Written for NBL.com.au by Chris Pike
Potential is a word easily thrown around it was used in relation to Nick Kay plenty when he entered the NBL, but he’s easily lived up to that and more as he now embraces learning plenty but also taking it up to the Australian Boomers megastars in the lead up to the FIBA World Cup.
The Perth Wildcats power forward is coming off the best of his four seasons in the NBL helping lead the ‘Cats to another championship and with the numbers he puts up, the hustle he provides and the fact that he’s the ultimate team man, he earned his place to represent Australia in China.
And now that he is preparing for the exhibition matches against Canada in Perth and then the USA in Melbourne ahead of the World Cup, Kay knows he can’t afford to be intimidated even if battling the likes of Aron Baynes, Andrew Bogut, Jonah Bolden and Jock Landale.
It is the attitude he has taken in Boomers camp that is the reason he was selected and he just wouldn’t know any other way of going about it.
“You can’t afford to be intimidated, you are out there going against these guys every day and you can’t take a backward step,” Kay said.
“If we are taking a backward step it’s not helping them get better and it’s not helping us get better because there’ll be just as big a names on other teams. I think we’re going out there to compete and play hard, and that’s helping everyone get better because of that attitude.”
Coming off his successful college career at Metro State University in Denver where he followed in the power forward Australian footsteps of Mark Worthington and Jesse Wagstaff, Kay was a highly sought after property ahead of his rookie NBL season in 2015/16.
Immediately he showed why so many saw such potential in him as he held his own across the league battling more experienced four men and doing so well not only was he Rookie of the Year, but a genuine star.
Then suddenly when the Townsville Crocodiles folded, he was hot property once more and it was the pull to play under Rob Beveridge and to enjoy that small city environment still by joining the Illawarra Hawks.
He would go on to deliver two standout seasons again with the Hawks including helping them to the Grand Final in 2017 and along the way was impressing so much he had become a regular fixture of Boomers teams.
Then for the third time already in his life as a professional following the 2017/18 season, he was on the open market again and a host of clubs in the NBL saw the ability to build their futures around having him as their centre piece.
In the end, it was the Perth Wildcats who won the battle for his services as they signed Kay and Mitch Norton with the hope that their long-term duo proves as successful as what their last similar combo of Damian Martin and Matt Knight worked out.
Kay certainly held up his end of the bargain last season with the Wildcats putting up career-high numbers across the board with 15.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists while shooting at 57 per cent from the field and 42 per cent from deep.
Those are the numbers of a genuine superstar in the power forward spot and he was a big reason why the Wildcats again won the championship and why he just couldn’t be ignored when Andrej Lemanis and his coaching staff were choosing their team for the World Cup.
Kay is embracing everything about the experience of being part of the Boomers set up preparing for a World Cup and making the most of the talent he’s working with whether it’s those big guys, or the likes of Joe Ingles, Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova.
His focus has been on embracing everything about the experience and trying to improve all the time.
“It has been really enjoyable. This is Day 3 in Perth now for us and every day has been competitive, which is what you want. You want to go out there and compete and that’s what we are doing right now,” Kay said.
“I think I’m just relishing the opportunity to be amongst these quality players and because there’s such a high level of players, my game is getting better because of it. If I can keep getting better, hopefully I can contribute more and more towards this team and hopefully help us come back with a medal.”
Given he is only four years into his professional basketball career in the NBL, Kay is finding himself learning all the time especially now in the Boomers set up.
He is finding that just by being around such high-quality talent, it brings his level up as well and the biggest part from being in the Boomers is that he’s finding the culture to put team before self is the strongest he has ever come across.
“The best thing I’ve learnt is how important it is to work together. When you’ve got great players, the level of everyone tends to move up towards that level and I think that’s what is occurring now,” he said.
“Because there’s so many quality players, you don’t want to let those guys down and that’s helping us get better, and helping the group get better.
“Part of the Boomers is to just be one group and your egos are left at the door. You come in and you just want to play for your mates, and that’s what we are doing right now.
“I saw a quote from Baynes talking about how he loves playing for Australia and it’s about playing for your mates, and doing it for your country. You can’t have an ego when you’re playing for your country, you are doing it for everyone out there and it’s the most enjoyable part of it.”
From having a strong college career and now already being hot NBL property three times ahead of signing at Townsville, Illawarra and Perth, and now preparing to play for Australia at the World Cup, it’s been quite the journey already.
But Kay isn’t in the mindset of reflection just yet, that’s for when his story as a player has all been written.
“I think the time to reflect will be in my post-basketball career when I look back and enjoy all those moments, and the steps I’ve taken to get to where I am now,” Kay said.
“But hopefully I have a long way to go and hopefully this is a big part of something I look back on with fond memories about.”