With the bitter taste of losing to Perth in this year’s NBL Finals lingering, AJ Ogilvy took some time to rest and reflect before deciding he wanted to move forward by returning to the hardwood.
By now it was April and most leagues had cemented their team’s rosters. Having previously played for teams in Turkey, Spain and Puerto Rico, AJ’s search for an off-season hadn’t yielded anything exciting and having to play locally in the Waratah state league seemed likely. It was then he received a call from a country he didn’t even know had a basketball league.
“Iran came up [as a possible contract] and it was pretty good money, and I thought it was an opportunity to see a different part of the world,” he told ABC News.
The 211cm centre ditched the Illawarra Hawks uniform for a couple of months to try and assist the Azad University Tehran, a team which has never finished higher than fourth in the club’s 11-year history, reach the Asian Championships for the very first time.
During his stay, he found the atmosphere in Tehran quite different to that of the Illawarra’s “Sand Pit”.
“We didn’t have a lot of fans [in Iran]. The first game I sat on the bench and counted 50 people,” he said.
“Guys on the team asked if we got big crowds in Australia, and I said ours is one of the smallest teams and we get 2,500 per game and they were shocked.
As he approaches his 29th birthday, Ogilvy will use the months leading up to the 2017/18 NBL season to recover from a rolled ankle injury sustained in Iran, before starting preparations with the Illawarra Hawks.
Now in the year two of a three-year deal he signed in 2016, AJ is happy with his decision to be home in New South Wales for the next few years.
“In my last experience in Europe my body didn’t handle it well, I had a few injuries and two sessions a day seemed a lot tougher than earlier in my career. That was when I thought about coming home to Australia.
Bevo then obviously wound up here (in Illawarra) and my first year was great, made the semi-finals, had a lot of fun and now, although if you told me five years ago I would have a long-term deal with the Hawks, I would have been very surprised but this is definitely where I want to be and I’m very happy with the decision” AJ told Aussie Hoopla on his recent appearance on the podcast.
This season AJ will be aiming at two distinct goals, taking the Hawks one step further after being bridesmaids to this years champions Perth and to make enough noise to finally gain the attention of the Australian Boomers’ coaching staff, something which has driven him to improve his game since missing out in 2016.
Ogilvy was a huge omission from the Boomers squad in 2016 where even after making the All-NBL First Team and finishing equal third in MVP voting, Boomers coaching staff didn’t feel that was enough for AJ Ogilvy to earn a spot in a 26-man Boomers squad.
Illawarra Hawks coach Rob Beveridge made it clear that if players who play fewer minutes in the NBL and produce less stats like Nathan Jawai and Angus Brandt, who did make the tea, AJ deserved a chance to represent Australia too.
“I’m extremely surprised that AJ wasn’t included in a squad of 26 players,” Beveridge told Downtown the day the squad was announced.
“AJ has been an absolute pleasure to coach and had a tremendous year. I’m extremely disappointed for him not to be included and given a chance to prove his worth.”
He’s been recognised as the NBL’s best centre each year he’s played in the league (making the All-NBL first team in three of the past four seasons) but has yet to don Boomer’s green and gold bar brief appearances against New Zealand in the 2009 and 2011 Oceania Championships.
With no NBA players available for the Asian qualifiers being held in November, there aren’t a lot of 6’11 big men capable of protecting the paint, coming up with a crucial block or steal and who possess the ability to score within the structured offence that Australia is known to play.
If Ogilvy isn’t selected by national team selectors this year, it would be a travesty and surely a case of discrimination.
When asked by Aussie Hoopla for his own thoughts on making the Boomers squad Ogilvy was much more diplomatic than we are.
My sole focus is on the Illawarra Hawks right now, if that other stuff happens down the path, well… we’ll just see what happens” AJ said in response to the likelihood of earning another Boomers spot.
Who else is there better suited to guard the rim on Australia’s quest to the FIBA World Cup. To see his name not be on that Boomers squad in 2016 solidified the fact that Ogilvy is one of the most underrated Aussie big men of all-time.
If history repeats itself and AJ aren’t a part of the Boomers squad this year, I would suggest there is something disconcerting with our national team selection process.