Brisbane Bullets v Perth Wildcats
When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Monday 9 January
Where: Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
Broadcast: NBL TV; Fox Sports; Sky Sport NZ
It’s no secret how hard it is to make it in the NBA, but if you want an example that is close to home this week ask new Perth Wildcats import Bryce Cotton.
Set to play for the Wildcats against the Brisbane Bullets at the Brisbane Convention Centre Monday night, Cotton is a 185cm point guard who could be excused for thinking he’d done enough to forge an NBA career.
The slick 24-year-old certainly wasted no time stamping his mark on the NBL, scoring 26 points for the Wildcats in their 80-74 win over the Sydney Kings in Sydney on Saturday night.
He shot 7-8 from the field, including 3-4 three-pointers, and a faultless 9-9 from free-throw line to go with five rebounds, one assist and one steal as he posted the highest score ever by a Wildcats player on debut for the club,
As Cotton readies joins a cluster of electrifying US guards helping to set the NBL alight his pursuit of the NBA dream is one which puts into perspective the exclusive and competitive nature of the in the world’s toughest basketball competition.
In the last two games of the 2014-15 season, playing in a Utah Jazz team that included Australians Joe Ingles and Dante Exum, Cotton led the team in scoring.
In the penultimate game of the regular season he had 21 points off 8-15 shooting to go with two rebounds, four assists and one steal in a 109-92 win over the Dallas Mavericks in Salt Lake City, Utah, playing 26min 18sec off the bench.
Two days later, on 15 April, he played 24:51 and shot 7-14 for 14 points to go with three rebounds and three assists in a 91-117 loss to the Houston Rockets in Houston.
This followed a useful 11 points from 14min35sec in an 88-89 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in Salt Lake City, and 11 points from 25min29sec in a 111-105 win over the Portland Trailblazers in Portland.
But as Houston, Memphis, Portland and Dallas went to the play-offs ranked 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th overall the Jazz packed up for the summer. With a 38-44 record they finished 10th in the Western Conference.
Cotton was among the millions of Americans watching as the Rockets went all the way to the Western Conference finals before losing to the Golden State Warriors, the eventual champions with a line-up that included superstars Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and Australian powerhouse Andrew Bogut.
It had been a short but emotion-charged journey for Cotton, who had been picked up by the Jazz from the Austin Spurs in the NBA Development League and initially survived on two 10-day contracts signed on 24 February and 6 March.
He’d been on the active roster for the last 27 games of the season and had seen court-time in 15 games, averaging 10.6 minutes, 5.3 points, 1.2 rebounds and 1.0 assists.
After inking a multi-year contract on 16 March and making a significant contribution in the last four games of the regular season it was not unreasonable to think his future was secure.
It wasn’t totally unexpected given his pedigree despite the fact he missed out being drafted.
A native of Tucson, Arizona, he’d been a standout at Providence College in Rhode Island, which plays in the Big East Conference and counts among its alumni NBA Hall of Famers Lenny Wilkins and John Thompson.
Cotton was an All Big-East First Team selection in 2013 and 2014, and in his senior year was one of the best college point guards in the US, averaging 21.8 points and 5.8 assists per game.
At the 2014 Big East Tournament he averaged 17.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists to earn MVP honors.
In his first and only appearance at the NCAA tournament he had 36 points, five rebounds and eight assists in a loss to North Carolina.
And in the 2015 D-League, where he averaged 22.0ppg shooting at 47.6%, including 44.9% from outside the arc, he won All-Rookie honors and was chosen in the All NBA D-League Second Team.
There were plenty of good judges suggesting he had earned his stripes and could look forward to more NBA opportunities in the 2015-16 season.
On 20 October, after two pre-season games in which he’d averaged 6.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 0.5 assists in 17.1 minutes per game, Cotton was cut.
He went back to the Austin Spurs, and started again.
On 25 November 2015 he signed with the Phoenix Suns but failed to appear in a game for the Suns until 30 December 30 and after three games was cut on 7 January 2016.
