Sometimes life sets you on a journey towards something special. It may be for work, for love or a lifestyle change.
For Xavier Rathan-Mayes, it was a case of all three that led him on his path to the Hawks in 2021.
The Canadian international was left seeking his next opportunity after finishing a stint with Romanian club CSU Sibiu when he received a call. It was Illawarra coach Brian Goorjian.
The master coach was desperately looking for the club's third and final import ahead of the 2021/22 NBL season, following the sudden departure of Travis Trice due to controversial COVID vaccine stance.
But, as they say, one door closing leads to another door opening. And for Goorjian, it was a great opportunity to sign an experienced guard who boasts NBA experience.
And it turned out to be the ideal fit for both parties.
"They had a situation where an opportunity opened up, and it was a priority for me because my girlfriend is from Sydney. So the opportunity to come and be close to her family, and obviously be with her was something that we didn't want to pass up on. The stars aligned perfectly on this one," Rathan-Mayes said.
"I'm settling in well, it's been an easy transition and everyone's been really welcoming. There's a great family atmosphere and it's just a great place to be. The transition has been super smooth and the team is doing great."
The other carrot for Rathan-Mayes was the chance to work with Goorjian. The 27-year-old believed he could refine his craft under a mentor with six NBL championships next to his name, while also playing for an exciting Hawks roster.
"'Goorj' played a huge factor in me coming here. To be able to play for a coach like him is special, and the relationship I've been able to develop with him has been second to none. I haven't had a coach like him in my career. The freedom that he gives his players, and the chance to come in and learn from someone like him has been great," he said.
"And I'm with a group of guys that are so talented. Look at Tyler Harvey, and the year that he had last year. It fit perfectly for me to come in and play the point guard position and relieve some pressure off Tyler. And having a guy like 'JJ' (Justinian Jessup) who can shoot the ball so well, a big in Duop (Reath), Sam (Froling) is highly talented, and then we have 'AC' (Antonius Cleveland) who is so good defensively and can get out on the wing."
Rathan-Mayes arrived in Wollongong boasting a long resume. After going undrafted in the 2017 NBA Draft, he joined the Knicks ahead of the NBA Summer League that year. He then moved to Memphis the following year and had a brief stint with the Lakers, before signing a one-year deal with Greek club AEK Athens. Highlights included mustering 24 points and six assists to lead them to victory over Brose Bamberg.
The Toronto-born talent bounced around the NBA G-League, and Israeli and Canadian leagues, before moving to CSU Sibiu in 2021. Rathan-Mayes has also represented Canada on at senior and youth levels, which he describes as "special" memories.
"To wear that name across your chest and represent your country is a special thing, and you develop relationships with guys that become brothers," he said. "It's definitely something that you hold dear to your heart for the rest of your life."
Rathan-Mayes is now ready to share his knowledge and experience with the Hawks, who he believes can win a championship.
"I've taken a little bit of everything from everywhere I've been. I was fortunate to have some great veterans around me in Mike Conley, Joakim Noah, Jarrett Jack, Tim Hardaway and Marc Gasol. So I've learned to be a pro's pro. I come to practise every day prepared to get better," Rathan-Mayes said.
"I think we have the depth to win it. We have skill in all positions, we're not lacking in any positions. There's teams I've been on in the past where you're lacking on the wing, or you don't have this or that. But we check all the boxes. We have great, athletic wings, guys that can shoot the ball at a high percentage consistently. We have bigs that are really good around the rim, we have bigs that can stretch the floor and shoot the three, we have elite guards who are downhill guards that can get paint touches and shoot the ball. And to top it all off, we have one of the best coaches in the world in Goorj.
"The combination of what we have is special, but to be able to talk about winning a championship is one thing, but getting out there and doing it is another."
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