‘It was obvious he had NBA potential’: Josh Giddey’s bright start no surprise to some

Darryl McDonald has known Josh Giddey since he was a little tyke. The 57-year-old former NBL star, synonymous with the league’s glory years of the 1990s and 2000s, played against Josh’s dad, Melbourne Tigers champion Warrick.

Warrick Giddey would then serve as assistant coach at the Tigers where McDonald played out his career. They coached juniors together at the Tigers and against each other in school basketball.

McDonald remembers Josh Giddey buzzing around basketball camps as a youngster having fun and completing all the drills. More recently, he has worked closely over the last 12 months with the young gun who, as a first-round draft pick, is making waves in his rookie NBA season.

“There’s this one day I remember watching him play,” McDonald says. “Josh was playing for the Tigers in the Under-18 championships against Bulleen at the State Basketball Centre [in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs].

“I watched him come off a pick and roll and throw a left-handed dart to the opposite corner. When I saw that I’m thinking ‘that’s different, I haven’t seen nobody at that age do that’. And mind you, he’s right-handed. I’d heard he was good but it was that game, I thought ‘OK he’s special’.”

During lockdown in Melbourne last year, a mutual contact reached out to McDonald. “Josh wants to work with you” was the message. So, the pair got to work at Hoop City, a new bayside state-of-the-art basketball facility.

“I remember him as a little tyke,” McDonald says. “When I first started working him out, I walked in and saw him and said to myself, ‘damn this guy is a 6ft 8in point guard, those guys don’t grow on trees. It was obvious he had NBA potential. His game and what he can do is made for the NBA.

“I love his poise. You can’t rush him, he plays at his own pace. And he’s a rookie, sixth pick of the draft, people are going to try him but he doesn’t back down and I love that about him.

“He’s out there hooping, playing his game, doing what he can do and being effective. Just put the ball in his hands and let him make plays. I look at Luka Doncic and I think Josh has that same ability – that size, being able to look over defence and make plays.”

Late in 2020, Giddey headed to Adelaide for his debut NBL season where he would claim Rookie of the Year. At the end of the season, he reconnected with McDonald.

“He hit me on Instagram – ‘I’m coming home for six weeks, let’s get in the gym’,” McDonald says. “His agent also hit me and said ‘I need you to work with him and get him ready before America’, so we went Monday to Friday for about five weeks.”

In the lead-up to July’s NBA draft, Giddey would lift weights each morning, shoot with Andrew Gaze then meet McDonald at 8pm.

“It was a lot of ball handling, a lot of pick and roll stuff. He worked hard. We’d go an hour and a half every night and he hit every drill hard,” McDonald says. “Not one day did I walk in and have to say ‘listen dude, if you don’t want to go, take the day off’.”

Watching Giddey play in the NBA is a “joy” for McDonald. “I just love what I’m seeing,” he says. “Josh playing but playing really, really well. I mean he’s just turned 19. Watching his ability to create, give people shots, get himself shots. You see why he’s on this stage.”

Jack McVeigh played with Giddey for the Adelaide 36ers last NBL season. He recalls teammate Brendan Teys receiving a call from a private number during a road trip.

“It was an NBA scout, might’ve been Golden State,” McVeigh says. “He didn’t ask a single question about basketball. Teysy said afterwards ‘it’s so good I didn’t have to lie’. The call was so easy because Josh is a good kid, a great teammate, he listens, his head’s screwed on. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and has all the traits you want in a human being.”

It might be tempting to underestimate the pressure Giddey was under in his first NBL year, but McVeigh says the Australian league is “no joke”.“Guys who have played in the NBA were picking him up,” he says. “My rookie year was tough and I was 21. He was 18, had a lot of pressure and was playing for a life-changing opportunity. And he was cool and calm the entire time.”

McVeigh loves the all-in support the Australian basketball community has for its latest breakout star. “From kids buying his jersey to playing with him on 2K to the guys who play major roles in the NBL getting around him and showing him support and love,” he says.

“Everyone wants the kid to succeed.”