The revision of the NBL salary cap resulted is many players deciding that “there’s no place like home”. The Brisbane Bullets were perhaps the biggest recipient of this change having snared possibly the most successful Brisbane-born player ever, Cam Bairstow.
Bairstow was a crucial part of the Australian Boomers recent Rio success. However, the emotional roller-coaster he had to face during this period must have no doubt tested the 25-year old’s resolve.
In started in June, having already helped the Boomers to qualify for the Olympics Bairstow, a member of the Chicago Bulls at the time, was traded to the Detroit Pistons.
In July his NBA contract was waived by Detroit, leaving him unemployed. After accepting that he would need a year off to develop his game in the hopes of returning to the NBA Bairstow signed with the NBL’s newest team, the Brisbane Bullets and flew to Rio with his Boomers teammates
Bairstow struggled to find his feet during the opening Boomers games in Rio, scoring a total of 10 points in three games before exploding in Australia’s victory over China. Bairstow contributed 17 points, and nine rebounds as the Boomers rolled over China 93-68 and looked like an NBA player who could really help Australia’s medal hopes..
In the Boomers next game against Venezuela Bairstow suffered a dislocated shoulder and was unable to play the remaining games, missing out on two crucial medal round match-ups against Serbia and Spain which both could have gone a different direction had Bairstow been in uniform.
While managing his disappointment of missing his game at an Olympic medal, Bairstow contemplated surgery which could potentially see him miss a number of NBL games. Luckily scans revealed that he would not need surgery on the shoulder is he is currently expected to suit up against the Perth Wildcats in the NBL season-opening blockbuster on October 6.
With that all behind him, Bairstow is excited about suiting up for the Bullets in their first year back in the NBL, giving young Brisbane basketballers the chance to Australia’s best talent in their own backyard, well the nearby Brisbane Convention Centre at least, for the first time since 2008.
“I remember growing up watching this team. To be able to come back here and get this team going again was something that definitely appealed to me,” Bairrstow told ESPN.
Born and raised in Brisbane, Bairstow grew up playing for the Brisbane Capitals youth teams before leaving for the Australian Institute of Sport in 2009. His time there caught the eyes of college scouts, and he was recruited by numerous college teams before committing to New Mexico. He averaged 20 points and seven rebounds in his senior season in college, which was enough to be drafted by the Chicago Bulls in the second round.
“After two years of not playing that much, I really wanted to be in a situation where I could continue to develop my game,’’ Bairstow said after signing with the Bullets.
It’s this attitude that is sure to see Bairstow a hot favourite for NBL MVP, something NBA teams will surely take notice of with the recent NBL to NBA success of players like James Ennis and Jordan McRae, as well as Australia’s current position in international play.
It’s no doubt training nd playing alongside players like Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah have developed his game incredibly, but the prospect of working with Boomers and Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis and “striving for a championship right away’’ is something which also excites Cam.
“I do have (NBA) aspirations and I definitely felt like I can compete and play at that level … but right now I’m focused on the opportunity here. I think we’ve got a chance to be very successful.
Although Bairstow’s name will be a sure thing when the end of season awards are mentioned, winning MVP is sure to be harder than ever this season. With most of Australian’s best talent home from Europe to play in the “re-vamped” NBL and an extensive list of import players aiming to use the NBL as a springboard to an NBA contract.
One player, he will need to beat out for MVP is teammate Daniel Kickert, a member of last year’s All-NBL team.
Although the “Twin Towers” of Bairstow and Kickert has yet to be seen, their pairing (on paper) seems like an incredible one-two punch. With the strong low post play and relentless rebounding that Bairstow provides combined with the outside skills of Kickert, the most effective three-point shooter last season, teams will have to think twice about double-teaming anyone when the Bullets come to town.
The Australian Basketball Challenge kicks off in Brisbane this weekend, the Bullets playing Chinese side Zhejiang Golden Bulls on Friday night before clashes against NBL rivals the Sydney Kings (Saturday) and Cairns Taipans (Monday). Combine all of this with the first chance to see Bairstow in action and there is plenty of reasons for Queensland Basketball fans to get excited.
If Bairstow can pull off an MVP season, a championship for Brisbane and a new NBA contract it would be an exciting year for Queensland basketball indeed.