During the week we had the opportunity to shoot-around at the local court with Australian basket-ball legend Mark Worthington. Having won the NBL rookie of the year in 05/06 with the Sydney Kings, an NBL championship with the South Dragons in 08/09, German BBL championship in 09/10 and having played in multiple Australian Boomers squads at the Olympics – it’s safe to say that Wortho has had a basketball career (and jump-shot) that most Australian kids can only dream of.
All around great bloke, father and current player for the newly renamed NBL side Melbourne United, Wortho was happy to take time out of his day and busy preseason training to have a chat to us about playing on NBA superstars, life above 200cm and why Melbourne United will be the side to beat this coming NBL season.
Plus2: Having played at International and European levels, what would you say the major differences are between the styles of basketball in Europe, America & Australia?
Wortho: European basketball is very half court. There’s no fast breaks. They just don’t allow it to happen. They foul before there’s any momentum.
The NBA is very individualized and the rules allow your stars to actually be scoring machines because you can’t just load up on your defense like you can in the FIBA rules.
Then the NBL, I think the NBL is starting to gain a bit of a good reputation as a feeder back into the NBA. Obviously we saw James Ennis last year for the Perth Wildcats have a great season, and just signed a multi year deal with the Miami Heat. I think a lot of college kids who just missed out are going to come to Australia. This year we just signed Jordan McRae who just missed out with Philly, Wilbekin up in Cairns and McDaniels over in Perth. So I think we’re going to start to see a lot more younger guys coming to Australia because the NBL league is actually a good lead into the NBA.
Plus2: Who’s the tallest player you’ve encountered or matched up against on the court?
Wortho: That’s an easy one. It’s Yao Ming at 7 foot 5 and my experience against Yao Ming is quite comical. I was over playing with the Sydney Kings at the time and our starting centre, our backup centre and our backup-backup centre all fouled out at three quarter time so I was left to guard Yao Ming for the last quarter. And I thought to myself if I could you know just sort of be annoying and pesky and just sort of get into his legs that I could wear him down over the last quarter.
So that quarter I’d bump him pretty much all the way down to the keyway and then he would go down and like put his hands down on his knees to rest in the block and he was bending over and my face was pretty much into his backside.
He was just the biggest human being you could ever imagine and it was just one of those things that was sort of surreal because he was at his prime with Houston at the time but here I was trying to guard him, all 6 foot eight of me versus 7 foot five, which was hilarious.
Plus2: Two part question; what was it like when you first heard you would be manning up on Lebron? And how would you describe the experience of playing against the dream team.
Wortho: Well I was lucky enough I played against America four times and the first time was in ’06 and that was the Japan World Championships and I started on LeBron in that game, which was you know, it was crazy. I still say to this day, he had six points, I had five points. I would call that a whitewash for that day. But obviously from that point on him as a player has just been incredible growth. And I know Kevin Durant won the MVP last year but LeBron is the hardest matchup in basketball because he’s so strong. He’s so quick. He’s a great passer. He’s a scorer when he needs to be. He’s just, he’s surreal.
I guess when you come off the bench, I sort of had a different attitude probably to most people. After you get that first game out of your system against America I don’t think you treat them as if they’re unbeatable. I definitely went into every other game thinking that we could beat the Americans.
It never happened. We almost did it in London if it wasn’t for Kobe Bryant’s fourth quarter explosion, we were right there with them and I think it’s probably more of an Australian attitude that we have, that you have the NBA stars – but they’re human as well. And you know maybe we would have got lucky on one of those games. It didn’t happen while I was around but it definitely was a surreal experience playing against him.
Plus2: How is it seeing Dante Exum wear the Boomers number eleven now?
Wortho: Well if it goes to trivia – the last four people that have worn number eleven were; Andrew Gaze, Shane Heal, Dante Exum and myself so I think I’m a fish out of water there. So it’s all good. As long as it went to Dante. He’s a great young kid. I’m happy that he’s wearing a number that I got to wear for a good decade.
Plus2: Where do you think both yourself and Melbourne United as a team – have improved the most this pre-season?
