Doug Overton
  • Todd Lichti
  • Ollie Johnson
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