Hard work. Getting my ass kicked. Getting back up and doing it all again.
Since day one, basketball is all I have ever known. I was born in ‘87 with a ball in my hands, and grew up learning that nothing ever comes easily in life. You have to work for everything, and how far you go is determined by how much you put in.
I’ve gone from someone who was struggling to get a spot in the team, to captaining the Illawarra Hawks.
Now, I’m staring down the barrel at 200 games. To get me here, well, it hasn’t been much more than hard work, determination, competitiveness and a little bit of talent along the way.
There are people I draw inspiration from in my life. Everyone needs those people that you look up to, and that you take life lessons from.
For me, one of those inspirations is my mother.
I remember, pretty vividly, when I was playing down at Manly. My mum would always drive me down to wherever we were playing, making sure I was prepared and ready.
One day, we were driving out to Parramatta, and at that time, Parramatta was bloody good. They were one of the best teams going around, and we had a few of our own guys out. It is an understatement to say that I was pessimistic about our chances against them.
My mum must have picked up on this, whether I was quieter than usual, or it was just a mother’s intuition, I don’t know, but she turned to me and asked what was wrong.
I didn’t reply for a second or two, still gazing out of the window, before turning to her and replying pretty glumly:
“Well, we’re going to lose.”
She looked at me, then flipped her eyes back to the road, and didn’t say anything. A second or so later, she quickly pulled a U-turn, and we were heading back the way we came.
I did a quick double take, almost comically, as I turned back to my mum and stared at her with my mouth drooped open.
“What are you doing?” I asked, shocked.
Still eyes on the road, she shrugged her shoulders.
“Well, there’s no point in even going, is there?” She asked, her hand gripping the steering wheel. “You’ve already lost.”
“What do you mean? We still have to go to the game, we still have to play?” I answered, still dumbfounded.
“But you’ve already lost,” she said once more, her eyes still not leaving the road. “If you don’t give yourself a chance, and you already have it in your mind you’ve lost, then there’s no point in showing up, is there?”
I stared at her, still with my mouth drooped open. She slowed the car down, and eventually pulled it over, before finally looking at me.
“Kevin, you’re the leader. You are the one that has to have faith. The other boys, they look up to you. If you walk in there, already defeated, thinking you’ve lost, then the others are going to have the same approach.”
I looked back at her, not quite sure what to say. Mum quickly turned the car off, and took the keys out of the ignition.
“Tell you what,” she said, flicking the keys around her fingers. “I’ll give you ten minutes. After ten minutes, tell me what you think.”
For the next ten minutes, I sat there and thought about what my mum had said. About being a leader, about being optimistic, about confidence and determination.
After those ten minutes were up, Mum turned to me and asked:
“So, what do you think?”
I looked back at her, and had a little smile on my face.
“We’re gonna go in there and win.” I replied.
“Good,” she said, and stuck the keys back in the car. “Guess we are heading to Parramatta.”
The funniest thing about that day, is that we drove into Parramatta, and a few hours later, we left after winning by about 20 points.
We sat back in the car, just after the game. I was exhausted, still sweaty and my legs aching, but a euphoric feeling racing through me.
My mum turned to me, and before starting the car, looked at me with a slight grin on her face.
“So, lucky we didn’t turn around, hey?” She said, and we both just started laughing.
That whole ride home, we didn’t stop talking about it, and I never really forgot that moment. It was a tough lesson for a 16 year old kid, but one I needed to learn.
That day taught me so much, and my mum really gave me an understanding that no matter how hard you work physically, that isn’t always enough.
You need to be mentally strong, you have to be confident and have faith.
I’m a leader, and I believe that lesson was a huge stepping stone for me in my career, and I have my mother to thank for that.
Coming up in the league, especially as a youngster, you naturally find people that you look up to, and people that you try to emulate. For me, one of those people was Ben Madgen.
‘Madge’ had been in the system for a couple more years than me when I first arrived at the Kings. He had come back from college about the same time as me, and I looked up to him as somebody to aspire to be like.
His work ethic, and his drive to just become better, shaped me into the player I am. I always used to think I was working pretty hard, but then you would see guys like Madge down the other end of the court, working two to three times harder than me.
I love Madge, and we could always have a joke around, but when it came time to work, he always left everything he had on that court.
There was one time I remember pretty well, when I had rocked up to training as I was met by Shane Heal. He looked at me, and asked what training I had done that morning.
“Oh, well, I mean, we just started training,” I stuttered, slightly confused.
Shane then pointed to Madge, who was just sweating buckets and looked as though he had done a marathon.
“He’s just taken 2000 shots,” Shane replied. “And it’s 9:00 in the morning.”
At the time, I wondered how in the hell I was going to be able to do that, but eventually I was able to refine my game, and training to a point where I felt I was working as hard as Madge, and that was important to me. I set him as the bar at the time, and to emulate his work ethic at training was big for me.
Leadership is a strange thing. There was never really a moment when I felt I turned a corner in being a leader; I just sort of had it ingrained in me from when I was young. I’ve always wanted to lead from the front, and bring more than just my basketball skills to a team. I always bought into the mentality that everybody on the team is a leader.
