14/04/2024

The Tasmanian JackJumpers will face off against Illawarra in order to keep their Championship hopes alive. (Credit: Blair Burns)

Despite a lull in the middle part of the season, the JackJumpers were as consistent as ever to finish third on the ladder, making the playoffs for a third consecutive season.

Much like Melbourne United, the JackJumpers pride their club on having a great culture and good connections amongst all members of the basketball department, from players and staff to admin workers.

On the court, they are extremely connected and well-drilled. They were the only team this season to lose by 10 or less points in every loss they were a part of, having the fourth-best offensive ranking in the league to go with the best defence.

They have the highest differential for points for and against with +186, also pipping Melbourne United with +161. Both teams shape as the most consistent and stable side, with minimal difference between their best and worst basketball throughout the 2023/24 NBL season.

Paving the wave for history

“It’s really the state, winning something for them in a place that deserves it” – Head coach Scott Roth

JackJumpers head coach Scott Roth admitted that winning or losing this year’s NBL Championship “won’t make or break” him, but how special it would be to the fanbase.

In only their third season as part of the NBL, Tasmania was again impressive throughout the regular season, successfully earning its place in the playoffs for the third straight season.

“For me personally it won’t mean very much, I’m not going to be judged by wins and losses, it’s really the state, winning something for them in a place that deserves it. They’ve been the underdog for quite a few years down there, they have a chip on their shoulder,” Roth said.

“For me personally I’d love to win one but it’s not going to make or break me. I would really, really love it for the state and everything that we’ve built over the last three years, the consistency, the sustainability.

“A lot of these clubs have a lot of history on their side, we’re just starting to create our history. To win a championship for Tasmania would be the thrill of a lifetime and we’re going to do whatever we can to defend the island.”

The opportunity to create history and win a maiden NBL Championship is no doubt spurring the entire squad to push as far as they can and realise their dream.

They will face the Illawarra Hawks who have experienced an incredible resurgence, from being dead last in November when former coach Jacob Jackomas was sacked, to finishing inside the top four under Justin Tatum.

Maintaining the “core” group for future NBL success

“One of the things I tried to do when I got here, was have a core group that will move this franchise the next six, seven year”

Having continuity within club filtering down from the players to the coaches and other members of staff, has also been a major part of successful sporting clubs, not just in the game of basketball.

Continuity is something Roth and the team have tried to establish since day one of pre-season back in mid 2021.

“I think one of the things that I tried to do when I f got there was have a core group that will move this franchise for the next five, six, seven years,” Roth said.

“We have five or six guys that have been in big games already and know what that atmosphere feels like, so hopefully that will help us.”

Important players like Jack McVeigh, Milton Doyle, Will Magnay and captain Clint Steindl have now been at the club multiple years, starting to form a dynamic core group to work around. With the amount of player movement in basketball leagues across the world, the JackJumpers are proof that continuity and consistency is a strong advantage for teams on the floor.

“For us I think the experience of having boys that have been with us for the last few years will allow us to be in these big moments and hopefully come out on the other side of them but this has all been a build-up of two years,” he said.

Culture is becoming the blueprint for success… the JackJumpers have it in spades  

“Coming here you heard about the culture they had – Tassie guard Jordan Crawford

Considering Tassie as in their very infancy as part of the NBL competition, it might sound surprising that everyone highlights their strong culture. Despite being the new kids on the block, they have set a great example of how a club should be run to help them continue to perform well on-court, while being stable of it.

“To have our third year in a row, being in the top four is a remarkable achievement by the organisation, Christine Finnigan and their group running our front office, the entire playing staff that started from day one.”

“Some of those guys are not with us but our core group is still here.”

Diminutive guard Jordan Crawford has arguably been one of the best performers throughout the entire NBL in his first season in the league. He raved about Tassie’s culture during the NBL’s finals launch, with the 33-year-old still learning.

“Coming here you heard about the culture that they have here and being in this situation, seeing how everything was ran, from the staff, from the fanbase to the players as well holding each other accountable.

