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NBL, NBA, Tasmania JackJumpers’ plans to take over Tassie and … – Code

The JackJumpers were the feel-good story of last season, but the NBL’s newest franchise isn’t content with just making the grand final, writes SHANNON GILL.
When you’re the feel good Australian sport story of the year, what do you do for an encore?
That’s the challenge ahead of the Tasmania JackJumpers.
The new NBL franchise that gathered momentum through an unlikely Cinderella run into the finals and rode the wave right through to the grand final.
For CEO Simon Brookhouse there’s some key values that the Jackies, as they’ve become colloquially known in Tasmania, are based on that gives him confidence the rage will be maintained in season two.
It starts with that club mascot that puzzled at first, but ended up enchanting.
“We wanted to start a new era, and stay away from the names that had been used before,” Brookhouse tells CODE Sports. “The Jackjumpers was something unique.”
But it’s been more than a marketing moniker, it’s been a design for life for this fledgling club taking on the mainland.
“The feisty little ant really is what we stand for,” says Brookhouse.
The JackJumpers may well be from the smallest state but they’ve self-styled as angrier than the rest.
They are values consistent with the typical Tasmanian outlook; striving to prove themselves to the rest of Australia.
“Being starved of national league sport, and having a team for the whole of the state is different to most professional sports clubs,” Brookhouse says.
“And one thing you do learn is that Tasmanians are very proud of their state.”
The franchise has embraced that uniqueness.
They don’t look at Tasmania as a small market, but instead one that can draw upon all 550,000 residents of the state.
“Being the focal point of the sport in the state is why so many have got behind us and the support comes from far and wide,” says Brookhouse.
“We also have a lot of expat support from Tasmanians now on the mainland.
“They’ve all bought in.”
Brookhouse wasn’t surprised though. A lifelong involvement with basketball and a work posting in Hobart in the early 2000s saw him become President of the Hobart Chargers in the SEABL before chairing the league itself.
When the JackJumpers job came up Brookhouse, who was then working for Golf Australia, was immediately attracted to it.
“It was always going to be a big task, but it was an exciting opportunity to start something from scratch and grow it,” he says.
“I felt that Tasmania has a proud history of basketball and always thought it could take off down here.
“They needed a team in a national competition, it was a no-brainer for me.”
Brookhouse admits that it was a race against time to set up a club during a pandemic and if they had their time again lessons would be learned.
“Having the arena ready a little bit earlier than two days before your first game is one lesson,” Brookhouse laughs, but the time pressures organically led to what they now see as a trademark.
With travel restricted, the ability to go out and recruit in person was neutered. And the telegraphed entry of the club didn‘t help either.
“The challenge was always going to be that we needed to get 15 players quickly and there were not that many available,” says Brookhouse.
“Every other team knew we were coming so they were smart enough to re-sign the guys they didn‘t want to lose. We just had to deal with who was available and get the best of them.”
These challenges dictated how the roster was built, but ultimately it was turned into a strength. This would become a team that prided itself on defensive hustle and chemistry rather than a star system. The feisty ants may not be the most talented but they could work the hardest as one.
“Our recruitment strategy was around character first and basketball ability second to some extent,” says Brookhouse. “We had to make sure they were the best fit for Tasmania.”
The players would not only have to buy into the system on the court, but would also commit to wanting to explore the state to spread the gospel off the court.
“We spent a lot of time making sure that we’ve been out in the community growing the brand and the recognition of basketball,” Brookhouose says.
On that front they made a key early appointment.
“We started with the coach and it trickled down from there with the players. They’re a great bunch of men,” says Brookhouse.
That coach is Scott Roth, and in a short space of time the Cleveland native who had spent time in the NBA as a player and an assistant has become a loved figure in Tasmania.
His emotional displays during and after games have endeared him to the fans, and hark back to the great showman coaches of another NBL era like Bruce Palmer.
That extends to what he provides off the court too. Like those pioneers, he has become a prominent public face of the club.
“He’s very good at selling the values of the club and the benefits of being in the Tasmanian community to players,” says Brookhouse.
“That‘s helped us bring people on the journey, members, supporters.
“He’s very eager to get out and about and see people all around the state to sell not only the JackJumpers virtues, but how great the sport is.”
A great marketer of the club, but also an exceptional coach, says Brookhouse.
“In terms of the complete package we’ve got the right guy. We set out with a defensive attitude early on, and then built the offence from that. Scott said ‘I’m not worried about the wins and losses early.”
It meant there was no panic when the JackJumpers slipped to 2-6 despite a rousing debut win. The blue collar team had been competitive, and that’s what Roth had wanted.
