The promise behind the South East Melbourne Phoenix’s rise to its first NBL finals series

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It is the handshake promise that will ensure the South East Melbourne Phoenix push minor premiers Melbourne United in the franchise’s first semi-final on Friday.

In the lead-up to the Phoenix’s maiden NBL season in 2019/2020, coach Simon Mitchell made a promise to the club’s first marquee signing Mitch Creek that Melbourne’s new boys on the block wouldn’t be the easybeats.

“When Mitch was the team’s only player, we eyeballed each other and said, ‘We are not going to be one of those five-year projects’,” Mitchell reflected ahead of the semi-final against United at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena.

“We want to be competitive from the get-go.

“We were hoping that would be last year, but we had a few injuries that prevented us from reaching our potential.

“But having that second year of free agency to bring in key players like a Reuben Te Rangi or Cameron Gliddon and then later with (Ryan) Broekhoff.

“Then some rookies like Mike Karena and Yanni Wetzell, and you grow the list.

“It is probably a natural growth for us, but we are probably ahead of where a lot of pundits had us, but we haven’t listened to people from the outside from the get-go – we’ve done it our way.”

Mitchell believes the Phoenix’s high standard mantra places them in a strong position heading into Friday’s semi-final against minor premiers Melbourne.

He knows United is the championship favourite, but his side possesses a quiet confidence to cause an upset.

South East Melbourne have beaten Melbourne twice this season, while they have also suffered three defeats against their local rivals.

“We have a belief in this group,” he said.

“Obviously, Melbourne are an excellent team and have great depth, but there is only one ball, and it can only be in one player’s hand at a time, so we’ve got to make sure every individual does their job.”

Mitchell wants his side’s defence to improve against United, especially when containing stars Chris Goulding and Jock Landale.

“We have to know where Chris (Goulding) is at all times and stop him in the half-court and catching and shooting,” he said.

“We also have do, a little bit of a better job than last time on Jock (Landale).

“We switched a bit too much with him and he got a hold of it.

“But the most important thing about Melbourne is keeping them out of transition and keeping them off the offensive boards and then forcing them into that half-court execution.”

Star Phoenix recruit Broekhoff could prove to be an X-factor in the finals given his NBA, European and international experience.

Broekhoff is a sharpshooter from range, and he is primed to perform in his first NBL playoff series.

“It is very exciting to come back and now be a part of the finals, and that it will also be the Phoenix’s first finals series in its short history,” Broekhoff said.

“I’m very lucky and I’m just ready for the game to begin.

“The Melbourne rivalry is a game that you try and get up for, and now it is taken to new levels with the finals.

“I think we match up pretty well – it just depends on the mindset and being physical, aggressive and playing to our strengths.

“It is going to be a tough game, but we are very confident in our abilities and our team to do something special.”

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