“It’s been amazing and it’s definitely building a winning culture, supporting everybody that’s involved. So, I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve learned a lot as well, even though I’ve been playing for a while I’m still learning and I’m taking every step of the way to just enjoy it.”

Strong leadership has also been an important factor in helping the club ride the highs and lows that a season throws at a team. The challenges of injuries and slumps in form have been handled with professionalism and no fuss to allow the team to bounce back strongly in the backend of the season.

“For me it’s just get out of their way at the end of the day, they’re very well prepared, they understand what they need to get done. We have great leadership internally with our group which I think is hugely important,” Roth said.

To have our third straight year of winning seasons and I think we’re the only team in the last three years that have been in the top four, is just a great tribute to the guys and the players that we have down there.”

“I think we’re just scratching the surface of what we can do and we’re in the very infancy of our growth down there.”

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Old-school approach paying dividends

“These guys get paid to play, fans pay money to come and see them”

Some would say it’s a ruthless mentality, but Roth didn’t mince his words when asked about resting players and refreshing his men before playoffs.

“I don’t really believe in resting or any of those other things, minute maintenance, any of that. I’m kind of old school, these guys get paid to play, and fans pay money to come and see them, why you would rest someone I have no idea,” he said.

“Back in my day when I was playing for the Utah Jazz, if you told Karl Malone or John Stockton, you’re taking a few days off to have some rest, they would’ve looked at you sideways and grabbed you by the throat.

“To me, the players play and they’re only playing once or twice a week which is nothing really in the big scheme of things, in the NBA they’re playing four games in about seven and a half days.

“Players want to play. When we came into that last game, we were playing our guys like it was just a normal game for us.”

The threat of injury is always there, but Roth said he doesn’t worry about players getting injured, simply leaving it up to the “basketball gods” to repay the hard work that his side puts in on a day-to-day basis.

“You can second guess all you want about someone getting hurt, but I actually believe the basketball gods will take care if you do the right thing consistently, so our guys show up to play every single night,” he said.

“I don’t think we’ve lost a game this year by more than 10 points which is another credit to this group, that it’s never giving in when they had opportunities to get blown out by 20 (points), and I think that goes back to our culture and our work ethic, and the character of our guys.”

Momentum is like a steam train, it’s tough to run through

“Momentum’s a hell of a thing in sports and we have a little bit of that on our side.”

Tasmania goes into this playoff series with a slight advantage, being one of the in-form teams of the NBL. The JackJumpers powered home to finish the regular season, winning five of their last six fixtures.

Confidence and strong momentum are especially important for a team who were struggling in multiple areas through the course of the season.

“It’s (momentum’s) hugely important because we were struggling in some areas that we’re continually trying to clean up and at one point of the season, [I] think we were fourth offensively and I think around eighth or ninth defensively,” Roth said.

“I think this year we ended up finishing in the top two in both categories, so we’ve come a long way during the middle of the season when it was very average for us and struggling in some areas.”

“To have some of them (the players) feel good about going into the post-season with some momentum and guys feeling good about themselves is hugely important. Momentum’s a hell of a thing in sports and we have a little bit of that on our side.”

If any team outside the top two can win the Championship, it is most definitely the boys from Tassie, with sound leadership and a strong competitive nature able to carry them to wins so far this season.

Individual accolades for Sean MacDonald (Most Improved Player) and Will Magnay (nominated for Defensive Player of the Year) can also help a team’s momentum. As two of the most important barometers for the side, they will be flying high after great personal seasons, with the hope of leading their team to a maiden title.

Forward Jack McVeigh has been on the rise this season, named in the all-NBL second team and big man Majok Deng is in line to return as well, after a long injury layoff.

“I think with Jack it’s just been a constant improvement, he’s very much about improving, he’s very much about his self-development on and off the floor,” Roth said.

“At the end of last year, he went to Germany for a few months to play there and got a different taste of basketball. But every year he comes back a little bit better, so he’s continually improved certain areas of his game.”

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