Illawarra Hawks guard Sunday Dech is one of many African basketballers forging a professional career in the NBL. (ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)
They come from different countries they had to leave for different reasons, but African basketballers are becoming a growing and formidable force in the national Australian league.
- Almost every team in the National Basketball League now has at least one player with an African background
- South Sudanese-born player Sunday Dech is shaping as one of the most promising players in the league
- Coach Rob Beveridge says the rise in African players is an exciting development for the game
For many years, US imports made up the majority of ethnic diversity in professional Australian basketball, but in recent years the league has developed an African flavour.
In fact, virtually every team in the Australian NBL now boasts a player of African heritage — and among their ranks is Sunday Dech, one of a growing number of South Sudanese players to make it in the NBL.
His recent nominations for Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved at the league’s end of season awards night show he is not just adding cultural diversity to the NBL, but making a significant impact.
“The competitiveness of the game is really exciting,” the Illawarra Hawks guard said.
“You go out there and you compete against really great players.
“The back and forth of the game is awesome, because you’ve got to find strategy to stop them and score on them as well.”
Former Illawarra Hawks coach Rob Beveridge is excited to see the next wave of African basketball players. (ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)
A ‘tsunami of players coming through’
Former NBL coach Rob Beveridge is at the forefront of developing youth talent in the sport, and says the increase in African players is “absolutely fantastic”.
“There are these African players that are coming through, and they are so talented,” he said.
“To me it’s almost like a tsunami of players coming through … you see it and you won’t be able stop them, and they love their basketball.
“They’ve got so much potential.
“On the world stage, the African nations are really becoming a lot more developed in basketball, and we see it here in Australia as well.
“The thing I love about basketball is that it’s an international sport, and it’s the second-most popular sport in the world behind football.
“It’s taking over the world in sports, simple as that.”
Incoming players will be hoping to follow the lead of the likes of Dech, Majok Deng (Cairns Taipans), Majok Majok (Perth Wildcats), Jo Lual-Acuil (Melbourne United) and Deng Acouth (South East Melbourne Phoenix).
Illawarra Hawks guard Sunday Dech has developed into one of the best defenders in the league. (ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)
‘Stay out of trouble, stay on the court’
Dech is shaping as one of the most promising players in the league.
After playing off the bench for the Perth Wildcats, he is now a starting guard for the Wollongong-based team.
He said his work ethic is something younger South Sudanese players can learn from.
“I think you need to just put your head down and keep working, there is always someone watching,” he said.
“Try and stay out of trouble and just stay on the court.
“Just work as much as you can because the more hours you put on training, the more chance you have on the court to shine when the opportunity comes.”
He is now signed to a two-year deal with the Illawarra Hawks.
It has been a journey from war in Africa to using sport to help him settle into Australia.
“As kids we picked up things really easily,” Dech said.
“So once you pick up English, you’ve got sports which connect you, which is really cool.”
Adelaide 36ers forward Obi Kyei is pleased to see more African children taking up basketball. (Facebook: Adelaide 36ers)
Kyei reflects on being one of the few Africans around the court as a child
Adelaide 36ers forward Obi Kyei is in his first year in the NBL after a stint in Europe and within the US college system.
The 25-year-old said that when he was growing up he was one of the few African players at his club.
Kyei is Australian-born, but his father is from Ghana.
He says the growing number of African players in the sport is a positive addition to cultural diversity in basketball.
“When I go back to my junior clubs and see some of the young players coming up, there are countless African and Sudanese kids,” he said.
“There are people from different backgrounds who are playing sports now, which is awesome and really good see.”