After nearly knocking off the Perth Wildcats and progressing to the Finals of NBL21, the Illawarra Hawks look primed and ready to progress even further in the upcoming season.
Final ladder position: Third (20 wins, 16 losses)
It was a terrific campaign for the Hawks, who rocketed up the ladder and challenged for the NBL title off the back of a consistent roster. With coach Brian Goorjian revamping the newly-named Hawks, they flew back up into NBL title calculations, finishing the regular season in third spot on the ladder.
With the Californian Tyler Harvey producing a stellar season that saw him finish runners-up in the league’s MVP award, the Hawks became a potent outfit that challenged the competition’s best rosters.
When it came to play-offs time, the Hawks didn’t disappoint in a heartbreaking finish. Having pushed NBL powerhouses in the Perth Wildcats to a game three situation, the Hawks couldn’t capitalise, losing by eight in a topsy-turvy contest.
It may not have been the ideal finish for Goorjian’s side, but it was a season of growth that gives Illawarra fans plenty of hope heading into this season.
Having experienced great success when grabbing Tyler Harvey over from the US in NBL21, the Hawks have gone back to the home of the NBA for more international recruits.
With Harvey filling out the point guard role, he’ll be joined by another exciting prospect in Antonius Cleveland, a shooting guard with an impressive resume.
With stints at the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, and Oklahoma City in the G League, Cleveland brings the perfect experience and versatility that Goorjian will be looking for if the Hawks are to go further in NBL22.
The signing of Harry Froling will be particularly handy down the stretch in games this season, as Froling joins brother Sam after playing for the Brisbane Bullets in NBL21.
For more depth, the later signing of fellow American Xavier Rathan-Mayes introduces more NBA experience that fills out the Hawks’ roster.
He may not have been an official member of Illawarra’s playing side, but the signing and then loss of Travis Trice will hurt the Hawks.
Having been paraded as a key signing during the off-season, the return of Trice to the NBL looked set to propel the Hawks onto higher honours.
But a mutual agreement to part ways due to COVID vaccine issues meant Trice never got down under to play for Illawarra, disappointing many due to his X-factor entertainment.
The loss of NBA Future Stars program member Justinian Jessup will also hurt the Hawks, who relied on the emerging prospect heavily in the back end of last season as his status only continued to grow.
Player to Watch:
It would be remiss to talk about the Hawks without mentioning the emerging powerhouse that is Tyler Harvey.
Having averaged just over 20 points, three rebounds, three assists, and a steal per game, Harvey’s debut season in the NBL was scintillating.
He was already a notorious prospect, having been earmarked as a future star by coaches from Harvey’s days playing in America, but he proved his ability to carry a team with his shooting talent.
On the eve of NBL22, coach Brian Goorjian has said his star is primed to elevate to a whole new level this season and lead the Hawks to an NBL title.
If Harvey can continue to expand his on-court presence and become the franchise player that he threatens to be, then the Hawks could become the team to beat in NBL22.
PG: Tyler Harvey
SG: Antonius Cleveland
SF: Xavier Rathan-Mayes
PF: Sam Froling
C: Andrew Ogilvy ( C )
Sam Froling, Emmett Naar, Akodlah Gak, Tyler Harvey, Isaac White, AJ Ogilvy, Duop Reath, Harry Froling, Antonius Cleveland, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, and Lachlan Dent
In: Harry Froling, Antonius Cleveland, Xavier Rathan-Mayes
Out: Justin Simon, Deng Deng, Justinian Jessup
An early highlight comes in the first round, as the Hawks take on fellow semi-finalists from last year in the South East Melbourne Phoenix at John Cain Arena to determine who rebounds best from last year’s heartbreak.
A showdown with the Sydney Kings follows the next week to top up a blockbuster start to the season.
A New Years’ Eve return match against the Kings will attract a mammoth crowd, while a match-up against Melbourne United comes on Sunday, February 6.
More NBL Season Previews
What to expect:
To put it simply, the Hawks are a massive chance of going further in NBL22 and challenging for the title.
Although they didn’t get Trice in the off-season, their squad is once again full of American stars that can balance out a solid Aussie roster.
They should play some exciting and fast-paced offence – expect the Hawks to be the best attacking side in the league.
If they can work defensively and bond as a team, then they should be one of the favourites to challenge the reigning champions in Melbourne United for the crown.
The last word:
It’s do-or-die for the Hawks, who are primed to be a destructive force in the league. It can always be difficult to make the step up alongside United and the Wildcats as NBL forces, but they are as ready as ever to take that leap.
If Goorjian can coach his elite squad well, then the competition must watch out.
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