2022/23 NBL season preview – Illawarra Hawks

THE 2022/23 National Basketball League season is less than two weeks from getting underway, and it is shaping up as one of the most anticipated seasons in recent memory.

Last year saw the Tassie fairytale, some new stars step to the forefront and Sydney dominance in the big dance. With some big names joining the competition over the past few months, there is a lot to like about how the fixture is looking, as the league continues its rise on the world stage.

With that in mind, Rookie Me Central will be taking a look at how each side is shaping up ahead of the season tip-off, with some new look squads eager to take the next step.

The next side on the list are the Illawarra Hawks, who found themselves faced with a number of exits over the off-season, with the jury still out as to whether they succeeded in doing so.

Illawarra Hawks
2021/22 record – 19-9

It was a season full of promise for the Illawarra Hawks in 2021/22 that ultimately ended in disappointing fashion as they bowed out in the first week of finals.

With Brian Goorjian at the helm, the Hawks were always going to be a tantalising prospect. They recruited Antonius Cleveland, which proved to be a huge success as he went on to be named the NBL’s best defensive player. It was a theme that echoed through the entire team, with Illawarra ranked fourth in the competition for defensive rating.

The Hawks announced themselves as title contenders early in the season but fell to a Kings side that was on a serious roll at the time, putting an end to Illawarra’s campaign abruptly.

There were some serious changes during the offseason as a result, with the biggest coming in the form of Goorjian’s departure as head coach. He was a big reason for Illawarra’s success since he joined the team in 2020, and left a major hole in the organisation.

Jacob Jakomas was named as the NBL’s most successful coach’s replacement, secured to fill some of the biggest shoes in the league. He has served as an assistant under Goorjian in the past, making it intriguing to see if he keeps his predecessor’s style of play, with defence an emphasis, or implement his own vision.

Cleveland departed the team, as did the likes of Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Duop Reath, with the trio among the top performers last season. Thankfully, Sam Froling and Tyler Harvey re-signed, ensuring some of the core group remained.

Reath’s replacement came in the form of Mangok Mathiang, which is no downgrade in any sense of the word. One of Australia’s premier big men, he had a ton of interest from rival clubs, before taking his interior scoring and rebounding to the Hawks.

Also joining the Hawks is Justin Robinson, who brings some ball-handling and scoring power to the guard position. He should slot in nicely to the two-guard spot next to Harvey, with the duo likely to prove a handful for opposition defences.

Jakomas spoke highly of what Robinson is set to bring to the team.

“Justin is a great ball defender, key facilitator and most importantly a scorer,” Jakomas said.

“We’re excited for the dynamic point guard to join our back court and believe he will complement Tyler Harvey, making them a formidable duo.”

It will be a tough task for a new-look Hawks side, but their roster looks strong and if Jakomas can lead the side reasonably well, another finals appearance could be on the cards.


Deng Deng, Sam Froling, Akoldah Gak, Dan Grida, Tyler Harvey, Alex Mudronja, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk, Lachlan Dent, George King, Mangok Mathiang, Justin Robinson, Harry Morris, Kevin White, Tim Coenraad, William Hickey

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