The Frankston RSL Blues have enjoyed fantastic home crowds in the 2019 NBL1 season, however the Blues’ faithful took that to an entirely new level in their impressive 107-97 qualifying final win against the Nunawading Spectres.
45 minutes before tip-off a massive crowd was building, with the line waiting to get in wrapping its way around the stadium and deep into the car park behind. A blistering 37-19 opening term by the Blues had the sellout crowd involved early, creating an electric atmosphere that star import forward Najeal Young explained was uplifting.
“The crowd! We could feel the energy. After every basket, we could feel the intensity of the crowd. It’s been great to have fans like that, and we have a great community here at Frankston.”
Young was one of the catalysts of the Blues’ opening term onslaught, amassing 11 of his 21 points (9-14 FG) to help force Nunawading onto the back foot early, ultimately ensuring the home side never trailed after the visitors scored the opening basket of the game. He explained the game plan was to try and exploit the Spectres’ Simon Conn in transition, and it paid big dividends despite the Spectres veteran adding 17 points and 13 rebounds.
“We wanted to take it right up to him [Conn]. Run the floor, push it out in transition. We are exceptional in the open court and have multiple guys that can get going. We went at him, for sure, but for us it was about getting the stops too.”
Young has proven to be a revelation for Frankston’s long-awaited return to postseason action at senior level. While he may not garner the same level of hype as team mate Damon Bozeman, the former Texas Wesleyan star and Santa Cruz Warriors NBA G League forward has enjoyed a standout debut NBL1 season in helping lead the Blues to their first finals win at this level in 10 years.
Averaging 13.7 points (60% FG), 7.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.7 steals per game, he is one of six Blues players averaging in double-digit scoring and is third on the team in rebounding behind the twin towers of Majok Majok and Dan Trist. While Young’s athleticism and explosive finishing at the rim provides additional potency on offense, it is his defense that is helping elevate the Blues to a legitimate championship contender.
“We are seven deep, with Al [Macdonald] and Dan [Trist] coming off the bench. [Our success] is testament to how deep we are, with seven starters who are high-level players.
“It definitely helps us not just having to rely on one guy. Any one of our guys can step up and make plays on any given night. We all make sacrifices for the team, and are focused on doing what is required to win.”
As one of the elite defenders in the league, Young was recently named to the NBL1 Top 10 defensive players of the year list by The Pick and Roll. While Young is a contender for Defensive Player of the Year honours, he appreciates the consideration but understands he is in elite company.
“I’d be honoured to receive such an award but there are some terrific defensive players in this league. Deng Acuoth [Ballarat] who leads the league in blocks, and DeMarcus Gatlin [Geelong] I think is number one in steals. They are great defenders. With me, my whole game is to help the team. I take it with great pride to be able to go out there and be the best defender I can be.”
Despite holding a 24 point advantage in the first half, the Spectres fought back to close the margin to as little as 2 points with just over 5 minutes to play in what proved to be an enthralling second half. Yet despite Nunawading’s run at the Blues, Young explained that his team always felt like they were in control right from the opening tip.
“It’s not a shock,” explained Young on the team’s fast start. “We train intensive, we work hard and put up a lot of shots at training. Our success at hitting shots at a high rate is not a surprise. While we can’t do that every night, we put the work in.
With the Blues making their free throws down the stretch to hold off the Spectres, Young finished off the game with the perfect exclamation mark – a transition throw-down in the face of the hapless Jack Saunders that had everyone on their feet and would go on to be named the Top 10 play of the week.
“I just believe that you play all the way to the end,” enthused Young on the highlight reel dunk at the end. “I keep competing to the final horn. We got a steal and the fast break. Damon [Bozeman] is not a great passer in transition – we give it to him all the time about it at training! I was saying to him from behind ‘drop it off, drop it off’ and this time he did, and the rest was the rest!”
Young spoke glowingly of his star point guard, going on to explain that the Blues crowd had it right when they launched into the MVP chants with Bozeman sealing the win at the line late in the game.
“I am a big advocate and supporter for cheering on my team mates. Damon has put the work in – he is our point guard and he leads our team.
“He is the MVP of this league. He has clearly been the best guard in this league across the past 2-3 months. He leads our team in points and plays the full game at the point position. He is a vocal leader and gets the job done night in and night out.”
While the Blues earned a week off courtesy of the victory against Nunawading, Young advised that the team continued to work hard off the court in preparation for their must-win preliminary final.
“We are training this week and will again on Saturday. We are putting in the work but we also have a week off to recover.”
The Blues now have a week off before returning home on Saturday, 10 August for the preliminary final at Frankston Stadium against the winner of Kilsyth versus Bendigo elimination final. Frankston is now just one win away from the 2019 NBL1 Championship game, and this will be the last chance for fans to catch them live on their home court in 2019. And just like the win against the Spectres, it promises to be another sellout so get in quick for tickets!