2023/24 NBL Team Preview – Illawarra Hawks
THE 2023/24 National Basketball League (NBL) is right around the corner, with the fixture set to kick off on Thursday, September 28.
The season is shaping up like no other, with an unprecedented amount of young and international talent complimenting the homegrown players set to suit up in the nation’s premier basketball competition.
The landscape of the league looks as even as ever, with the title up for grabs after a period of dominance from the Sydney Kings. As shown with the New Zealand Breakers and Cairns Taipans last time around, any side could climb the rankings, and the player movements have ensured there is no clear favourite.
With that in mind, Rookie Me Central will be taking a look at each side and how they are shaping up ahead of the season’s commencement, with some intriguing outfits around the NBL.
On the agenda today are the Illawarra Hawks, who will be looking to move up after finishing at the bottom of the table last time around.
2022/23 record – three wins, 25 losses
The Hawks struggled after the departure of head coach Brian Goorjian, and although successor Jacob Jackomas had the team playing well in patches, the team could string multiple wins together. Things will need to improve to avoid a similar finish, but an impressive off-season has the team pointed in a positive direction.
AJ Johnson, Biwali Bayles, Daniel Grida, Gary Clark, Harry Morris, Hyunjung Lee, Justin Robinson, Lachlan Olbrich, Luca Yates, Mason Peatling, Sam Froling, Todd Blanchfield, Tyler Harvey, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk, William Hickey
Key question – How dramatic will the team’s rise be?
The Hawks appear much better off coming into the upcoming season, desperate to do better than their 2022/23 campaign, which saw just three wins from 28 games. It was always going to be challenging season given the coaching change, but the team will be hoping to be rewarding for sticking with Jackomas, and with some impressive inclusions, there is a buzz in the air surrounding the Hawks.
Robinson will be like a new recruit after playing just one game last season, and should be a valuable contributor after shining in his sole appearance. His recovery from a knee injury appears on track and he should be a strong leader on both ends. Slotting into the lineup alongside familiar faces (Harvey and Froling) and new recruits (Lee and Peatling), the Hawks will be rejuvenated to kick off the 2023/24 season.
One to watch – AJ Johnson
Johnson is another NBL Next Star that has brought plenty of excitement with his arrival. Although he will be stuck behind Robinson at the point guard position, the gifted youngster will still be relied upon for backup minutes, and if he can deliver on that front, it will be a huge difference for the Hawks moving forward.
At six-foot-six, Johnson brings the height required of the modern point guard, and will likely get some considerable minutes to start the season. On a team that has plenty of talent on the wings, Johnson’s ability to take charge of the team’s offence will be a key factor in whether Illawarra is able to compete with the top teams moving forward.
The Hawks appear better positioned heading into this year, with a year under the guidance of Jackomas set to benefit the team heading into next week’s start date. With enough top-end talent and depth to prove competitive, Illawarra could turn things around in no time at all.