Illawarra Hawks import Gary Clark has featured in his fair share of intense basketball rivalries during his 170-game NBA career.
It is this experience that the 28-year-old hopes will help him thrive come Saturday night when the Hawks open their NBL campaign against the Sydney Kings at WIN Entertainment Centre.
"I've been a part of a few rivalries that are pretty intense, hopefully this one lives up to them," he said.
"I heard about [this rivalry] briefly but I can only imagine being so close to each other and Wollongong being such a little hidden gem and Sydney being the place that quote unquote, everyone wants to be, I can see the tensions and how it could be a real rivalry.
"It could get real intense [on Saturday]."
History suggests that it will get intense but Clark has learnt already in his short time in Australia to expect a physical and fast-tempo game.
"It's really a great league," he said.
"The way people talk about it you can see how it is forming into one of those leagues that's not far behind the NBA as far as the style of play being so fast.
"The biggest take I've gotten so far is the physicality. You here about it but it's nothing like it until you are in it.
"It's great basketball, guys have the IQ needed to succeed. It's really hard to win. Just in the pre-season you could see it is going to be hard to win, no matter the team's record."
Clark only managed five points from two of nine shots in the Hawks' opening Blitz loss to Melbourne United but was better value in the wins over the Brisbane Bullets and Cairns Taipans.
He was especially impressive against the Taipans, contributing 9 points (4/8), five rebounds and four assists.
Clark said his and the Hawks' best form was still to come.
"Personally I need to come to grips with the style of play I've been used to playing in the NBA the last couple of years versus what works here for me," he said.
"I'm just going through it with the coaches to figure out how I get myself going and trying to find the spots that benefit me. Those spots are spots that I may have had a lot of success with throughout college, which is on the post, catching and shooting threes.
"With guys like J-Rob [Justin Robinson] looking to create shots and Tyler [Harvey] getting so much attention....I need to be that guy down low this team needs me to be.
"It's been a minute since I've had to be that guy but it's like bread and butter, it's my bread and butter for sure."
It's been a minute since I've had to be that guy but it's like bread and butter, it's my bread and butter for sure.- Illawarra Hawks forward Gary Clark
Clark added the Hawks were a long way from playing their best basketball but were treading in the right direction.
"Many teams get to a place where they don't know about the offence, they don't know about the defence, they don't know about their guard play, their big guys, or their shooting.
"After the Blitz we had kind of a pot of everything and see how good our offence can be, how good our defence can be, how good our shooting is, how good and deep we are," he said.
"When you have a mixture of all these things and the hidden pieces of everyone being such good guys and selfless, it means coach Jacob [Jackomas] is going to have like the ultimate studying to do to figure out mass puzzle of what pieces he can use to be like a great pressing unit, a great offensive unit, his grind defensive unit.
"Just having that many pieces, I've never been a part of a team that has so much upswing left to be honest."
Clark said with a talented and deep roster comes accountability.
"We're all good men, we all have livelihoods that we cherish and we fight like hell for it," he said.
"It's a piece where everyone from coach to every player take accountability.
"If you're not handling your business and your spot there's a guy right behind you that deserves and should be prepared for the moment.
"Every spot, point guard, shooting guard, forward and centers is up for grabs.
"It's up to the coach again to make those hard decisions by playing the guys that deserve to play and are getting it done.
"It's great problems to have. In the journey we are in our careers there's no room for slippage."
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