The fans also recognised this. They could see the identity of their state in this team. The hustling underdog. Or Under-ant, perhaps.
There was a thirst in Tasmania. 3500 people signed as Foundation members before a player was signed.
“There’s a lot of core basketball supporters that got on board,“ says Brookhouse. “ But the general public and the media also got on board. We sold out every game.”
Part of this was the starvation Brookhouse mentioned. The Hobart Devils were removed from the NBL in 1996 and apart from BBL and WBBL cricket, Tasmania has barely participated in national sporting leagues since.
“It was amazing the number of people who hadn’t been to basketball games who came, loved it and came back,” says Brookhouse.
“And then there were people from that Devils era who wanted to get back involved. They were kids then and are now bringing their own kids.”
“It was a testament to our playing style but also the entertainment package.”
And then the team started winning. And continued to win.
An upset victory over Melbourne United catapulted them into the playoffs and banished the 35-year playoff run of the Perth Wildcats.
There was pandemonium when a packed crowd saw them win their first playoff game at home, and then joy when they backed it up with an away win in the semi final decider against Melbourne United to reach the grand final.
“As the season progressed and wins started to come it became the No.1 story for the year in Tasmanian sport,” says Brookhouse.
“Once we got through the semi-finals series with Melbourne, it became a national story.”
And while the Cinderella run ended in the Grand Final to Sydney, the JackJumpers became a rallying call for basketball fans beyond the Apple Isle too.
“The number of people I’ve spoken to around the country who now know who the JackJumpers are is amazing. Everybody got behind us.”
It was a story that captured all sorts of basketball hearts. So how do they back it up and go one better?
The NBL fixtures were released this week and the JackJumpers will not have an easy ride into season two, with only three of their first nine games at home.
Team MVP Josh Adams and fellow import MiKyle Mcintosh will not be back for season 2022-23, but floor general Josh Magette has re-signed, and young Australian centre Will Magnay appears to be over the injury issues that saw him miss most of last season.
“Now that we know we are competitive, the players are burning that they didn’t win the grand final,” says Brookhouse.
He’s also bullish that the replacement imports in Rashard Kelly and the NBA-experienced Milton Doyle will enhance what is there and fit the culture.
“With those import changes we think we‘ll be a better side this season, and Will Magnay coming back will make a huge difference.”
At the announcement of Doyle’s signing, Roth stressed his humbleness is what he would bring to the team. The ethos will not be changing for season two, and with Roth now re-signed for a further three years it will be the foundation the club is built on.
It means that excitement in Tasmania has not hit a sophomore slump. It’s grown.
“There’s anticipation now that people want to be involved, they can see the journey,” Brookhouse says.
“Our corporate box sales are up on last year, and members are beating down the door to renew their memberships when they went on sale this week. “
Last season Covid dictated a rushed and rolling fixture that made it hard for clubs to plan, and that was felt no more than by the JackJumpers as they planted their flag in new territory.
“We did a lot of things on the fly in the first season,” says Brookhouse.
Restrictions around school visits hampered their ability to engage with the community face-to-face. This season, the JackJumpers’ players and coaches will be out converting fans more than they did in season one.
Brookhouse will also be doing a different kind of lobbying, seeking government support for an elite training facility for the club.
With interest levels at fever pitch, it’s a great time for both campaigns.
While those on the Apple Isle are fervent believers in their state’s place within national leagues, the success of the JackJumpers has surprised mainland sports fans, leading to inevitable questions.
The first is whether the success of the JackJumpers could be replicated by the NBL elsewhere. Brookhouse is a believer.
“Canberra is a great example,” he says. “You had the Cannons there for a long time and I absolutely think it can be replicated there using the model we’ve achieved, but there also may be an opportunity in the Northern Territory.”
The second question has another sport tied in knots, but he’s unequivocal that a Tasmanian AFL team could only be a good thing for the JackJumpers.
“I think an AFL team would complement us. They’re played in the winter and we’re played in the summer,” he says.
“NBL clubs all around the country coexist with AFL and NRL teams, so I’m a big supporter of an AFL team in Tasmania. It would be great for the state. It gets more people and young kids interested in sport.”
There’s also the possibility of collaborating on facilities like that training centre both entities would crave.
Or maybe even on that left field insect the club has become known for.
“We could even share a name, you never know,” Brookhouse laughs.
Shannon Gill is a Melbourne sportswriter with a focus on AFL,cricket and basketball. Previously working inside some of Australia’s biggest sporting organisations, he has been a freelance writer for a decade and is co-host of the cult sports history podcast ‘The Greatest Season That Was’. Pixies and TISM fan.
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