In form: Kings guard Jason Cadee’s performances have been strong in Sydney’s disappointing season. Photo: Fiona Goodall Western warrior: Angus Brandt. Photo: Getty Images
Out for the season: Kings centre Julian Khazzouh. Photo: Getty Images
Western Sydney is a basketball heartland but there are no guarantees the Kings’ move to Sydney Olympic Park will be a success.
Off the court, the Kings have done all they can to establish a firm connection with the region – their offices are in Homebush, they train at Auburn and they have held many school visits and training clinics in the west this year.
On the court however they have struggled to just four wins from 17 starts with the back-to-back-to-back injuries to Josh Childress now compounded by the season-ending torn quadriceps tendon suffered by centre Julian Khazzouh in last Friday’s loss to the Hawks in Wollongong.
Western Sydney is a crowded sporting market – four NRL teams, the Sydney Thunder BBL franchise, the GWS Giants and the NSW Swifts all compete for fans and sponsors.
The region likes winners and it does not like teams that don’t have defined roots in the west. The Kings need to shed their inner-city image to succeed at Homebush. That won’t be hard – they have played at the new demolition site that is the Sydney Entertainment Centre since 1990.
During the West Sydney Razorbacks’ brightest days in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Kings revelled in the perception that they represented the city’s east to enhance the cross-town rivalry.
Now they have been left with no alternative. The State Sports Centre is the best option. It’s a sad indictment on Sydney’s sporting infrastructure that a venue with a capacity of 4000 is the only realistic option for the Kings.
The NSW Government has plans to build a 12,000 seat stadium for tennis, basketball and netball near Sydney’s CBD with the Wentworth Park greyhound track the likely site but it’s still in the embyronic stage and Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has already spoken out against its construction.
Sydney hoops fans will get very frustrated very quickly if they think that stadium will be built any time soon.
The Kings have been encouraged by the early response from fans in the west in the lead-up to Sunday’s first game at Homebush against the title-holding New Zealand Breakers.
One factor in their favour in their task of convincing Western Sydney that the Kings represent the region is their roster.
Four of their stars – Khazzouh, guards Jason Cadee and Steve Markovic, and centre Angus Brandt – plus three of their development players are from Sydney’s west.
Brandt will be bumped up into the starting centre’s role now that Khazzouh has been hobbled while rookie Jeromie Hill will also get more minutes over the closing stages of the season. The club is open to the idea of bringing in another injury replacement for Khazzouh but there are very few Australians on the market who are available for a short-term deal or up to NBL standard.
The silver lining to that injury cloud is that there is virtually no chance of making the playoffs so new coach Joe Connelly might as well give Brandt and Hill more burn to fast-track their development for next season.
After the Breakers on Sunday, the Kings return to Homebush next Wednesday to host Melbourne, then Cairns pay a visit on the Saturday and Illawarra do likewise the following Saturday.
So that’s four games in 13 days at the State Sports Centre then a month on the road before the only other match there this season – February 10 against Perth. It’s probably not ideal when you’re testing the water at a new venue to have a stack of matches crammed into such a small window then a big break before the next match but if the basketball fans of Western Sydney are truly keen to see the NBL on their doorstep then the Kings should be able to sell out most, if not all, of these games.
Quickly forgotten: Sydney Spirit players after the club’s final game at the State Sports Centre at the end of the 2008-09 season. Photo: Mark Kolbe
At least it can’t be as bad as the Razorbacks’ rebadged foray into Homebush in 2008 as the Sydney Spirit. Remember them? Don’t worry, everyone else has forgotten them or deliberately erased that debacle from their memory banks.
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