NBL Team Watch: Illawarra Hawks

WITH the National Basketball League (NBL) season edging closer by the day, we take a look at each team’s prospects heading into their upcoming NBL21 campaign. With an offseason full of eye-catching signings and roster improvements, teams will be looking for strong signs as the season approaches. Next up is the Illawarra Hawks.

The Hawks entered the 2020-21 season with plenty of work ahead, given their bottom-placed finish in the previous season. They made some eye-catching moves in the offseason, but the expectations still weren’t too high for the team entering its 42nd year. These predictions were smashed early in the season, with the side adopting a defensive-minded game plan, a move that paid dividends. Head coach Brian Goorjian was able to get the most out of his side, encouraging his players to play to their strengths and work hard on both ends of the court. The Hawks finished the regular season with 20 wins and 16 losses, and nabbed third spot on the ladder, courtesy of a five-match winning streak to finish the season.

Facing off against the Perth Wildcats (who were fresh off back-to-back championships), the Hawks shocked the NBL world by taking game one of the series, and many saw championship potential in the same side that finished last the season before. Unfortunately for Illawarra, the Wildcats found their mojo in the final two games and advanced to the next round. Despite the elimination, there was still some promising signs moving forward for the Hawks, who will be looking to recapture their defensive system that worked on so many occasions for them throughout the season. The next challenge will be matching this with an efficient offensive system, an area they struggled in, averaging only 82 points per game.

The team will be grateful to regain the services of star player Tyler Harvey, who has recently signed on for the upcoming campaign following a strong NBL20 campaign. Harvey was a huge tick as an addition in last year’s offseason, breaking records with his 114 three-pointers in an individual season. Harvey was a focal point of the team’s offense last season and should feature heavily once again this year.

The Hawks did lose some crucial players in recent months, with Justinan Jessup selected by the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Draft, and the team’s Defensive Player of the Year Justin Simon heading over to Europe. The pair were vital in the team’s success in 2021, delivering strong play on both ends of the court. Their services will be missed by Goorjian and his team. To make matters worse, the Hawks recently announced wing Daniel Grida has suffered a re-rupture of his ACL that kept him on the sidelines for the last 18 months.

The Hawks have been active in signing new players with the offseason, a necessary process given the talent they have lost since the season concluded. They added Boomer Duop Reath, who has played for LSU and the Dallas Mavericks, and has the potential to become one of the stars of Australian basketball. Harry Froling has joined brother Sam at the Hawks following a stint at the Brisbane Bullets, and former NBA player Antonius Cleveland has been announced as donning the Hawks jersey for the upcoming season.

The Hawks were the most improved team of the NBL last season, adapting a winning game style and were unlucky to be eliminated from the postseason in such a fast fashion. The loss of key personnel will sting, but their game style should deliver another impressive record, especially with Goorjian at the helm.

Photo Credit: Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images

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