As a captain, while I’m honoured to have the title, and lead the club, I don’t feel as though it separates me from the rest of the boys. Everybody on this team is a leader, and everyone is accountable to himself. There is no reason why you shouldn’t be busting your ass at training, giving 100% and giving your all for your team.
That attitude has been with me since I can remember, and it can piss me off when I see others not following suit.
When I was playing with the Kings, one of my teammates was Sam Young. Sam had played in the NBA for years before his move to Sydney, playing for Memphis, Philadelphia and Indiana. He was a small forward, and he was bloody good.
We used to have one on one sessions during training, and whoever lost would have to do punishments of sorts, and because Sam and I played in the same position, I always lost, and I always got my ass kicked.
He was always pretty hard working, Sam, but one of the days during training, he was sort of moseying through our session. It came to our one on one, and for the first time ever, I beat him.
It was a pretty awesome feeling, and I was pumped. As I sat back and enjoyed my victory, I noticed Sam was just wandering through the punishment, not really going as hard as the other boys.
I don’t know whether it was my competitive nature, or I was just so pumped up from beating an NBA player, but it pissed me off.
I stood up, looked directly at him and called him out, shouting at him, screaming and telling him what I thought. I didn’t feel he had respected the contest, and I didn’t feel as though he was respecting the punishment, and regarding me beating him as a fluke, because he wasn’t trying.
I went at him pretty hard, and Sam didn’t take it too well, to say the least. He stopped what his was doing, came directly towards me and had a look in his eye that said he was going to knock me out, or at least try to.
When you have a 6’6, 102 kilogram bloke coming at you, wanting your blood, you start to re-evaluate your life choices.
Luckily for me, Shane Heal and a couple of the other boys pulled us apart before anything could get really nasty, but it was a good lesson for me that not every bloke holds themselves accountable.
It taught me that if I can stand up to Sam Young, I can do it to anybody, and almost gave me the confidence in the years that followed.
I remember directly relating it to another incident years later, down at the Hawks. Our coach, Rob Beveridge, wasn’t at this particular session, and I saw a few guys just taking it easy, not really pushing themselves as hard as they normally would.
It annoyed me, and after the session, I stood up in front of our whole group, and pretty much called everybody out. The boys, to their credit, responded well, and took what I said on board, acknowledging the need to work hard.
A few days later, I was called into a meeting, and they made me apart of the leadership team. I haven’t really looked back.
I like to think of myself as a bit of an old-school guy. I go about things in an old-school way, the way I train and the way I play. When you look to people, I look no further than someone like James Harvey for someone I draw inspiration from.
James has been all over the world, he’s won NBL championships and played for so many different teams, and has really shaped me and my style of play. James is an old-school guy himself, and he was somebody I could rely on.
He knew the game so well; he was calculated and had an incredible basketball IQ. To have had the chance to sit with him and pick his brain after every match, and share his passion for basketball, and his family, it’s something that will always stay with me. I honestly believe its helped me become the captain, and the man I am today.
Being given the captaincy for the Hawks was obviously a huge honour. I honestly wasn’t expecting it, and with Rhys Martin and Oscar Forman being such outstanding captains for so long.
The club wanted to go in a different, younger direction, and I was lucky enough to be chosen. Rhys and Ozzie were awesome with me, they gave me a call and said they backed me in 100%, and offered whatever advice they could give on the new role.
To have the backing of such strong leaders was huge for me, and it reaffirmed to me that while I am the captain of the club, I am not the sole guy, and we have so many other incredible leaders in our team.
In a sense though, I want to be the guy who stands up when the chips are down, who can deliver when the pressure is on, and stands with the guys in the toughest circumstances. I have always wanted to be that sort of leader, and feel the best players in the league right now are the ones doing exactly that.
To me, the best example of that right now is Damian Martin. When times are tough, when Perth are struggling or in a bad position, Damian just manages to turn it on, and somehow, someway, create a spark throughout the rest of his team to lift, and they do.
He is such a shining example of what you want to be as a basketballer, and I would think nearly everybody in the league today would aspire to be like Damian.
I certainly do, and he is the benchmark for any guard in the NBL. People gravitate towards him, and he is able to not only lead from the front, but engage others to do so as well.
I try to model as much of my leadership style, and as much of my game off him, and as I said before, he is the benchmark of this competition.
I’m always trying to look forward, at what is coming in the future, rather than reflecting on the past.
But it’s nice to sometimes glance back and recognize what I have achieved. To being told that I don’t belong, to being the captain of a team that has huge talent, it is pretty cool, if I’m honest.
But while my journey, and career, has been life-changing, it is not over yet. Not by a long way.
We are entering the 2017/18 NBL season, and do not be surprised if the Illawarra Hawks are holding up the championship at the end of the year.
We have a very special group of guys, and are incredibly tight as a unit. We understand there is still work to be done, and you can never stop improving.
But we are in the best place we could be right now, and are raring to go for the opening round.
I cannot wait for the start of the season, and to lead the Hawks is one of the most exciting things I will do.
I’ve gotten here through work ethic, competitiveness and working my ass off. That isn’t going to stop anytime soon.
Illawarra Hawks guard. Enjoy the beach, all sports and traveling. City boy with lots of love for a little country girl