After the final game of the NBL1 season was played on Saturday, six new Australian basketball champions were crowned.
The men’s and women’s seasons of NBL1 West, Central, and North all reached their conclusion, despite various COVID interruptions throughout.
NBL1 South was the unlucky competition that couldn’t award a title, with lockdowns in Victoria preventing sport of all levels from being played. The North West Tasmania Thunder finished minor premiers in the men’s league, while the Knox Raiders sat atop the women’s league.
This leaves the Nunawading Spectres and Kilsyth Cobras as the reigning champions for the third season straight, with no championship awarded in 2020 either.
The Inner Sanctum takes you through the six winning championship teams across the three NBL1 leagues.
Western Australia joined the NBL1 this season after the rebranding of the State Basketball League (SBL) to NBL1 West. The 14 men’s teams and 12 women’s teams all crossed over into the new competition.
After winning the shortened men’s West Coast Classic in 2020, the Perry Lakes Hawks went back-to-back, sort of. The Geraldton Buccaneers won the 2019 SBL championship in the prior full season of WA state basketball.
Thus the Hawks became NBL1 West’s inaugural champions, winning their seventh title overall.
Minor premiers with an 18-4 record, Perry Lakes made life easy for itself with a strong 90-75 victory over eventual grand final opponents Rockingham in the qualifying final off the back of a 22 point, eight rebound game from Perth Wildcats development centre Andrew Ferguson.
Winning through once again 88-72 in the preliminary final over Lakeside, Ferguson popped off again with 18 points and a monstrous 15 rebounds, earning himself the grand final MVP.
It was heartbreak for coach Ryan Petrik and his Rockingham Flames, going down in their first ever men’s grand final.
Only six points separated minor premiers Willetton and grand final opponents Joondalup when the two met earlier in the NBL1 West season.
The two finished on an equal win-loss record, clearly the two best sides of the women’s competition. Their runs to the grand final couldn’t have been more different though.
Joondalup handed Perth a comprehensive 42 point thrashing in the qualifying final, the biggest margin of the finals series by far. Willetton meanwhile, only conquered East Perth by four.
The preliminary finals were similar 20 to 30 points smashings, setting the stage for a grand final that was a battle of the ball behemoths.
It was a sparring match of all-stars, but ultimately it was a team scoring effort that made the difference for Willetton. Four players scored 10 points or higher, led by long-time state basketball guard Desiree Kelley with 16.
The win marked the women’s team’s ninth championship, returning to the grand final again after last winning in 2016.
North Adelaide nearly completed a stunning run through to the grand final from fifth, but fell at the last post to ladder leaders and season dominators the Southern Tigers.
It was the Tigers and the Sturt Sabres that battled it out for top spot for the majority of the year, but ultimately it was the rest offered by top position that helped the Tigers to victory.
The Rockets miracle run started in the elimination final against Forestville. An even first half broke open in the second as they stormed home with a 41-31 second half. Jess Good, now an AFLW Blue, had a plain and simply ridiculous 29 point, 20 rebound game.
Sturt was also no match for the Rockets final quarter take-off, as they blasted to a 23-11 finish. Good was once again, great, with 22 points and 16 rebounds.
A four quarter performance against South Adelaide was once again led by Good’s ridiculous rebound game. Not even a 35 point, 17 rebound game from Perth Lynx’s Olivia Thompson could stop the Rockets rampage.
The Tigers ultimately proved themselves unbeatable though, coming out of the blocks hard with a game-high quarter score of 29 in the first.
After winning the league MVP award and the Halls Medal, Teige Morrell put her hand up to find her way onto a WNBL list. She had previously been an injury replacement player with the Bendigo Spirit, but is well worthy of a second chance now.
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The men’s and women’s finals of NBL1 Central shared some shocking parallels.
Unlike their women’s counterparts, the men’s North Adelaide team managed to complete their spectacular finals run, which was barely a dream not even a month ago.
The Rockets claimed the unique honour of being the only NBL1 team to have both their men’s and women’s side reach the season’s final match.
Coming from fifth as well, the first obstacle they overcame 82-77 was the Southern Tigers.
The dream nearly ended there, the game going to over-time as a Tobias Dowdell dunk got the Rockets back in the game after the Tigers stormed home in the last quarter 27-12. This was despite the Rockets leading 48-28 at half time.
A major upset over Forestville in the semi final was followed by a solid dismantling of ladder leaders Sturt to solidify their chances as a championship threat.
Adelaide 36ers point guard Sunday Dech was the star of the series, claiming the grand final MVP with his 15 point, 13 assist, nine rebound, six steal game.
It was the Rockets first championship since 2007, denying the Sabres their first since 2010.
The only competition to adopt a play-off style grand final series, the Mackay Meteors claimed their fourth championship in a tense 2-0 series.
Cairns was another team who came disparagingly close to achieving a fairy tale, coming from fifth in an eight team finals series to make the grand final.
Neither side was particularly worried on their way to the grand final series, Cairns in particular demolishing Logan 96-67 with pure dominance in the second and fourth quarters.
In the first match of the series, Mackay pulled ahead late with a clutch three from former Cairns Taipan, Deba George with just 20 seconds to go. The Meteors then drew a late foul to hit the winning free throws to make it a three point victory.
The dramatics didn’t stop there. A huge final quarter comeback from the resilient Meteors finishing in a layup from Jerron Jamerson tied scores back to 77 apiece.
Over-time went Mackay’s way, outscoring Cairns 9-6 in scenes of absolute hysteria and joyous pandemonium at the Mackay Basketball Stadium.
Not to be outdone, the Logan Thunder made history as they won the club’s first ever championship title.
Originally founded in 2006 and competing in the Queensland Basketball League, the Thunder entered the WNBL for seven seasons from 2008 to 2014 before returning to the state level.
Now after six years of toiling away, the Thunder have made their mark on the NBL1.
It was the top two teams of the competition that made it to the grand final series, the Southern Districts Spartans and the Logan Thunder battled it out across another two tight affairs.
Queensland basketball fans couldn’t have asked for a better finish to their basketball leagues, first with a 75-71 victory to the Thunder and then a 63-61 second game comeback.
With the starting five coming together when it mattered most, guard Mikaela Cann drew eyes as she continued to battle away to win her team a championship.
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