Which year was the NBL’s greatest rookie crop?

Which year was the NBL’s greatest rookie crop?

The NBA often discuss which draft class is the greatest in their history. The NBL does not have a draft, however there is often a year that we see a high influx of young talent enter the league all at once.


The NBL used to pay tribute to this fact every year during the All-Star weekend with a rookie game of sorts known as the “Future Forces” game. This game would provide a showcase for young Australian talent to show what they can do when given the ‘green light’. This game isn’t held anymore but as more and more Australian’s return from College and the NBL prepares to expand to 12 or more teams, perhaps this is something we can look at returning as a fixture to our league.


But before that happens we have listed what we think are the top 5 NBL rookie crops since the league’s inception in 1979 and below is a poll so all of the Aussie Hoopla basketball tragics can share which group they think was the greatest rookie class in our leagues history.


Class of 1980

Championships – 1

MVP’s – 1

National Team Selections – 22

NBA Experience – Nil

The second year of the NBL saw a great influx of talent as the league expanded from 10 to 12 teams and solidified as a legitimate nationwide competition. Ray Borner, Damian Keogh, Ian Davies and Wayne Carroll who debuted in 1980 would all go on to play for the Australian Boomers at the 1980 World Championships and make up the core group of the Australian team for the next 6-8 years.

Ray Borner’s Australian Career is something to be marvelled at, playing for every Olympic Games and World Championships for a decade during this period (1982-1996). Borner would go on to make history in 1985, becoming the first Australian to win the league’s MVP award and retire as playing the most games in NBL history.

Wayne Carroll spent his entire career with Coburg/North Melbourne and led them to their first title in 1989.

Damian Keogh unfortunately never won an NBL title however Damian still had an outstanding career that saw him captain Bankstown, the Westars and the Kings. In 1985 he led the league in assists with 8.1 per game.

Ian Davies retired with a career average of 17.8 points per game and still holds the record for the most three-pointers made in a single game (13).





World Championships / Olympic Selections

Borner, Ray


Wollongong 2001


1996, 1994, 1992, 1990, 1988, 1986, 1984, 1982

Carroll, Wayne


North Melb. 1989

1988, 1986, 1984, 1982

Davies, Ian


Launceston City 1981

1986, 1984, 1982, 1980

Keogh, Damian


1994, 1992, 1990, 1988, 1984, 1982


Class of 1988

Championships – 4

MVP’s – 1         

National Team Selections – 12

NBA Experience – Mark Bradtke (36 games), Shane Heal (49 games)

In 1988 there wasn’t a huge influx of new talent, but the players who did debut were of the highest stock available.

Mark Bradtke would become the greatest big man in NBL history. During his NBL career he

would win 3 NBL titles, an MVP in 2002 and lead the league in rebounding from 8 times, including consecutive years from 1999-2004. He currently stands as the NBL’s all-time leading rebounder (6,283 total, 11.3 per game).

Bradtke also had an impressive international career with season in the NBA (Philadelphia) and Spain on his resume.

Shane Heal would spend a lot of his career playing for teams in the NBA, Greece and Italy but in between those efforts he managed to steer Sydney to the clubs first championship as captain in 2003, would record the highest scoring effort by an Australian in NBL history (61 points).

Both players now being lock’s for the Hall of Fame and easily two of our greatest players ever makes this seasons rookie crop a quality one moreso than a quantity one.
Simon Kerle was also a notable sharp shooter and a vital piece of a number of very successful teams in Townsville from 1997-1999. He once poured in 49 points against Isaac Burton and Aaron Trahair of the Sydney Kings.





World Championships / Olympic Selections

Bradtke, Mark


Melbourne 1993, 1997, Brisbane 2007


2000, 1996, 1994, 1992, 1990, 1988

Heal, Shane


Sydney 2003

2004, 2000, 1998, 1996, 1994, 1992

Kerle, Simon



Class of 1992

Championships – 12

MVP’s – 1         

National Team Selections – 12

NBA Experience – Paul Rogers (1997 2nd Round Draft Pick)

In 1992 three players debuted that would exemplified the Adelaide 36ers v Perth Wildcats rivalry which is arguably the biggest rivalry in the NBL today. Today Martin Cattalini and Paul Roger’s names are etched onto a trophy and MVP medal which are awarded each year during one of the team’s regular season games. It seems fitting that the honourees of the Cattalini Cup and the Paul Rogers medal made their debut for Adelaide and Perth respectively.

