IN a different environment Justin King has the ability to produce huge numbers but helping bring that elusive championship to the Warwick Senators is his focus and that’s why he is willing to play whatever role is needed of him.
King is back for his second season at the Senators on the back of a tremendous 2018 campaign where he was instrumental in them finally breaking through to win a playoff series when they eliminated the defending champion Perth Redbacks in the quarter finals.
The 29-year-old shooting guard was the Senators’ MVP winner last year producing 23.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists a game.
His numbers are again impressive this season with King averaging 19.1 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists but more importantly is the fact that the Senators are the hottest team in the Men’s SBL having now won seven straight matches heading into Friday night’s clash with the Cockburn Cougars at Warwick Stadium.
What’s different at the Senators this year is that they are playing without a genuine point guard with the departure from last year of Corban Wroe.
That has turned into a great strength for the Senators with King, Caleb Davis, Oliver Cross, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk, Rob Anshila, Jay Thwaites, Cody Ellis and Tom Witts all capable at different occasions of bringing the ball up the floor and running the offence.
What that is doing is making Warwick tough to defend offensively with their length and versatility, and then in turn making them strong defensively because of that length and size as well.
It’s working well nine rounds into the season and for King, he sees no reason they can’t keep it going
“We just have to continue to ride on this confidence and not settle. We have to continue to realise who we are as a team and keep on getting better from here,” King said.
“I think it really helps us defensively as far as crashing the boards and things like that goes. We know that we can come out and switch stuff, and we have a lot of players that can guard many positions.
“That length means we can get our hands up on all the great shooters across the league and helps us when the teams move the ball really fast.
“We’re able to close it out with hands and make it difficult for teams to shoot, and then we are securing the rebound to finish the defensive play. I love our depth and our length, and it’s working out great for us.”
As for his own role, King is capable of putting up huge individual numbers and being a big time scorer in the SBL. That might not necessarily be what’s best for the team though.
Instead, King is more than happy to score when it’s his time to and when the shots are there for him in the offence, but outside of that he’s more than happy to run the point, find shots for his teammates and then play strong defence, crash the boards and do all the little things.
Basically winning is far more important than individual numbers for King and he’s happy to play whatever role coach Mike Ellis asks of him.
“I love to get in the post and to crash the glass, and I love to do the dirty work just as much as I love to score and shoot. So for me I just try to get out here and do what’s needed for the team to get that win on every night,” King said.
“Coach from the beginning of the season has been harping on about how we don’t have a true point guard but we want that to be a strength of ours. I’m going to give big ups to Wani as a young kid coming in and filling that position.
“He has been really good handling the ball against good, experienced teams and players. For us we just have to come in and fill that role, and as long as we are getting the ball up the floor and are creating movement then having a true point guard or not is not bothering us.”
Once Mike Ellis took over coaching the Senators, what he has been trying to instil in the playing group is a belief that they are capable of being a championship team, not just a group happy to be a playoff contender.
It took a couple of years of first round exits in the playoffs against the Willetton Tigers and Geraldton Buccaneers, but last year the Senators broke through beating the Redbacks in the quarter finals.
Even though they would go on and lose in the semi finals in two games to the Joondalup Wolves, King has no doubt that provided the group with the belief they could win in the finals but also the hunger that they wanted to go further having got a taste of it.
That’s why so much of the group has returned in 2019 including imports King and Anshila, and those with NBL experience Cody Ellis and Caleb Davis.
King can feel a different vibe about the Senators already in 2019 based on their growth in 2018 and he’s looking forward to seeing how far they can take it.
“I think we are starting to really believe what we are capable of and I think honestly after winning one playoff series last year when it had been so long since they even had won a playoff series, that’s when the belief started,” King said.
“We have been carrying that on this year and we now believe that we can take that next step and make it to the finals. Wins over teams like Perry Lakes, Joondalup and Rockingham are really starting to show that we are a top team in the league.
“I think we are riding on that wave that we had from last year although we got swept in the semi finals. But coach has been saying that we want to reach that next level and the first step was proving we could win a playoff series.
“Even though we ended up getting swept in the next round, it still gave us that energy that we want to get back there again and that we don’t want to get swept again. We believe we are a top team and we believe we can take that next step to get to the finals.
“We wanted to keep our core guys together and I wanted to come back to really help that as well because I feel like here they have welcomed me so well, almost like family. So I wanted us to all come together and try to get a championship.”
King has been a journeyman throughout his professional basketball career after going to Liberty High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and then finished at college with Canada’s Thompson Rivers University.
That included a stint in the Big V for the Oakleigh Warriors and King jumped at the chance to join the Senators last year, and didn’t have to think twice about coming back again in 2019.
“For me it was an easy decision. They welcomed me here with open arms and I just love everything about the club with how it’s run. I come in every day and work out, and I’m really cool with the staff and everyone who walk around here,” he said.
“Every time I walk into the gym it’s all love and I want to show that love back, and play hard. There are no banners in here, me and Rob talked last year about it and we want to bring some banners in here and be part of that championship family. That’s the goal.
“As a professional, playing overseas you can never know where your next job is sometimes so for me, that’s why coming into Warwick I spoke with Josh Nipps and coach, and they were looking for a player who could fit in with the club and not just be a good player.
“They wanted someone who would be a team guy on the court and off the court, and I’m big with that as well. I have taken on a role to coach the under-18s this year and that’s been great for me because I love coaching and giving back to the youth to offer my experience. I’m all about being a club guy and as long as they want me here, I enjoy being here.”
King is also feeling right at home in Australia now too and is especially enjoying the Perth lifestyle. The fact that his fiancé Tahli Raftery is a Perth local helps the case to suggest he might be here for the long haul as well.
“Right now I don’t know where life is going to take me, but I can honestly see myself settling here,” King said.
“I met my fiancé in Canada when I was playing college basketball and she lived out there, and then it just so happened that I was playing in Melbourne and have come over here.
“She is here with me and it has been working out perfectly, and I’m just enjoying my time here and whatever happens in the future is going to happen.”