Despite losing to American College side UCLA Bruins by three points on Monday night, all the signs are pointing to the Brisbane Bullets first season back in the National Basketball League (NBL) being a resounding success.
The game was a sell out at the Logan Metro Centre and the raucous crowd showed they are more than excited about the return of men’s professional basketball to the river city throughout the 94-91 loss to the Bruins.
The Bullets gave glimpses of being a potential title contender for the upcoming NBL season even without key players Adam Gibson, Mitch Young, Torrey Craig and Jermaine Beal.
Young players Reuben Te Rangi and Matt Kenyon providing plenty of energy, and veterans Anthony Petrie, Tom Jervis and Daniel Kickert providing plenty of leadership.
Gibson and Young were ruled out through injury while imports Beal and Craig are still awaiting final clearance on their working visas.
Thrilling the vocal Logan crowd was a cameo appearance by Australian Basketball and Bullets legend Sam Mackinnon who brought the crowd to their feet when he was able to score from a Shaun Bruce assist in the second quarter.
Though he only scored five points former Cairns Taipan Bruce showed he will be able to give Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis plenty of quality minutes off the bench should he need to rest Gibson and Beal during games.
Bullets assistant coach CJ Bruton who was at the helm for the match with head coach Lemanis only recently having returned from coaching the Australian Boomers in Rio, was pleased with the progress of his young guns in Bruce, Te Rangi who finished with 14 points and Kenyon who scored 12.
“Definitely excited to have players with that sort of poise, and that sort of energy and understanding of the game, I know we were playing against kids today, but from the way they’ve come in from day one and the way they’ve worked they’ve been true professionals,” he said.
“To come in here and perform and play the way they did with the numbers that we had, I was quite pleased.”
Brisbane’s veterans helped the home side overcome a nervous start to both halves with Anthony Petrie steadying the ship with six first quarter points including the Bullets first basket, and Tom Jervis leading the way with seven points including three left hand hook shots in the third quarter, Petrie finishing with 15 points and Jervis 13.
UCLA were led by speedy guard Aaron Holiday who top scored with 17 points, alongside a hot shooting Bryce Alford, the two guards keeping UCLA within striking distance at the half 51-49.
By far the biggest moment of the third quarter was when UCLA star Lonzo Ball through down a huge alley-oop dunk.
Ball had been quiet prior to slam, and the ensuing crowd reaction seemed to bring him out of his shell and he finished with 16 points including a big three point shot in the final minutes.
The Bruins held a four point lead late in the final quarter which Brisbane closed to within two through Te Rangi only for Alford to hit two free throws to give the Bruins a four point lead with 14.5 seconds to play.
Kickert nailed a three pointer to bring his personal tally to 17 and keep the Bullets within a point but two more free throws to Alford finished the scoring.
Brisbane had a chance to tie when reserve guard Ryan Vines was fouled attempting a final three pointer but he was unable to convert from the line.
Bruton said he felt the team was well placed ahead of the NBL Blitz pre-season tournament at the Brisbane Convention Centre from September 23-26.
“It’s not the real season but a loss is a loss, but it was a win for our crowd, having the boys step on the floor and be able show the product of our players, and obviously we need to play a little bit better with heart and more passion on the floor, but overall to have a sold out game two weeks beforehand and to know the players and I were getting phone calls from everyone asking can they get tickets,” he said.
“Having Andrej back just observing as he hasn’t been involved so far, now he gets something as we go back and watch the video and see exactly the few things we need to clean up, we have a lot of good things about our play and a lot of things we need to work on like every team in the competition.”
The Bullets are expected to be at full strength for the Blitz though Gibson’s minutes will have to be monitored by the coaching staff as he continues to recover from a calf injury.
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