Their impact was felt internationally as well with Martin Cattalini playing 3 seasons in a gruelling Spanish league and Paul Rogers being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers and even signed with the Toronto Raptors for $287,500 in 1998/99 despite being injured and unable to play.

Anthony Stewart played with both of these two men in the Wildcats jersey, but also played for Hobart and Cairns. An amazing sharp shooter who once went 9/13 from downtown against Sydney, finishing with 32 points during a season he shot 92-214 from long range.

Who would have thought in 1992 when Brett Maher delivered 11 points in his NBL debut that 20 years later his name would be written on the floor of the Adelaide 36ers stadium? Brett Maher was named to four major international competitions for the Boomers and would captain the 36ers from 1997-2009. It would be fair to say very few Australia’s have meant more to the 36ers and Wildcats respectively than these 3 players.

Lesser known but handy players were Blair Smith, who despite never averaging more than 9.6ppg in a season played 19 years of professional basketball from 1992 – 2011 (also played in the UK after NBL career).





World Championships / Olympic Selections

Maher, Brett


Adelaide 1998-99, 2002

2004, 2000, 1998, 1996

Stewart, Anthony


Perth 1995, 2000

Cattalini, Martin


Perth 1995, 2010, Adelaide 1998-99

2004, 2000

Smith, Blair


Melbourne 1997

Rogers, Paul


Perth 2000, 2010


2004, 2000, 1998


Class of 1994

Championships – 12

MVP’s – 3

National Team Selections – 10

NBA Experience – Chris Anstey 155 games, CJ Bruton (1997 2nd Round Draft Pick)

During the peak of the NBL there was a ‘Future Forces’ game, a rookie game of sorts which began in 1995. It is for no other reason but the amazing level of talent that debuted in 1994 that this game was ever thought of.

This rookie class features four future Hall of Fame players who at various stages of their careers had significant NBA attention on them as well as played vital roles in the Australian Boomers starting line-up.

What Sam MacKinnon did in 2006/07 is something which may never be duplicated in the NBL again. Winning an NBL title, Most Valuable Player, Finals MVP and Defensive player of the year, all in the same season while averaging 19ppg, 9rpg and 4apg. This is arguably the greatest individual season by an NBL player of all-time. His role with the Australian Boomers is also incredibly noteworthy. The fact he has won two Gaze Medal’s (Australian International Player of the Year) shows he is the greatest Australian Boomer who was never drafted or played in the NBA.

C.J. Bruton has won played for numerous NBL teams over his career (Perth Wildcats, Brisbane Bullets, Wollongong Hawks, Canberra Cannons, Sydney Kings and New Zealand Breakers) and has holds the record (with David Stiff) of having won more NBL titles than any other player. He has already been anointed legend status being named part of the Sydney Kings 25th Anniversary Team and it is only time before many of the other clubs he played an integral part for acknowledge his part in Australian basketball history as well.

Aaron Trahair was Co-Rookie of the Year with Sam MacKinnon in 1994 and a huge part of the Junior Australian team which won Gold in 1997. Trahair was a devastating outside shooter who played important roles on 8 different NBL teams (potentially an NBL record) and won a championship with Perth in 1995.

Chris Anstey debuted in 1994 but only averaged 3ppg in for Melbourne as an awkward teenager, however when he returned to the Tigers in 2005 he averaged 23ppg, 11rpg and 4apg and that year was one of the best players to ever play in the NBL. He led the NBL in blocks in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 and in rebounding in 2008 and 2009. He took home the Grand Finals MVP in 2006 and Best Defensive Player in 2008. All of this is merely what he achieved in Melbourne without noting the great years he also played for the Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls in the NBA as well as Ural Great and UNICS Kazan in Europe.