Wortho: I think the name change took everyone by surprise to start off with. It’s been a bit of an indifferent pre-season. When you leave as the Melbourne Tigers and come back as Melbourne United, I think there was some skepticism there but we’re slowly trying to squash that.
I think the name change has been a good thing but as far as our group goes I think we’ve just got a better squad. Nothing against last team but when you can bring back David Barlow and Daniel Kickert from Europe, you know have those guys come back and want to play in the NBL. And then have Steve Dennis, who we had at the start of last season but tore his Achilles’ he’ll be borderline MVP of the league this year. Then also bring in Jordan McRae who was drafted by San Antonio and traded to Philadelphia, and just missed out on getting a roster spot with the 76ers. You know that’s a pretty handy player to pick up as your last spot on the roster.
Wortho: You know, he’ll definitely come in, make a difference. I think he averaged twenty-one points a game in summer league. So I know our coaches were really high on him but didn’t think that we’d have a chance because he would probably make Philly’s top fifteen, but it didn’t end up happening and it’s good to have the connection in Brett Brown that allowed him to come down to Melbourne and enjoy our beautiful country.
Plus2: What’s the best sledge you’ve ever heard on the court?
Wortho: It probably would have been a little lippy between Joe Ingles and Chris Paul, where Joe had got under Chris Paul’s skin a little bit.
And this was at the Beijing Olympics and Joe said, “You’ve got a lot more to lose than what I do,” and Chris Paul goes, “Who the f*** are you?” And Joe Ingles said the exact same thing back to him, “Who the f*** are you?” And then Chris Paul replied with, “I’m the guy that could buy your entire family,” which I thought was a pretty good sledge at the time.
Plus2: Not a lot you can say back to that.
Wortho: There’s another one that was Chris Anstey and I when we were playing at Beijing.We had the whole ‘let’s not show the Americans too much respect’. Goorjian had told us two that we just need to go out there and show that we didn’t want to take a backwards step.
And so we got subbed in on a free throw. We were the first people to come off the bench and we were shooting free throws. And I was standing next to LeBron and he was standing next to Dwight Howard and so I said, “Hey Chris, I’ve got..,” and I grabbed LeBron’s back of his jersey and I said, “I got number six.” And he grabbed Dwight Howard’s jersey and said, “I’ve got number twelve.” But it was part of us not showing too much respect by just calling them by their numbers and not by their names.
Plus2: Having travelled around a fair bit do you have any tips, life hacks or frustrating stories about life over 200cm?
Wortho: It always sucks if you don’t fly business. That’s always the first thing. Been fortunate to be able to fly business with the National team to Europe and to America because of my wife’s staff travel but yeah, if you’re stuck in economy it sucks.
The second thing is if you ever go to an Asian country – whether it be Japan, China – be prepared to be stared at a lot because they don’t have too many people that are over 200cm. Obviously China are starting to get a lot more of them but there was a period of time where you go anywhere you pretty much stop the street because they think you’re a giant and yeah, definitely one of those frustrations. And they always build doorways smaller in Asian countries for whatever reason. They don’t build the doorways as high so you have to duck through every door pretty much.
Plus2: Where does beating the Perth Wildcats in your home state, at the buzzer, rank on your basketball career highlight reel?
Wortho: It felt pretty good at the time. Ultimately they had the last laugh by winning the championship but it’s just one of those things. I got to talk to Lachy Reid, who was doing the channel ten coverage before the match and it was the first time I played in Perth Arena and he said, “What do you think?” And I said, “Well Lachy, if there’s one thing better than shutting up five and a half thousand people at Challenge Stadium, it’s shutting up twelve thousand people at Perth Arena.”
And just so happens that night that I hit the game winner and they went dead silent and the only people that were cheering in the crowd were my family members – all forty of them. And it was – I don’t know, you always practice those in the backyard as a kid, you know hitting the game winner against someone.
I guess to do it in your home state, in front of your family was an extra special moment. But as far as moments in my career, I’m always going to take championships and you know Olympics and all that over the top of hitting the game winner but definitely, probably on an individual and selfish level it felt great at the time.
– We wish Wortho all the best for the upcoming NBL season.