Written for nbl.com.au by Tom Hersz
Disappointment comes in many forms.
In Mitch McCarron’s case he’s hoping that disappointment comes in threes and no more than that.
After losing the Grand Final series to the Perth Wildcats – the first, McCarron spent a chunk of his offseason getting his knee right after requiring minor surgery to remove some floating cartilage – the second, and finally he didn’t make the final twelve-man Boomers roster for the FIBA World Cup – the third disappointment.
Having said that, McCarron is in a good place on all three fronts.
His team has re-loaded with some great talent that could get them back to the Grand Final, his knee is feeling really strong, and he had another great experience with the Boomers which he hopes to build off for the coming NBL season.
Things are looking up for Money Makin’ Mitch and as United’s preseason got underway recently with a hit-out against the Zhejiang Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association, McCarron took to the court and the results were certainly positive.
United, playing short-handed with only three fully contracted players, were able to come from behind to win, with McCarron making a big impact as he tested his knee.
“First game since surgery, so I’m really excited that it pulled up well, so far. It felt really good out there,” McCarron told NBL Media after United’s 97-77 win.
“Obviously game conditioning is another thing; you can train as much as you want, once you get into the game you’ve gotta get used to that, but I’m glad that there’s no pain.”
McCarron didn’t look like he hadn’t played in months during the game. In fact, he looked fresh, focused and determined, finishing with 15 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 blocks.
He was aggressive going to the basket, created off the dribble, crashed the boards, pushed in transition and buckled down defensively; all McCarron traits that United will be counting on this coming season.
It’s the first time McCarron has been forced to have a true offseason since he returned to Australia in 2016. Having planned to be playing in the NZ NBL with the Southland Sharks, in some respects the lay-off was frustrating, but could it also be seen as a blessing in terms of being forced to let his body rest and recover properly?
“That’s a good question,” admitted McCarron.
“People probably have different opinions on that. I always like to play and I was frustrated, but at the same time it gave me a chance to reset myself mentally and physically and start from the basics, and build back up. I feel really strong now because of it.”
Of course before that game, McCarron had just come out of Boomers camp, where the final twelve-man roster for the FIBA World Cup was selected.
McCarron, who played a feature role for the Boomers in the qualifying windows and the FIBA Asia Cup in 2017, was battling for one of the final guard spots against the likes of Nathan Sobey, Cameron Gliddon and his good mate Chris Goulding.
There’ve been numerous reports about the level of competition at camp and just how well everyone played; something McCarron confirmed.
“Super competitive,” he said of the camp.
“A lot of fun, I learnt a lot from it. You know, four days of just going at it with some of the best guys not only in our country, but in the world. I expect them to do well at the World Cup, so it was a fun time.”
— NBL (@NBL) August 5, 2019
Despite the disappointment of missing out on the final roster, McCarron had a great time at camp and knows that he’s better for the experience. Just being in that environment amongst that calibre of player and the competitive nature of it has left McCarron with a taste for more and feeling very much part of something even if he won’t be in China.
“Yeah it was fun,” McCarron explained.
“Credit to B.A., cos the level of the camp, the standard of the camp was incredible; everything off floor to on floor, timing was right, they had nutrition right for everybody, it was a perfect camp.
“And the leaders, the guys like Patty, Bogut, Delly and Joe Ingles, they just made sure that everyone was happy and everyone was welcome, and felt like a part of the squad.”
He was also very happy with how he played there and felt he left it all on the floor in his bid to make the roster, but did he get any feedback on why he didn’t make the team?
“Not a ton,” said McCarron.
“Obviously they were looking for a specific kind of guy in that role and that’s not me. Again, I didn’t walk away angry or anything like that.
“I thought I did really well at the camp; I thought I competed, and I thought I played well and did my role, so I can just take a lot of confidence from that.”
McCarron believes his versatility was on full display and while it may not have been what the Boomers coaches were after, it will certainly help with his Melbourne United role this season, even if that’s not entirely clear yet what it will look like.
“I felt like I competed really well; that I fit in with some different groups and different line-ups within that team,” McCarron explained of his performance at Boomers camp.
“So going back into the NBL, I’m not 100% sure exactly what my role will be with this United team just yet; we’ve got to figure that out in the preseason once we get everyone here, but I’m confident that I can slot in to whatever we need and just whatever that position is, I’ll be ready.”
— Melbourne United (@MelbUnitedHQ) August 18, 2019
As his focus has turned from the green and gold to NBL 20, it’s time to see what this United squad can be. They came very close to winning back-to-back titles, but came up short in McCarron’s first season with the club.
A new season gives those who were there last year a chance to redeem themselves as a group, while those who weren’t will join a group that knows what it takes to contend.
“There should be a bit of bitterness,” explained McCarron of the group’s feeling coming into preseason.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot of new guys to bring in, but none of those guys won a championship, so everyone should be really hungry.
“We’re bringing back a three-time champion in Casey Prather, we got guys who probably didn’t have the success in terms of wins in Melo [Trimble] and Shawn [Long] last year with their teams, so I’d hope that everyone is ready to go and got one goal in mind.”
You know Prather only has that one goal in mind.
In three NBL seasons he’s won three titles and while that championship experience is going to be leaned upon once more, McCarron knows that like his own game, Prather is someone who can contribute in a variety of ways, which is exactly how he sees him helping their team each game.
“Versatility. It’s going to be a lot of fun playing with Casey,” beamed McCarron.
“Instead of just trying to defend him the whole time, now I get to share the ball with him. So, same thing, he can slot into that two, three, even defend the four at times if we go small-ball, so I think it’ll be a lot of fun to play with him.”
With Prather, Trimble and Long all now in Melbourne for preseason, the team is getting to work. However there are a number of key pieces missing.
Goulding and now David Barlow are away with the Boomers, while assistant coaches Paul Henare and Ross McMains, along with Alex Pledger, Tohi Smith-Milner and new signing Shea Ili are all in China with the Tall Blacks.
It’s not ideal, but the guys that are in Melbourne are still focused on getting ready for the season.
“Yeah it’s a tough one, and we’re not the only ones facing it; obviously teams have guys away,” McCarron acknowledged.
“We’re pretty afflicted by it but at the same time we’re super happy for the guys that are in the World Cup for New Zealand and Australia. It’s just something that we have to deal with.
“For now, we’ve just to got to prep as best we can and once we have our full group, we don’t have a ton of time together before we’re really going. As you know, [the] season comes real fast and if you lose early, you put yourself in a bad spot. So it’ll be a really hard two weeks.”
That remaining preseason will include the NBL Blitz in Tasmania in late September; less than two weeks before the regular season tips off. It’s not a long turnaround given the World Cup ends on September 15.
And then Melbourne will have even more interruption, as during Round 2 they’ll make a trip back to the U.S. for the third instalment of the NBLxNBA games. They’ll face the LA Clippers and the Sacramento Kings before returning home to host the defending champs.
It is going to be a wild period for Melbourne as they try to integrate three new imports and also Ili. Thankfully McCarron will be entering his second season in Dean Vickerman’s system. So what can we expect from him as NBL 20 tips off?
“I’m not really sure. Hopefully some good play,” he joked.
“But once we define roles a bit more in the preseason; whether that’s a bit more ball-handling duties this year, whether it’s defending bigger people, I’m not really too sure, but time will tell.”
McCarron has put any disappointment behind him and is feeling strong and ready. If his first preseason hit-out is anything to go by, that good play will be coming in spades.