Just months into its existence, NBL Oz Gaming is already preparing for playoff basketball. The team enters the 3v3 playoffs as the 7th seed, setting up a matchup against the 10th seed Warriors Gaming.
The NBA 2k League 3v3 playoffs begin on May 10, with a share in the $600,000 (USD) prize pool on offer. Head coach Mitchell "Mootyy" Franklin told ESPN that early success for the expansion franchise has not come as a total surprise.
"I took a lot of risk, I made a lot of questionable decisions that a lot of people didn't agree with," Mootyy said. "The majority predicted us to be one of the worst teams in both modes, mediocre for sure in 3v3. I think we've gone out there and shocked a lot of people.
"The guys and I weren't really shocked. I said from day one, I wanted to establish a culture, whether we were winning or losing, when you saw the angry kangaroo on the schedule, you thought 'oh s--t, we're going to be in a bar fight tonight'."
With a winning percentage of 57 and players Jyden and DjayTooCold each claiming Player of the Week awards, NBL Oz Gaming is being praised across the league for their immediate success.
The 5v5 portion of the 2k League will begin on May 23, with Australian player Harry 'Harry VZN' Spierings to make his debut. Despite four of the five players and the head coach coming from America, the team has embraced representing Australia on the world eSports stage.
"I love everything the Australian culture brings, excuse my language but it's bad ass," Mootyy said.
"You are all so happy and passionate, it makes you want to go the extra yard to put in extra time, extra film. I want to win so badly. In all my years of playing and coaching, it's unique how every single player and coach has bought in. There are no egos, no one is trying to be the guy or taking shine away.
"It sounds cliché, but all five guys are really bought in, including the management. It sounds simple, but in this profession, the hardest thing is having all five guys bought in, on and off the court. All five of these guys genuinely like each other, they genuinely get along on and off the court, they hang out."
While acknowledging there is plenty of work to do in building the franchise from scratch, NBL Commissioner, Jeremy Loeliger is thrilled with how the latest NBL venture has commenced.
"The interest in NBL Oz Gaming from the US has been really high. I think they're doing a great job of representing our brand, the way that we want it to be represented into that market," Loeliger said.
"We want the NBL brand and business to be constantly and consistently aligned with everything that the NBA is doing. NBA 2k was one that was uniquely accessible to us and it hopefully demonstrated to the NBA our commitment to partner with them but also our aspiration to continue to develop in North America as a brand."
Loeliger beamed about the inaugural roster composition, praising their attitude in embracing the responsibility of playing for NBL Oz Gaming. A team trip to the Australian embassy in Washington DC was organised and saw the players presented with a medallion that outlined the concepts of comradery and mateship and how those values manifest in sport across the country.
"It's not just about educating gamers about the existence of the NBL, but what it is we stand for, how we set ourselves apart and how we might differentiate ourselves from the NBA. That's all about never taking a backward step, relishing being the underdog, comradery and mateship and those are the things we sat with the team and spent a significant amount of time talking with the team," Loeliger said.
"That's what I'm seeing coming out of Washington DC. They have pride representing Australia despite there being four Americans and one Australian on the team."
The next step in terms of growth for the business will be expanding the audience in Australia, with Loeliger expecting a boost to come from the 5v5 play of Spierings, with a local player representing the club at the highest level to be a historic marker in the franchise's existence.
Spierings earned a professional contract via his play in a series of talent identifying tournaments, with NBL Oz Gaming to hold similar events beginning in September this year. Ultimately, another contract will be on the line to follow in the footsteps of Spierings.
As for the on-court play, the team has entered a week of preparation for the matchup with Warriors Gaming.
"We feel like we are one of the best teams. I think in playoffs it becomes more of an even playing field, definitely in 3v3 mode. I think it becomes more about chemistry, trust, confidence, I think our guys have built positively in all those areas," Mootyy explained.
"We're still going into practice every day this week, we're still finding things on the film to improve on both sides of the floor. I think it's a pretty telling story that we've made the playoffs, most people would feel complacent, but our guys are trying to find ways to get better every day."
One thing is for certain, NBL Oz Gaming will be entering the 3v3 playoffs with the expectation that they can beat anyone on their day.
"We definitely won't overlook them, they're a good team. Every team in the playoffs is good, so we're going to break down the film. We're going to try and make it a dog fight; these teams don't really want to see that angry kangaroo because they know it's not going to be an easy series," Mootyy said.
"No game against us is easy, I think teams know that now."