Australian swingman Ryan Broekhoff spent four years playing American college basketball in the Horizon League at Valparaiso, followed by five years playing professionally in both Turkey and Russia. This past season with Lokomotiv Kuban, Broekhoff shot a scorching 46 percent from beyond the arc, making him the VTB League’s top three-point shooter. He was also named to the All-Eurocup team.
Now, at 27 years old, the long 6-foot-7 forward with impressive 3-and-D potential has his eyes set on the NBA. We recently reported on Broekhoff meeting with a few teams, including the Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Brooklyn Nets…
…and depending on how those workouts go, it’s very possible the sharpshooting Australian is finally able to make his way to the top basketball league in the world this summer. And not just that, it also wouldn’t be shocking to see Broekhoff quickly earn a spot in the rotation for a playoff-caliber team thanks to his sweet outside stroke, hard-nosed defensive aptitude and coach-on-the-floor level basketball intellect.
HoopsHype recently caught up with Broekhoff to discuss his offseason plans, his basketball journey, the rise of Australian basketball, his relationship with various NBA players from his native land and much more.
When did you fall in love with basketball and how did you get into the sport?
Ryan Broekhoff: I think I’ve loved it ever since I can remember. Both my parents played back home in Australia and I think my dad spent one season in the Australian national league. My mom played at a pretty high level as well, and once mom started having kids, she still wished to play once she was medically able to after having the children. I used to go down to the games and she said that I would just watch and I’d pick up a basketball and run around with it as soon as I could stand and walk. So I think it’s something I’ve loved since – I think it’s just ingrained in me almost.
Who was your favorite player growing up?
RB: Australian, obviously you’ve got legends like Andrew Gaze and Shane Heal, those are the ones I was probably exposed to the most, who were playing in the Australian national league. And then from the NBA I really liked Dirk Nowitzki growing up, just his size and his shooting. I just thought he was an incredible player when I was younger, and still to this day.
You’ve spent time in Turkey and Russia on some really good teams. Who’s the best player you’ve played with or against who people in the States may not know about?
RB: That’s a tough one. Nando De Colo and Alexey Shved come to mind from the last couple of years playing against them. They’ve spent some time over there in America in the NBA, I’d probably say those two [are the toughest] as guys who I’ve had to match up on, guard and compete against.
You have both NCAA (Valparaiso, 2009-13) and Euroleague (Lokomotiv Kuban, 2016) experience. With Luka Doncic coming over from Real Madrid, a hot topic among basketball fans has been comparing the two leagues. Once and for all, can you answer for us: Which competition, Euroleague or college basketball, is tougher?
RB: I would say Euroleague. College is a great system and great for the development of college-aged kids. For me, and for a lot of people, college is a better path than the Euroleague straight out of high school. But there are amazing players like Luka Doncic who are physically and mentally ready at a young age to compete at that high level. With Euroleague being a men’s competition, playing against grown men who have been players in the NBA or have experience internationally with their National Teams, it just puts the quality just a little bit higher than college basketball.
What do you feel are your biggest strengths as a player?
RB: I just think my basketball IQ has grown over the last couple of years, and having a lot of experience at different levels – college, Euroleague, Eurocup, National Team – helps me be able to adapt to different game styles, to adjust to different coaching philosophies, and be able to sort of be a leader out on the court with communication and structuring. While I’m out there on the court, I feel that’s something that I can bring to any team, just having that IQ to be able to adapt to whatever situation arises. And honestly, shooting is still the thing that’s gonna get the most attention from the outside, but once I get comfortable in a system, that’s when the other [aspects] of my game come out and show.
You’ve shown throughout your time overseas that you’re a great shooter (50.6 percent from deep last season, 44.3 percent over his five years in Europe). Are you confident in your shot translating in the NBA with the deeper three-point line?
RB: Yeah, I think so. I think the fundamentals are built and developed over my time as a young kid to now, which allows me to step out a bit further than the European line or the international line to the NBA line. Over the last couple of weeks, practicing at the NBA range with an NBA ball, it’s taken a day or two to adjust to the extra distance. But once I get a few shots up, it feels pretty natural to step back that extra foot or so that it is longer, and just shoot it at a consistent rate.
What part of your game have you worked hardest on to improve – something that may have been a weakness and that now you consider a strength?
RB: Defense is something that I really worked hard on. I think I’ve always had to work hard on it. It’s something that’s challenging for a lot of players, just because everyone wants to be able to score the ball but defense is all about toughness and the want and desire to keep people in front of you and stop them. It’s something that I’ve worked on and tried to use my physical tools to let me be a decent defender at any level. It’s something that I still work on now, and still you have to scout players and know tendencies, and try and use that to limit players you’re playing against.
There was some talk of you joining the NBA a couple of years ago. Do you feel more prepared to make the jump this season?
RB: Yeah, I think every year I’ve been out of college and played professionally, I’ve slowly developed my game and become more of a consistent player. So I think after five years at the highest level in Europe, or the Eurocup level, has really prepared me physically/mentally to be able to compete at the highest level, which is the NBA, and have a consistent output and production level. I’m not thinking I’m gonna come in and be a superstar, but I feel like I can contribute to teams better now than maybe I could a year or two ago.
