Losing the big one has nagged Ryan Broekhoff throughout his rise but he’s been steeled by the experience and is ready to be more than just the other import in Dallas this season, writes Emmet Ryan
Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar were playing with house money arriving in Berlin in 2016. Having rode the Malcolm Delaney train through an impressive Euroleague campaign, the Russian club was making its debut in the Euroleague Final Four and were the neutral’s choice to watch. Alongside the raw confidence of Delaney were the emerging forces of Anthony Randolph and Chris Singleton. These were the guys getting the eyeballs and, having already fallen in the VTB League playoffs, it was win or goodnight for their season.
Amidst all the commotion around Loko’s American stars was a quiet Australian. Ryan Broekhoff was a useful piece for Loko but he wasn’t close to being the guy for them. His wide eye looked implied a man much younger than his 25 years at the time and he was more than happy to politely praise his team mates on the eve of their semi final with CSKA Moscow.
Then came the semi and what was a frankly limp performance from Loko. The margin wasn’t that bad, only 6 points, but nowhere during that game did they have the va va voom that drove this machine to realms of energetic fun throughout the season. Broekhoff wasn’t the most noticeable man on the floor that night, he was after all still working his way into his role. As it turned out he had 10 points on 3 of 8 shooting on the night.
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The mixed zone after a semi final in Euroleague almost inevitably sees the bulk of players on the losing side rush through all the way to the locker room. Some poor guy has to do the press conference but the one mercy in defeat is that the media doesn’t really give you any hassle on the way off the floor. Broekhoff didn’t need a lot of coaxing to stop for a quick chat but the emotion in his voice and, moreso, his face right afterwards was gutting.
The bounce back two days later in the third place game to come away with a bronze medal at least gave Loko something for their troubles but the real change for Broekhoff, the shift that would set him on course for the NBA, was only starting to come.
As he prepared for the Olympics with Australia, his Loko side got largely disbanded. The bulk of the side that had made that Final Four run wouldn’t be coming back. Singleton went to Panathinaikos, Randolph to Real Madrid, and Delaney to the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA. Meanwhile in Rio, Broekhoff’s Aussie side looked imperious through the group phase, save for a defeat but fine performance against the USA, and comfortably got past Lithuania in the quarter finals.
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A fourth ever Olympic semi final for the Boomers saw them against a Serbia side they had dispatched in the group stages only to be torn asunder early. The hope of a place in the final and a guaranteed medal were dashed by half-time. Two days later, against Spain, they’d miss out on bronze by the narrowest of margins.
Broekhoff had hung with the big dogs however and returned to Krasnodar with increasing prominence. The transitional 2016-17 season saw Loko rumble along to a semi-final in Eurocup and make little noise in the VTB League before really kicking on last season.
Loko started on a wild run, with wins piling up at speed. After dropping their home opener to Unics Kazan in the VTB League on 21 October, Broekhoff and Loko didn’t taste defeat in any competition again until 3 February, when Avtodor won in Krasnodar. It was the type of run that should have set the table for a season with a trophy at the end of it. Instead, two months later, they got swept 2-0 by Darussafaka in the Eurocup finals having been undefeated through the season heading into it.
Broekhoff wasn’t there for those losses as he was out for the whole of the playoffs injured and then missed out on Loko’s post-season in the VTB League in controversial circumstances when he was declared ineligible.
The performances by Broekhoff however had earned him something, after averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in Eurocup including shooting 50 per cent from deep, he had shown he was ready to be more than just a useful piece at this level. The call came from Dallas and he was ready to be the next Joe Ingles…only unlike Ingles he’s going over at a stage when most observer here think it’ll work out well (the success of Ingles is a pleasant surprise but nobody here saw it coming).
He’s also got a new addition. After getting married in the summer, Broekhoff welcomed his terrier to the family. If his social media activity is anything to go by, Broekhoff is immensely chilled about the whole opportunity. He remains, as he was in Berlin, pleasant but he’s far more of a player than he was on that mixed weekend. He’s tasted some rough outings on big days but has come out the better for it. Now he gets to play alongside the best in the business.
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