A PLAYMAKING, shot making and big-time point guard might be the missing piece for the Joondalup Wolves championship puzzle in 2018, but Brian Sullivan just wants to pay the Wolfpack back for the support provided since arriving to play in his third country as a pro basketballer.
The Wolves continue to set the benchmark in the SBL on and off the court and the fact that they have played in five of the past seven Men’s Grand Finals, including the past three, and are one win from being there again in 2018 only further highlights that.
Add that in with the innovative way the club’s run off court and their swank new home at HBF Arena have all combined to have first-year import Sullivan feel blessed to have made the decision to join the Wolfpack for 2018.
Sullivan finished his Davidson College career in 2016 before beginning his professional career in Germany for the Hebeisen White Wings and then more recently the Czech Republic with BC Brno.
But he was looking for something new after an injury ended his time with Brno and when Wolves coach Ben Ettridge got in touch, and former SBL star Taylor Land gave him and the Wolfpack his approval, Sullivan was excited to sign up and has never looked back since.
Sullivan has fitted in seamlessly with the Wolves both as a scoring point guard going at 16.6 points a game, but more importantly he’s proven himself a terrific distributor and playmaker with 4.7 assists and only 1.3 turnovers along with 1.5 steals a game.
He’s been a significant addition to the back court following the past two Grand Final defeats and is a big reason why the Wolves are just one win from a fourth successive championship decider heading into Game 2 of the semi finals against the Stirling Senators at Warwick Stadium on Friday night.
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Sullivan was more than keen to join the Wolves once it became a possibility when he was back home in Upper Arlington, Ohio, and the way he’s been embraced since arriving means that all he wants to do is help the Wolfpack win to repay the club for everything they’ve done for him.
“I actually had a former teammate in Germany, Jordan Wild, who played in this league a little bit and he always raves about it. I was in the unique situation where I was hurt in my season in Europe and was home for a couple of months, and decided this was a good opportunity to give this a try,” Sullivan said.
“When I spoke with coach Ettridge who Jordan had raved about, I liked the way he talked about the culture of the program and it was a pretty easy sell. This part of the world is pretty easy to get behind too coming from the Czech Republic. It’s been awesome on and off the court here.
“I obviously don’t want to look past anything but this experience has been awesome and the way the club has taken care of us as a team and my teammates, they’ve really gone out of their way to help make this an awesome experience.
“So really every time I go out on the court I just want to throw it all out on the line to show how much I appreciate it. That’s my goal going into every game and if ultimately that can lead to a Grand Final then that would be awesome, but I’m focused on bringing that effort and energy to every game to show them how much I enjoy being part of this team.”
Given the period of sustained success the Wolves are currently in the middle of and considering the stability of the playing group through this period of five Grand Finals in the past seven years, and especially the Grand Finals of the last three years, there was little need to change too much.
But the Wolves did identify getting a guard with the skill set of Sullivan as a priority noting perhaps that’s something they were missing with a genuine distributor and playmaker since the departure of Joel Questel at the end of 2016.
Sullivan has more than filled that void and the result was a 21-5 regular season and then two-nil quarter-final win over the Willetton Tigers.
The 25-year-old has been happy to play whatever role is needed from him to help the team thrive.
“It maybe could have been a difficult situation joining a group that has been together for so long, but it was pretty quick to find out it’s a special group of guys. They took us in on the court but also off the court and we’ve been hanging out a lot,” Sullivan said.
“They were really intentional about making sure Jalen and I felt a part of this. There is tremendous leadership from guys like Seb, Maxy, Trian and Robbie to get us all on the same page on and off the court so we can go out there as one unit.
“That’s something I think I have kind of matured into. I think everyone likes to put up big scoring numbers but it’s my job to help this team however I can. This team has so many offensive weapons so they did not need me to go out and try to get 30 every night.
“Instead I try to use my vision and IQ to get guys like Trian, Robbie and Jalen a shot. That’s when we are at our best too, when we have a lot of guys involved. They brought me here to help us win games and I think me being that distributor is what I can do best to help us do that.”
To add Sullivan to a back court at Joondalup still featuring Trian Iliadis, Seb Salinas, Reece Maxwell, Ben Ironmonger and Rhys Smyth has been a major factor in the Wolves being where they are right now, and he couldn’t be happier with the group he is playing alongside.
“They make my job pretty easy for me. They are guys who are smart, they play together and they play the right way,” Sullivan said.
“I’m not really called upon to go out and score 30, instead I can just try and run the offence, get the ball in the right guys’ hands and we have a lot of good shooters and playmakers on the team.
“It really is a well-oiled machine that I’ve hopped into so I can try and help move it along. They are really fun guys to play with.”
After a dominant quarter-final series win over Willetton, Joondalup was fully tested by Stirling in front of a big crowd at HBF Arena last Friday night, but they came away winning 87-78.
Sullivan enjoyed being part of that and to be able to stand up and deliver 25 points, six rebounds and five assists himself on the back of nailing 6/11 from three-point range.
“It was a ton of fun and obviously as a basketball player, those are the games that you put in the work in the off-season to build towards. It’s not so much in the first part of the season, but you want to be playing your best basketball into the finals,” he said.
“There was a great crowd, really from both sides there with the two teams going at it and putting a pretty good product on the floor for 40 minutes. That was great to be part of.
“Obviously the bigger result is the team but as a player it’s your job to be ready to go when called upon especially when we’ve been focused on being ready for the finals, and not being worried about the regular season and your numbers or anything like that.
“We’ve just focused on being ready to help your team out to get a win and Stirling really keyed in on Jalen and that kind of gave me more room to operate. I was very pleased that I was able to take advantage of the opportunities and help us get a win.”
While Sullivan couldn’t be happier with how the Wolfpack sit needing one win to reach the Grand Final, he knows they still have a big challenge ahead to get the job done against the Senators.
“They will be ready to go. They seem like a really well-coached and focused and disciplined team with a good game plan, but also an emotionally tough and resilient team. We are expecting them to be ready to go from the get go,” Sullivan said.
“Obviously we’ve put ourselves in a good situation but I think what put us here is taking it one game at a time. We are where we want to be but we’re not so much thinking about the Grand Final as much as knowing we have a tough opponent on Friday night that we have to be as ready as possible for ahead of those 40 minutes.”
Sullivan has also enjoyed the challenges he’s faced personally in the playoffs coming up against the likes of Kyle Armour from the Tigers and Corban Wroe from the Senators.
“As a competitor it’s fun to be able to go against those guys. I only played Stirling once in the regular season but against Willo twice and got to go at it against Kyle,” he said.
“I kind of knew that he’d be geared up for the finals in that first series and he and Corban are obviously very different players. But Corban in his own respect is just a really good, heady, smart point guard. To bring out your best you need to be challenged and those guys are really good opponents go up against.”
Having started his professional career in Germany and the Czech Republic, Sullivan couldn’t be enjoying his time in Australia any more both in terms of the basketball and the lifestyle.
“It’s a pretty big difference. When you’re out there playing basketball that’s similar, but going to countries with a language barrier with teammates and the people living in your city is difficult. The approach to basketball is different too,” Sullivan said.
“I think here guys play and have a good time, and have fun while being very competitive. But in Europe sometimes if you lose one game the whole management wants to get rid of the whole team so it’s a bit more frantic with that pace of life there. But coming to Australia has been awesome and I’ve loved living and playing here.
“The scenery has certainly lived up to expectations but I didn’t know how nice the people would be here. It seems like everyone is friendly and nice, and willing to go out of their way to help out. I didn’t really have any preconceived thoughts on the Australian people but I’ve been blown away by their kindness.”