World Championships / Olympic Selections

Bruton, C.J.


Sydney 2004-05, Brisbane 2007, New Zealand 2011-13

2008, 2006, 2004

Trahair, Aaron


Perth 1995

MacKinnon, Sam


Sth East Melb  1996, Brisbane 2007


2006, 2002, 2000, 1998, 1996

Anstey, Chris


Sth East Melb 1996, Melbourne 2006, 2008

2006, 2008

2000, 1998


Class of 1995

Championships – 12

MVP’s – 1

National Team Selections – 16

NBA Experience – Nil

Coming off the back of the great influx of talent the league had in 1994, the rookies in 1995 were not too far behind.

John Rillie would win Rookie of the Year that year and go on to become one of the greatest outside shooters in the NBL. He was part of a very strong Adelaide team which won the title in 1998 before heading off to West Sydney where he once dropped 45 points in the NBL finals, the highest ever by an Australian. He later moved to Townsville where he had another great game in 2009, hitting ten three-pointers in a semi-final against Perth.

Matthew Nielsen is one of the greatest Australian talents that we never really got to see how talented he was. After winning two NBL titles and an MVP in his final year he left Australia for the rest of his playing days in Europe. During his time in Greece he would have perhaps his best season when he won the Eurocup Finals MVP.

Jason Smith entered the league a deadly sharp shooter and left the league a deadly sharp shooter. The man who also holds the highest three-point shooting percentage in Australian Boomers history was named NBL Finals MVP as the Sydney Kings took home their third title in three seasons and has since been rewarded as a member of the Sydney Kings 25th Anniversary Team (along with Matt Nielsen) for his efforts.

Ben Melmeth was the first of many great Aussie big men who would play at the University of Utah before returning to play for his hometown team the Newcastle Falcons. He took home Most Improved Player in 1998 after going from 12ppg and 8rpg to 22ppg and 12rpg. He would remain a starting centre in the league for the majority of his career after that.

Glen Saville was named MVP of the Wollongong Hawks only NBL Championship in 2001 and was a stalwart at both ends of the floor during 2000-2007 when he averaged approx. 16ppg, 8rpg and 4apg every game. As far as Australian players go he is one you would have to consider as top 5 in those as effective on defensive as they were on offence.

Simon Dwight blocked more shots than any player in NBL history. Amazingly he averaged at least 3 blocks per game in 9 of his 11 NBL seasons. Although his career was cut short through injury he still represented the Australian Boomers twice and played in two Grand Finals with the Razorbacks in 2002 and 2004.

Stephen Hoare showed you could still be a star even from the bench. Taking home the Sixth Man of the Year award in back-to-back seasons (2006-07), he played in 4 straight NBL Grand Finals (2006–2009) and won two championships.

Quick mentions are Daniel Egan who played important roles in two NBL championships and Ben Castle, who only averaged 4 ppg for his career but is one of only 9 Australians to ever win the league’s defensive player of the year award.





World Championships / Olympic Selections

Saville, Glen


Wollongong 2001

2008, 2004, 2002

Rillie, John


Adelaide 1998


Nielsen, Matthew


Sydney 2003-04


2012, 2010, 2004, 2002

Smith, Jason


Sth East Melb 1996, Sydney 2004-05

2006, 2004, 2000

Melmeth, Ben


Sydney 2003

2002, 1998

Dwight, Simon


2002, 1998

Egan, Daniel


Melbourne 1997, Brisbane 2007


Castle, Ben


Hoare, Stephen


Melbourne 2006, 2008

Talent is hard to evaluate across different eras as the players on the list from the 1980’s were very different than the players who debuted in the 1990’s, but we want to know which year do you think the NBL had its greatest influx of talent?
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Dan BoyceAuthor: Dan Boyce (348 Posts)

Dan Boyce is a die-hard Sydney Kings fan who grew up in Melbourne during the roaring 90’s of Australian Basketball and spent far too much time collecting Futera NBL Basketball cards