First NBL Throwdown has players, coaches on edge

Culture and leadership key for Melbourne United (1:33)

Melbourne United's Goulding, Prather, Barlow and Vickerman talk about the team's NBL preparation. (1:33)

They were brothers in arms in China last month for the Boomers, but on Thursday night (AEST) Mitch Creek and Chris Goulding will go head-to-head to start the most anticipated season in the NBL's history.

'The Throwdown' sees established force Melbourne United come face-to-face with the new boys in town, South East Melbourne Phoenix, who are already staking their claim for local supremacy with their 'Heartland' tag. After a 10-year hiatus the Melbourne Derby is back.

"I haven't been involved in a Melbourne versus Melbourne game," Goulding tells ESPN. "I remember when I was young growing up I'd watch them and the crowd was always insane, bragging rights are on the line."

Across the court, Creek.

"I've been to a lot of the [AFL] Showdowns in Adelaide with Port and the Crows and there's always an amazing atmosphere, and this is going to be no different in Melbourne," Creek says with relish in his eyes.

"So to have that feeling versus United, you know, it's going to be a lot of fun playing against Chris and guys like David (Barlow). We've just gone away with them, and had a great bond, we're good friends, and we'll go from playing cards a few days ago to running around banging bodies on the court in a couple of days as well.

"So look, I'm excited for it absolute utmost respect to Dean (Vickerman) and the entire organisation of United but at the same time, we're trying to go out there and get wins. So as much as we shake hands we're going to go out there and play hard and the right way and we'll see who comes out the victor."

The local challenge for United is a blessing in disguise for coach Vickerman, who has been through the hype before, with the Tigers and back in the days of the North Melbourne Giants. For Vickerman, there's nothing but upside for the game.

"I think it will have people talk about the game even more in Victoria. There's a lot of football teams here and there's a lot of conversations between people in Victoria about their teams. And I think we want that. We want people talking about United. We want to people talking about that a fixture in the calendar that they're turning up to - every Throwdown," Vickerman tells ESPN.

"They want to be at Throwdown 1 ... they want to be at Throwdown 100. Each one of those games there's going to be something that happens. It's going to be a physical confrontation. There's going to be a last-second shot. There's going to be people diving on the floor. It's going to have an intensity that you know people just want to turn up to and see a great spectacle."

While United will head into the season opener as the favourite, Creek is bullish on the Phoenix in their debut season.

"You've got guys that work hard and are gritty and tough, and we're just going to play the right way. We're going to do it the right way. We're going to go about it the right way," says Creek, not hiding the club's ambition.

"We want to establish ourselves (in) year one, we don't want to be a two-to-three-years-in team, we're not going to float that. We're going to be a year one challenger every minute, every second of every quarter on that court now, regardless of the result. We're going to play the right way and do it. We're going to have great one-percenters we're going to do all the things we need to do as a team.

"If we take care of the little things and we do the little processes and the little intricacies, we're going to put ourselves in good stead to go out and perform and try and get some wins. Ultimately it's not about the result right now, but it's about the process will be put in place.

"So I believe will go out there, implement the right pieces which we already have, we've got the guys. We've got the talent in the coaching department as well. So we've just got to put it all out on court on display."

A fair rallying call. But first things first. Defeating a Melbourne United side that, along with Perth, are the benchmark for positive successful culture in the NBL.

"We've tried to improve in all the areas of the organisation in recent years," Goulding says.

"Basketball is obviously one that myself and Dean and the other leaders of the club have played a role in, but you know when Dean came on board a couple years ago, he had a vision of how he wanted us to be and I fully believed in that and being the captain the last couple of years, it's been my role to make sure the standards are set and kept, but it's easy to do when you believe in the message that's being pushed across."

Vickerman knows the impact Goulding has both on and off the court.

"Chris has a unique ability to see everything. He sees everything that goes on the court. He sees everything that goes on off the court and he's getting so much better at how he deals with all the information that he gathers and how to either hold someone accountable, to praise someone, to pick someone up if they're a little bit down. And so I think that's the evolution of really good leader that you're able to pick the right thing to do with the information that you gather," the United coach says.

"He's a game breaker, you know, the Grand Final series two years ago. he just broke it open at different points. You're down 20 yours. You're up on. You want the ball in his hands, and there's only a few people in our league that have that unique ability."