THERE are precious few players that come to the SBL with a better all-round skill set than Josh Braun and he’s making a big impact at the Kalamunda Eastern Suns as they chase a playoff spot, but it was only an unfortunate weight room accident that saw him come Down Under in the first place.
Following his college career at Grand Canyon University in Arizona that saw Braun put up 14.1 points and 4.6 rebounds a game while shooting well at 42.7 per cent from the field and 38.1 per cent from three-point range before graduating at the end of 2017/18, he naturally thought he’d head to Europe.
Braun did have a job lined up in Germany in actual fact and just days before he and wife Leigh Anne were about to leave their Arizona home to head over, that all changed when an equipment failure in the gym saw weights land square on his foot.
The end result was some broken bones and the flow on effect was that he no longer had a club to go to in Germany and there was unlikely to be a European club willing to bring in a rookie midway through the season.
So it was back to the drawing board for Braun when he got a call out of the blue from newly-appointed Eastern Suns head coach Mark Utley in Western Australia’s SBL.
The end result has been Braun beginning his professional career at the Eastern Suns where he’s thriving delivering 25.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists a game while he and his wife couldn’t be happier with the lifestyle switch either.
“I actually had an unfortunate injury when my wife and I were packed up and ready to go for me to head over to Germany before I had a weight room accident and broke some toes,” Braun said.
“That was an unfortunate deal and that accident was down to equipment failure, and it was right before the European season got started so that pushed it back for me and as a rookie, a lot of teams don’t want to take you mid-season.
“Then I got a call from Mark Utley and the Suns organisation, and they said they had a spot for me and I was happy to come out here and play. I’m loving it out here and we’ve enjoyed Perth.
“Roleystone is where we’re living so we’ve been enjoying experiencing a new part of the world. It’s beautiful out here and Western Australia is great.”
While Braun’s individual season would have him right up there in league MVP voting right now, the Suns have plenty of talent around him too with Louis Timms and new guard Javion Blake and plenty of good role players including Carl Aylett, Corey Easley and Ryan Blanchett.
It’s a team on paper that looks a playoff side and when they are playing well, they look as good as any outfit in the competition.
But for whatever reason things haven’t quite clicked and coming into Saturday night’s clash with the East Perth Eagles at Ray Owen Sports Centre they have lost three straight to be 7-11 and needing to win to remain in the playoff hunt.
Braun, though, remains confident that with eight games to go they can get on a run and then if they reach the post-season, have an impact.
“Without a doubt in my mind, I think we are good enough to make the finals and we can make a run too if we put our minds to it,” he said.
“We still haven’t quite realised what we are capable of yet and I think we can gain more confidence. We have stretches of brilliance where we play really well and move the ball, and work well together and lock up on defence.
“But there’s stretches where we decide not to too. Once we realise our potential and put together a full 40 minutes, I think we’ll be pretty good. It’s just a matter of realising it and doing it.”
Given Braun thought his immediate professional basketball career might have to be put on hold for 12 months when the weights fell on his foot, the opportunity that came up because of that to end playing at Kalamunda is something he’ll forever be grateful for.
“Just the fact that I have this opportunity to play basketball is something that I praise god just for the opportunity because after my injury I went from having a few opportunities to none real quick, and having to miss out on a European season,” Braun said.
“But thank god we ended up being able to come here and I’m so thankful for that, but it does make it a lot better adjusting to a completely new area 10,000 miles from home to have your wife to lean on, and for her to lean on me. We’ve enjoyed this experience together and this adventure. We couldn’t complain.”
As for the basketball in the SBL, Braun didn’t really know what to expect when he arrived and while the way the game is officiated is something he’s still adjusting to, he’s fitting in quite nicely to every other aspect.
“I think there’s aspects of the basketball that I expected and that I didn’t. The style of play and some of the rules or interpretations are a little bit different and take time to get used to,” he said.
“The way some of the blocking fouls are called is a little different to what I’m used to from back in the American game, but for the most part basketball is basketball. You have to get the ball in the hoop and keep the other team from doing the same.
“But with every team, there’s new challenges and you have to feel out the guys and how the guys play together. Every coach has a different philosophy and focus too, and every team is different.
“I’m still figuring out how this team meshes and how I can play best, and contribute best. That’s a challenge for any team you go to because it’s a new environment and you have to learn a new role.”
While Braun has proven himself a tremendous pure scorer and shooter already in the SBL, what’s helped him standout in that two guard spot is his ability to contribute in all areas.
He is a tremendous rebounder and good defender who is a deceptively impressive shot blocker when given the chance. He can also handle the ball well, run the offence and set up his teammates impressively.
It’s tough to find an all-round player so adept at contributing in every area but for Braun, his time at high school and college where he’s had to do everything from play as a big to a point guard that has helped him develop into the professional player he now is.
“At high school, I ran a bit of the point and played big at times just because in high school a lot of guys are smaller,” Braun said.
“Spending time playing big forced me to learn how to play down low and develop that side of my game and then by the time I got to college I started at power forward because we were a small team as well.
“I’ve always thought that it’s important whether you’re tall or not you have to work on driving and handling the ball, and the whole deal. So as I’ve grown up it has been a focus on a little bit of everything which I’m thankful to all my coaches back home for to help me be that way.
“In college I ended up being more of a catch and shoot guy by the end of my career so this has been fun for me to get back to handling the ball more and trying to create.”
As for life in Australia, Braun and his wife at least had some of idea what to expect in terms of the lifestyle due to some Australian teammates he had at college.
While the reality has been pretty close to that and none of those famous things Americans are scared of have made an appearance, Braun couldn’t be enjoying things in Australia more and his wife feels the same, which might be even more important.
“I actually had three Aussie teammates back home at Grand Canyon University. They were all eastern states guys but they still were able to give me their fair share of info, but I didn’t quite know what Western Australia was going to be like,” Braun said.
“But you get all the big stories about huntsman spiders and people dying from snake bites and things like that. My wife’s telling me that we can’t go in the water because of the sharks but the reality is nothing like what people make it out to be.
“You get the old drop bear story too with people trying to scare you, but we are loving it out here. The weather is beautiful, the people are great and the club has been absolutely wonderful to us. We are nothing but thankful and grateful for this opportunity.”