By Liam Santamaria.
A late-season knee injury and the COVID-19 pandemic robbed South East Melbourne Phoenix star Mitch Creek of a return to the NBA earlier this year.
As the 2019-20 NBL season was drawing to a close, Creek and his management were in advanced talks with a Western Conference NBA team whom the versatile forward was preparing to join before injury struck.
Creek revealed last week that he was set to fly to the U.S. the day after South East Melbourne’s final regular season game.
Speaking with NBL great Derek Rucker on the former league MVP’s podcast, Creek explained that he was expecting to play one game in the G League upon arrival before taking up an NBA roster spot.
Those plans were spoiled, however, when the Aussie hyper-extended his knee during the NBL regular season’s penultimate round.
“The NBA was there. We had it. It was there,” Creek said.
“We had maybe the most certain thing apart from signing a contract. (There were) three roster spots at one of the clubs. (I had to) go over there, pass the physical and play one game with their G League team and then sign.
“I found that out three or four days before I hurt my knee… that one hurts a lot, that’s a really hard one to swallow.”
Creek’s management have since confirmed that it was a team in the Western Conference whom the Phoenix star was set to join.
Jye Watson, from Creek’s management team, Mogul Sports, told NBL Media that the interested franchise was one of several teams keen to add Creek late last season.
While some of those organisations were looking to add Creek to their G League teams with the possibility of a call-up, one was communicating a strong desire to expedite that process, pending a release from the Long Island Nets who currently own his G League rights.
“He got very unlucky with the twinging of the knee,” Watsion said.
“It was nothing too serious which was good but the timing of it was off.”
According to Watson, the Western Conference team was still keen to bring Creek in following a short recovery from injury, however the rapid spread of COVID-19 foiled those plans.
“He was going to go there, do some physio, watch practice and learn the plays with the intention of still playing. That’s how serious it was,” Watson said.
“Then you get hit with a pandemic and the whole thing gets thrown out the window.
“When you think about it, the playoffs would’ve started today so he would’ve had from then until now to ball out.”
Creek, who turns 28 later this month, remains philosophical about how things panned out.
“At the end of the day, these things happen for a reason,” he said.
“I don’t know what that is just yet. Whatever mental or physical battle it’s putting me through right now, it’s building me into what I need to become to then get to my ultimate goal of getting back to the NBA.”
Creek returned to the NBL last year after spending the 2018-19 season with Long Island as well as short stints with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Across 26 games with South East Melbourne, Creek finished fourth in the NBL in scoring and inside the top ten for rebounding, averaging 20.2 points and 7.3 boards per game.
“I believe I took the right path and I believe I developed my game tenfold this year,” Creek said.
“Not just looking at averages but also plus/minuses and who we ran with and how we went.
“I was really proud of what the club did in its first year with the things we put in place and the way the players bought in. I was really proud of my season and the team’s season collectively.”