Ryan Broekhoff was 15 when he received his fondest live look at a Melbourne NBL derby.
The year was 2006 and a starry-eyed Broekhoff, still at school, attended a South Dragons clash against the powerhouse Melbourne Tigers.
The boy from Frankston was blown away by the energy and excitement of the local rivalry, but he was particularly inspired by the Dragons’ fresh-faced rookie swingman Joe Ingles and wanted to follow in his footsteps.
“To see Joe and how well he was playing really motivated me to keep pushing myself,” Broekhoff recalled about Ingles, who claimed the NBL Rookie of the Year with the South Dragons in ‘06.
“In my teens, the Souths Dragons put together some really strong teams and those were fun years to get to games.
“I was at a pretty impressionable age and basketball started to become more serious, and that is when I started going to more games and seeing the legends.
“I also did a training session with the Dragons when Shane Heal was player-coach, and I learnt a lot from him and Ingles. Running around with those guys was a great experience for me to see what it takes to be a professional basketballer in the day in and day out.”
A young Joe Ingles inspired Ryan Broekhoff. Picture: AAP Image/Joe Castro.Source:AAP
Sixteen years on, Broekhoff will emulate his childhood hero turned Utah Jazz NBA star in Ingles when he makes his derby debut in Saturday night’s South East Melbourne Phoenix versus Melbourne United blockbuster.
He has experienced the NBA and the Olympic stage with the Boomers, but his maiden Melbourne derby appearance is close to his heart.
“Yeah it is (special) and hopefully the kids can come along and use me as inspiration as a kid from Frankston who loved basketball and has been on a pretty amazing journey and got to achieve some pretty cool things through hard work and dedication,” he said.
“For me, it is getting to a point where it is more about giving back and helping the next generation of Australian basketballers coming through and give them advice on how hard you need to work.”
Broekhoff sat out the last Melbourne derby against United in round 9 because he wasn’t physically ready after two weeks in hotel quarantine, but he still experienced the passion of the Throwdown from the sideline.
An undermanned Phoenix side surprised United to walk away with an impressive 97-92 win.
The shock result showed Broekhoff just how much the Melbourne derby meant to the players.
“We’ve got some real tough characters on our team that really didn’t want to lose that game,” he said.
“You could see how much both teams really wanted to win, and us especially really digging deep and finding ways to combat their star-studded line-up and turn it into a real dogfight.
Ryan Broekhoff says he will get better as his maiden NBL season with South Melbourne progresses. Picture: Daniel Pockett/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
“We obviously want to be the best team from the city to have those bragging rights, so these games are very personal.
“It is great to see the growth of the United rivalry in the short time that the Phoenix have been in the NBL.
“The Phoenix are also right up there in the top four with United, so it definitely adds some spice to the rivalry.
“Both teams have been playing really well this season and to have two good teams from Melbourne competing is fun for the city and basketball in general.”
Broekhoff admits he is yet to reach his peak form, but he has thoroughly enjoyed the NBL’s standard of play.
It’s why he happily joined the Phoenix when he couldn’t land a job in the NBA or Europe.
“It (the NBL) has been fantastic – really tough,” he said.
“The speed of the game is really high. The shorter three-point line here gets very congested and physical and hard to get easy looks.
“You really have to work hard to get good shots and you have to work as a team to break down defences and create advantages.
“It has been fun getting back on the court. I haven’t really done too much in the last few games, but hopefully I will hit my straps at the right time towards the finals.”
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