The NBL import policy has paid dividends in a big way for Australian basketball.
Back in the 80’s and 90’s the NBL started to import international players, usually Americans, to play in the NBL. I am guessing the reason for this was that the league would be stronger and improve the Australian talent.Only two imports per team were allowed however, otherwise there would be little opportunity for Australian talent to be showcased.
Players with NBA potential like Doug Overton, Todd Lichti, Stephen Jackson and Ollie Johnson all played NBA minutes but were more successful in the NBL. Other players to come out from the United States were Leon Trimmingham, Mark Davis, Lanard Copeland, Marcus Timmons and the great Leroy Loggins among many. Lately the NBL has been able to lure players of the likes of Josh Childress who could still actually play in the NBA.
There are three players who Australia were lucky to get, not just for their basketball talents but for the fact that they naturalized and produced superbly talented offspring that are going to take Australian basketball into the future.
Cecil and Dante Exum
Cecil Exum played eight seasons in the NBL, starting in the late eighties and finishing in 1996. In this time he played 197 games, averaging 10.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. These numbers are not huge numbers for an import, the 50.8 percent shooting was certainly positive.
Fortunately for Australia, Exum had a son who was drafted number five in the 2014 draft by the Utah Jazz. Dante is averaging 6.4 points, 1.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists in the best league in the world, the NBA.
As Dante is only young, just 21, he will grow and develop into a decent player. He has already played for Australia, he tore his ACL prior to last season when playing for his country. Exum is already a very talented defender, now he has to work on his offensive game in order to develop into the player that helps propel Australia to their first medal.
Bruce and Jonah Bolden
Bruce Bolden was the iron man of the NBL. He played 17 seasons, amassing 480 games in that time. For his career, he averaged 17.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. I was a Melbourne Tigers man, loved Mark Bradtke and I knew that every time Bolden played the Tigers that they were in for a hard game. You can ask for nothing more from your import.
Bolden has given more. He has a fantastic basketball program in Sydney which will help Australian basketball but it was his decision to stay that has helped Australian basketball even more. This decision allowed Australian basketball to develop another young Bolden, Jonah.
I am hopeful that Jonah will be drafted this coming NBA draft but even if he is not, Jonah is close to NBA level and will help the National team in years to come. Jonah has represented Australia at the under 19 level and when Andrew Bogut retires from international duties, Bolden should be the defensive leader. He is already showing this in the Serbian league as a professional.
David and Ben Simmons
I am not saying that I am leaving the best to last but as I said earlier, I was a Melbourne Tigers fan and Dave Simmons was the grunt type player that I could respect. Simmons played 13 seasons and averaged 15.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game over his career.
Fortunately for Australian basketball, Simmons stayed in Australia and the number one draft pick from 2016, Ben Simmons now calls Australia home. Now, Simmons has not been able to play a game in the NBA due to recovering from a foot injury. He was lauded as the best high school player. He was the consensus number one draft pick after his year in college. Give him a couple of years in the NBA and Simmons will be a star.
Now, I know that there are other father-son combinations that are not mentioned here, Cal and CJ Bruton spring to mind. CJ is the present, I am looking to the future, and the future looks bright.