‘You don’t often get fairy tales in sport’: how the NBL’s JackJumpers won Tasmanian hearts

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<p><figcaption class=Jack McVeigh, Clint Steindl and Will Magnay of the JackJumpers celebrate with the NBL championship trophy after defeating Melbourne United.Photo: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

When they first met, the Tasmanian champions went apple picking. Hosted by Willie Smith’s Cider Orchard, the newlywed NBL team learned what it means to stick it out, to experience the hard-working values ​​necessary to thrive in the picturesque but unrelenting environment.

Since the club’s inception, players have spent the first day of each pre-season working with one of their commercial partners. They gain an insight into the lives of factory workers and truck drivers, creating a renewed appreciation for their lives as professional sportsmen as they develop a desire to represent the island of Tasmania and its people.

Related: Tasmanian JackJumpers sale in no rush after ‘fairy tale’ NBL win

On Sunday, in their third season, the JackJumpers defeated Melbourne United to claim their first NBL championship. Two extraordinary women, chairman Keryn Nylander and CEO Christine Finnegan, lead the club, and even days later, they are still trying to achieve its quantification.

“The club literally started in my sofa room during Covid in Victoria, and it’s been quite a journey to see what happened,” says Finnegan. “It was such hard work, but it was so rewarding. You don’t often get stories in sport, but I believe this club has been a fairytale from day one.”

You only get one chance to make a first impression, and starting an extended club is a big deal. Getting the right people involved is key, and hiring Scott Roth as head coach was a huge win. Immediately, he recognized the team as one for Tasmania, a state with a rich sporting pedigree but which has always been overlooked.

Before signing a player, Roth traveled the state for three months, riding shotgun with Jack the JackJumper as coach and mascot. They visited schools, local clubs and communities to raise awareness. The first game was sold out, and the only Tasmanian born player, Sam McDaniel, scored their first ever points in a double overtime win. Every single game has since sold out.

It’s easy to see why. When you step inside MyState Bank Arena, you are greeted with a burst of Tassie pride. An immersive sound and light show creates energy that sends the capacity crowd into a frenzy, and the home team add to that celebratory symphony.

The players feel it. From championship series MVP Jack McVeigh to the talented young development players, it’s clear that they are well respected. After the championship win, American import Milton Doyle told SEN: “The whole of Tasmania is behind us too, and you see what you’re playing for. It’s not just basketball; it’s more than that, so it’s easy to be passionate about it.”

It’s all part of a clearly defined strategic plan. “Everyone who came here knew what they were here for,” says Finnegan. “Two main pillars by which we measure our success are growing the game of basketball and engaging with the community. We needed a coach who would accept that, and the players are contracted to spend a certain amount of time within the community, which they do with humility and authenticity.”

Their fans feel a real connection and the club’s mantra – “protect the island” – is evident when the teams refuse to surrender, no matter the situation. Finnegan says they are not just words on the wall but an ethos at the heart of everything the club does. Basically, they want to make Tasmanian proud.

During their three seasons of NBL competition, they have. In 2021-22, the JackJumpers qualified for the championship series in their inaugural season. A year later they finished third. Their record places them firmly in the discussion of Australia’s most successful expansion club.

Roth once said it took him 58 years to find Tasmania, but now he’s home. He sees himself as a leader and mentor more than a coach, creating an indomitable self-belief within his team. To win the title, the JackJumpers won crucial league games in Perth and Melbourne – two of the most challenging tasks in Australian basketball.

Tasmania today is emerging with a boldness and confidence that suggests its people have grown tired of playing the underdog and being undervalued. This is a cultural richness and innovative spirit that NBL owner Larry Kestleman believed in when others thought the market was too small.

Seven thousand fans came into their stadium on Monday to greet their heroes who won the championship. Street art murals commemorating the victory are popping up across the state, and families lined up in JackJumper lawns are everywhere.

In the coming weeks, Roth will hit the road again, taking the trophy across Tasmania. Inclusion is non-negotiable at the JackJumpers – as Finnegan found out Sunday when she broke her self-imposed rule of not going into the changing rooms after a game after a phone call telling her to come join the party. “That was very special to me,” she says.

With plans for a state-of-the-art high performance center and to increase the capacity of their home court, the Ants are marching towards an inspiring future.

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