Thrown into the deep end ahead of last season, CJ Bruton is keen to showcase his new look team to frustrated Adelaide 36ers fans in NBL23. Finishing in seventh position on the ladder last season, Bruton has been working hard to deliver a more successful season at the helm.
In NBL22, Bruton headed a disappointing Adelaide 36ers outfit, which seemed to gain momentum and chemistry as the season went on. This form saw them winning close to four consecutive away wins to end the season after losing a close game against the South East Melbourne Phoenix.
Over the last four seasons, the 36ers have had a 49-71 winning record, which has seen them miss finals every year since the 2017-2018 season that culminated in the grand final loss to Melbourne United. This has seen the heartbeat of the 36ers, the supporters, frustrated with the club, something that doesn’t sit well with the new head coach.
The work wasn’t finished after the season with Bruton looking to put his influence on the list, considering he inherited the list last season. He spoke about how excited he is to showcase the work that has been done in the offseason to the fans.
“The season hasn’t really stopped,” Bruton explains.
“We’ve been definitely putting things in place, which you have been following over the last month, some exciting new players in the organisation and getting stuff in order has been the big key but a lot of work has been going on behind the scenes.”
With the recruits that Bruton has brought in, Adelaide fans are certainly optimistic about their play-offs chances. Fan favourite Anthony Drmic returns to Adelaide joined by a pair of big signings in Antonius Cleveland and Robert Franks. Bruton speaks about the difference that Cleveland and Franks will make to the team and what characteristics the fans from the way they play.
“They are both elite players from last year,” he said.
“First of all with Cleveland, he’s the defensive player of the year, his athleticism the way he was an on-ball defender off-ball and his athleticism really shone throughout the year.”
Antonius Cleveland comes off a sensational year for the Illawarra Hawks, taking home the league’s Best Defensive Player of the Year award and an All-NBL team selection.
Robert Franks is an import power forward that was recruited from the Brisbane Bullets in the NBL offseason. Playing in the NBA Summer League with the Boston Celtics, he is ready to start his career at the Sixers after recovering from eye surgery.
Last season, Franks led the scoring for the Bullets, averaging 18.2 points as well as 1.6 assists, 8.8 rebounds and 50 per cent accuracy from the field.
“[When it comes to] Franks, he definitely came into the competition at Brisbane and lit it up from the three point line.
“He was able to take them downstairs and post people up but in transition, he was one of those guys that you had to scout very tough [and] you had to stay connected with [him].
“He’s got his eye on, he’s had eye surgery so he can see the hoop even better this year so I’m excited about that also.”
In the time leading up to preseason, Bruton continues to size up the available talent to fill the two vacant list spots for his team in NBL23. He explained his process for scouting talent and how he went about recruiting.
“I think you’ve got to fill all spots on the floor and I think when you cover all areas and have multiple players that can play multiple positions is always the key,” Bruton said.
“When I looked at both those guys (Cleveland and Franks), I saw those attributes from the day that our season finished and I had my talk to the sponsors, it was already on the cards and it was just a matter of could this work and what’s the best way of going about this.”
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Last season, Kai Sotto had a solid season for the Adelaide 36ers, seemingly getting better within the team as the season progressed. After nominating for the NBA draft last month and not being picked up, the big man will return to Adelaide for another season.
Bruton says it is for the best as Sotto will continue to grow as a player with more time in the NBL.
“We’ve been talking with his agents to get him back here and get him acclimatised to how he’s going to move forward,” Bruton said.
“I know it’s definitely something that frustrating for him and disappointing for his fans but that’s only one way into the NBA that’s what people know and it’s the work rate that will get him there, coming back here and having a great season for us will be ideal.”
He gives some insight into the plan moving forward and how he sees him making his NBA dream a reality.
“I said [he’d need] two years when I first came here and I can check what I said in the past but I thought he was two years away from the NBA,” he said.
“The fact that he entered the draft was something he had to do at this point in time, where he thought he was needed.
“I feel another year of him solidifying himself in our competition he will be able to play more physical, play for longer, handle more of a load and more of an impact for our club would be important.”
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