On 1 April 2016, after an eye-catching stint with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association, he picked up his third NBA singlet when signed by the Memphis Grizzlies to help the team deal with numerous injuries.
Memphis had to use an NBA hardship exemption to sign him as he took their roster to 17 players two over the allowed limit.
On 3 April he made his Grizzlies debut and on 11 April 11 he signed with the Grizzlies for the rest of the 2015–16 regular season pursuant to the NBA’s hardship roster rules to make the roster stand at 16 players. He appeared in five games for the Grizzlies before parting ways with the team prior to the playoffs.
His overall NBA record boasts 23 games for averages of 8.6 minutes and 3.8 points. He shot the ball at 42% from the field, including 30% from three-point range, and was 83% at the foul line.
Cotton had been playing in Turkey before quitting in December, citing family reasons and security fears, and gleefully accepted an opportunity to come Down Under.
Even before he landed in Australia he had received a huge endorsement from triple Olympian Inglis, his former Jazz teammate.
— Joe Ingles (@Joeingles7) December 29, 2016
Wildcat coach Trevor Gleeson explained the Wildcats needed help with their ball-handling and perimeter shooting, prompting the release for the second time this season of original import Jaron Johnson.
Johnson was originally cut after three games and replaced by Andre Ingham, but when Ingham quit the club after just two games in Wildcats colors Johnson was recalled.
He averaged 25minutes,13.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists through 14 games, including 21 points in his last NBL outing against Adelaide in Round 12.
Cotton told his first media conference in Australia he considered himself a team-first player, and was excited by “the opportunity to help this very successful organisation really take on the second half of the season”.
Coach Gleeson described Cotton as an explosive scorer off the dribble or coming off screens to catch and shoot, with deep three-point range.
“He brings a lot of energy with his quickness, which our team will feed off. I think he’s going to become a crowd favourite very shortly,” Gleeson said.
Cotton joined the Wildcats on Saturday night as they also welcomed the return from injury of captain and Olympian Damien Martin, a triple NBL championship team member and five-time NBL Defensive Player of the Year who has been sidelined since Round 5.
Cotton and Martin are key components of a New Year mission the Wildcats hope will preserve an extraordinary NBL finals record that dates back to the early
The seven-time NBL champions have played in the NBL finals 30 years in a row since 1987 – a record unmatched in professional sport in Australia.
But an 8-9 start to the 2016-17 season saw Perth sit 6th on the ladder after Round 13, closer to the bottom of the ladder than the top four. And that after they spent Christmas on the bottom.
They proved they are not to be taken lightly after they upset third-placed Illawarra 95-87 in Wollongong on 31 December before getting the better of the Kings.
Import Casey Prather, who had a season-low eight points against the Kings, has been the Wildcats standout player, ranking third in League scoring at 20.5 points per game and averaging 4.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists.
Prather has scored 20 points or more 10 times. Only Adelaide’s Jerome Randle with 14 has more 20-point games.
Prather’s Round 13 battle with Bullets standout Torrey Craig will be a feature as the home side looks to make it 3-0 against the Wildcats, having beaten them in the season-opener at Boondall 72-65 before winning 90-75 in Perth in Round 9.
Matthew Knight has been the Wildcats’ leading rebounder in what has been an injury-disrupted season, averaging 6.93 rebounds to rank 5th in the League on averages.
Import Jameel McKay leads the League in blocked shots among players who have played more than two games at 2.0 game.
Especially keen to do well for the Bullets will be ex-Wildcats Jermaine Beal and Tom Jervis, who each played three years in Perth and were members of their 2014 and 2016 championship teams.
Beal, who averaged 15.8ppg for the Wildcats, has scored 14 and 17 in two games against his former club to be his new club’s leading scorer overall against his old club.
Ironically, Cotton, who is now filling the same spot Beal filled with such lustre in Perth, has also taken on the same ‘00’ singlet number as Beal.
Jervis, who averaged 6.3 points and 4.9 rebounds in his time in Perth, has maintained basically the same output against the Wildcats.
Written for Bullets.com.au by Peter Blucher