Illawarra Hawks revive plans to take NBL games to Canberra

Rise: AJ Ogilvy is one of three players confirmed to be returning to the Hawks this season. Picture: Adam McLean
Rise: AJ Ogilvy is one of three players confirmed to be returning to the Hawks this season. Picture: Adam McLean

The Illawarra Hawks have revived plans to take NBL games to Canberra next season.

Basketball ACT chief executive Michael Haynes is "quite confident" Canberra could host NBL pre-season and at least two regular season matches this season.

Basketball fans in the ACT have been starved of elite men's content since the Canberra Cannons went bust more than a decade ago.

That could be about to change with the Hawks considering playing games at the AIS Arena as early as this year.

Haynes has been in dicussions with new Hawks owner Simon Stratford and general manager Mat Campbell as the two parties work on a plan to bring the NBL back to Canberra.

Expansion is on the NBL agenda and while the Hawks will be staying in the Illawarra, they could extend their wingspan into the capital.

“The relationship is improving every day," Haynes told Fairfax Media.

“There is a new owner [Simon Stratford] in Illawarra and a new general manager in Mat Campbell, who played with them for many, many years.

“Mat is very, very keen, as are the owners, to not only bring a pre-season game, which I’m quite confident will happen, but also to look at bringing a regular season game in the next season, so that 2018-19 season.

“Not locked in yet but the prospects are looking pretty reasonable that we will have NBL action in Canberra very, very soon."

The push comes after Stratford took controlling ownership from James Spenceley at the end of last season and general manager Kim Welch left the club.

Illawarra officials previously discussed taking games to Canberra in 2015. after Spenceley took over the previous year.

The Hawks suffered key setbacks in the free agency period when Nick Kay and Mitch Norton signed with Perth, but have since announced Tim Coenraad will return and US College talent Emmett Naar will come to Wollongong next season. 

The NBL has received a massive boost with NBA champion Andrew Bogut signing a two-year deal with the Sydney Kings, which could see sell-out crowds in Wollongong and Canberra.

“Basketball is a very popular sport, whether its locally here or watching guys like Patty Mills playing in the NBA,” Haynes said.

“There is a real interest there. One of the things with the national leagues like the football leagues, they’re an entertainment product. It’s not just the people that play the game that are interested in going to the game.

“We sometimes probably make a mistake if we think that just because you will play you will watch and vice versa.

“That’s what the NBL have done so well in the last two to three years, they’ve rebuilt the brand as a really strong entertainment product.

“I’m sure the Canberra community will respond very positively as they did with the Globetrotters for instance, which was arranged through the NBL, just [last] week.”