MARCUS Alipate has proven quite the astute signing over the past two SBL seasons and he’s fully bought into the culture at the Geraldton Buccaneers as he looks to do all he can to bring them back a championship.
Alipate arrived at Geraldton for his first season in the SBL new to Australia and with impressive credentials as a member of the Tongan national team while having grown up in Bloomington, Minnesota.
He attended college at St Thomas in Minnesota too before embarking on the start of his professional career after graduating in 2015. That took him to Europe and to New Zealand before the call came to see if he was interested in joining the Buccs.
Given his Tongan heritage the added bonus for Geraldton was that he could be classified as an unrestricted player despite quickly proving from early on in 2018 that he was an import level player.
The combo guard enjoyed his first season in Geraldton so much that after the disappointing first round playoff exit to the Rockingham Flames after claiming the regular season championship that he was quick to commit again to return in 2019.
Alipate has produced another tremendous season averaging 13.8 points, 4.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds a game where he’s proven himself an equally effective scorer and playmaker.
It hasn’t been a perfect ride all season and he did miss a couple of weeks late in the season while going away to represent Tonga and then he fell ill. But he’s over that now and is ready and raring to go for Saturday night’s Grand Final against the Joondalup Wolves at Bendat Basketball Centre.
“I actually went away to play for Tonga and we had a Pacific Games tournament to play in Samoa so I was out there playing for about three weeks. Then right when I came back, literally the day I got back I couldn’t eat anything and that lasted for about a week,” Alipate said.
“I had a fever and all this stuff, and I lost a lot of weight and they said it was some kind of viral infection that I had. I’m definitely over that now and have been over it for a couple of weeks fully so I’m feeling 100 per cent and just ready to play the game on Saturday.”
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The Buccs have had to do it tough to reach the Grand Final too needing three games against both the Warwick Senators and Lakeside Lightning during the playoffs so far to advance.
But the performance on the road last Sunday to beat the Lightning in Game 3 was particularly impressive when the Buccs had to come from behind and then produce a brilliant last five minutes to book their spot in the Grand Final against the Wolves.
“It was an awesome feeling on Sunday when we knew we were into the Grand Final. The goal that we set at the beginning of the year was to get into the Grand Final and then ultimately win it, so to be one step closer to that coming off was a pretty special feeling,” he said.
“To beat the team that we did and with everyone coming together, we were even down 15 at one point in the game so to come back from that shows a lot of heart and character in our team.
“Lakeside are definitely a great team and a great organisation, and coached by a great coach, so to be able to come back from that and to beat a team like that on the road was obviously good.
“We had to do things a little differently to prepare for them with the way they shoot the threes and stuff like that, but it was great to be able to beat such a strong team. That gives us confidence now going into the Grand Final knowing what we’re capable of.”
Alipate is embracing everything about being in Geraldton during Grand Final week as well. As the only sporting team that playing at a state level, the Buccs are always a big deal in town and that certainly goes up another level once they qualify for the Grand Final.
The 27-year-old has made sure he embraces all the excitement everyone in Geraldton is feeling because he knows you don’t get to experience it everywhere you play during your career.
“Everywhere you look there is blue and gold in town, it’s pretty awesome. We have had a lot of media stuff this week as well with a bunch of radio stations pumping us up and everywhere we go there’s a lot of Buccs support from people,” Alipate said.
“Everybody is talking about the game and it’s something you don’t get to experience too many places so to get to be around that is a lot of fun. The town has just gone crazy with the blue and gold everywhere, at least I hope it’s for the Buccs and not the Eagles.”
Alipate has also fully embraced the culture and history at the Buccs over the past two years and as a result, is fully aware how hungry everyone involved at the club whether as a former player, coach, board members, volunteers, sponsors or supporters are to get that elusive first championship since 2000.
“You can see what it means with the people who come to the games and the people who used to play here, and even those championship winners from 2000,” he said.
“The support that they’ve been giving us just shows how much it would mean if we did win. People can’t help but bring up how they haven’t won anything in 19 years.
“So to be able to bring a championship back here to Geraldton I think would not only help the organisation shake off that tag of always being a contender but known as a team that can win it all. That’s the plan and hopefully we can go out there and execute it.”
Looking back not to when he first committed to come to Geraldton to play with the Buccaneers, Alipate really had no idea what he was getting himself into both in terms of living in Australia and the basketball he would be playing.
“At the time I had played over in Europe and played in New Zealand for some seasons as well and I just was looking for something new,” Alipate said.
“Coming from that background, I had no idea what to expect coming to Australia and all I really knew was that they had a bunch of dangerous animals out here and plenty of sharks. But it’s been a good experience and as far as basketball wise goes, there is a lot of tradition here in Geraldton.
“You see it from the fans to the support we receive and even the alumni who come back to support us. Just the tradition that they have in Geraldton with the Buccs has been kind of cool to learn about and be part of.
“It’s a unique experience to be able to play somewhere like Geraldton and a lot of people probably don’t realise the tradition that they have, and the support that goes on here with the volunteers and everybody. It’s been great in so many ways.”
Alipate now couldn’t be happier with everything about the decision to come to Geraldton both in terms of the lifestyle he couldn’t be enjoying more and the basketball he’s playing with the Buccs in the SBL.
“I definitely am happy I chose to come to Geraldton. It’s been a great place for me and we have such great fan support here with us being the only professional sports team in town,” he said.
“We get a lot of support from the community because of that and I’ve enjoyed my time here and have embraced doing as much with the community as I can as well.
“It’s been good in so many ways and you can’t go wrong living where I am on the beach as well. There’s a lot to feel fortunate about and I’m blessed and grateful to be here.”
Now that the Grand Final is so close, Alipate feels blessed to get this opportunity to play for a championship on Saturday night. He feels it’s an honour to get to play basketball at the level he is, he doesn’t feel pressure on to perform because of that.
“It’s a good experience to go through this week and I’m just excited to play the game as far as being grateful and blessed to get this opportunity,” Alipate said.
“I don’t necessarily feel any pressure because all we are doing is playing a game of basketball. To me pressure is on people who are parents and trying to provide for their kids, or just trying to survive in life.
“That’s what real pressure is. For me to be able to put a basketball in a hoop and get paid for it, and have people come out and watch, that alone is a privilege and there’s no pressure from that sense.
“I’m ready to play the game and I know our whole team is ready as well. I’m just hoping we can come out there and do what we do, and come out victorious.”