Are you allowed to discuss which NBA teams you’ve worked out for? If so, who are they and how do you feel those workouts and meetings have gone?
RB: (Laughs.) I’m not entirely sure [if I’m allowed to disclose that]. I’ve worked out for a couple of teams and there’s a couple more coming up. I think the teams were spoken about on Twitter. It’s all sort of happening right now. A couple workouts, one or two next week, then two the following week, so it’s gonna be a busy time. It’s very exciting to be able to get in front of teams and coaches and GMs, and put the skills that I’ve developed to the test, and for them to get a chance to see me in person and not through film, which doesn’t give the complete picture.
Simply because you’re both Australian wing players, a lot of people compare you to Joe Ingles. Do you feel your games are similar at all?
RB: There are definitely similarities in our game. We both shoot the ball at a very high percentage, we’re both very smart players, able to guard a few different positions, having some size and length.
I’d say Joe [Ingles] probably has a little bit more creativity on the offensive end with pick-and-rolls, whereas being in Europe over the last few years, I’ve been pushed more into a stretch option at the 3 and the 4, and not done so much pick-and-roll and that sort of stuff. But on closeouts, using our shots as a tool to get defenders to close out really hard or jump on pump-fakes, [allowing us] to attack off that is also a strength of mine that Joe has been using this year as well.
Are the two of you close at all? Is there any other NBA player you’re close with due to your Australian National Team experience?
RB: Yeah, me and Joe are pretty close. I mean, obviously it’s hard to keep in constant contact with different schedules and the time differences and everything that goes on through a season. But once we get to summer, we usually catch up at some point and have chats. And obviously with the National Team, we’re all very close. I guess Matthew Dellavedova would be the other one. He’s been pretty cool in trying to help me get over to the NBA. We’ve roomed together on a few different trips so because of that, Dellavedova is probably who I’m closest to. He’s even come to my wedding reception.
In general, what’s it like to see all these Australians find success in the NBA?
RB: It’s been amazing. Australia is such a sport-loving country – everyone follows NBA teams, they follow the box scores, so with so many Australians doing so well over there, that has really just elevated the game to a new level. The interest [in the NBA] from the Australian public is as high as it’s ever been. You can tell by how many people are ordering League Pass and how many people wear NBA jerseys that have Australian names on the back. It’s something of a prideful thing to be able to say, ‘We’re a small population but we’ve got this many guys and they’re doing these things in the highest league there is in basketball, the NBA.’
You were teammates with Ben Simmons (for the first time) in the 2013 FIBA Oceania Championship when you both suited up for Australia. When you first saw him, did you immediately know he was going to become this good? Or did he look like a work in progress?
RB: I kinda knew he had the physical tools and the skill level to do what he’s doing, and really, the potential on him you could see from Day 1. Obviously, he was 16 or 17 when I first saw him so with a kid that young, it’s gonna take a little bit of time. But his development has just been amazing and to be able to watch and see the growth over the years from that first time together in 2013 to his time in college [at LSU] and then now in his first full season in the NBA is amazing and exciting. You can see why… he’s had this hype of being the next big thing.
With such a strong group of players like yourself, Ben Simmons, Dante Exum, Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Ingles and Thon Maker, obviously qualifying isn’t over yet but how do you feel about Australia’s chances in the 2019 World Cup?
RB: I think our chances are great. Obviously, we still need to get through to that stage first, and the summer is the chance for the NBA guys and European guys to put their hand up and help out with the qualification period. During the season [with the way the FIBA schedule is set up] it’s very difficult, but the guys that have stepped in from the Australian national league to the qualifiers have done an amazing job so far. With all the talent that is coming through, we hope that everyone will be available. NBA teams have to allow for the players to come, and I think they will, especially since [Philadelphia 76ers head coach] Brett Brown has had a big involvement with the Australian national team in the past, so we’re all hoping that he’ll allow Ben [Simmons] to come over. But having so many guys at the NBA level and a high level in Europe, it’s really an exciting time for Australian basketball. With how we did in the last Olympics and now with the future development that’s coming through, we really have high goals for ourselves. So hopefully we can do what no other Australian team has done and win medals at major tournaments.
Being an Australian who played college basketball in America, and then professionally in Turkey and Russia, do you have any advice for players trying to find success overseas, so far away from home?
RB: I guess any advice is just be willing to work harder than anyone else. It’s very difficult, basketball as a sport, to get out and get noticed. You always see guys that you think are gonna make it but may not have the work ethic and then fall away, whereas guys that sort of stick it out and work hard and do all the right things, things sort of tend to fall their way in the end. You just have to work as hard as anyone else and keep persevering in your basketball journey.
And finally, the question everyone stateside is dying to know is: Are the spiders and snakes in Australia as terrifying as the media makes them out to be?
RB: (Laughs.) Yes and no. There definitely are a lot of poisonous snakes and spiders and all sorts of things, but in all my time living there and with my family still there, we’ve never had any problems or close calls or anything like that so it’s very… they are there but they’re not around where a lot of people are.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @FrankUrbina_.