Every week, ESPN's Olgun Uluc runs through what's catching his eye across the NBL, and takes you inside the conversations trickling around the Australian basketball ecosystem. This week, we go behind the scenes in the sacking of the Illawarra Hawks' head coach, why a former NBL MVP is headed to Japan, and more NBA teams flocking to Australia.
Behind the scenes of Hawks' head coach sacking
Being a head coach in professional sports means not even being contracted for multiple years can protect you.
Jacob Jackomas learned that the hard way on Tuesday. Despite having a contract through the 2025-26 NBL season as head coach of the Illawarra Hawks, he was let go after his team's 2-7 start to the season.
The writing was, unfortunately, on the wall.
Jackomas was told weeks ago that there was mounting pressure on him. Following a blowout loss to the Sydney Kings on November 3, he was urged by both ownership and management to make a change of some sort. Ahead of their next game against the Cairns Taipans, the Hawks' ownership explicitly asked Jackomas for an explanation, sources told ESPN: effectively a 'what's going wrong, and what do you plan to do to fix it?'. It wasn't a desire for some elaborate presentation, per se; more of evidence that there was direction. It was explicit, though.
Jackomas responded by benching Tyler Harvey, the team's long-time import, against the Taipans, who were missing a pair of rotation players. The Hawks still suffered a loss, dropping to 2-7.
Going into that game, there was already some discontent growing among the playing group toward Jackomas, sources said, joining the sentiments of those who make decisions for the franchise. Naturally, those frustrations only grew after the loss.
The job was an awkward one for Jackomas. He was elevated to head coach as a successor to Brian Goorjian, arguably the greatest coach in NBL history. Already, immense pressure. An injury-riddled 2022-23 season saw the Hawks go 3-25, so he was entering this season with the dark shadow of the worst record in franchise history. In this offseason, Jackomas accepted a one-year extension -- basically a do-over of the first season of the initial three-year deal he signed -- but then came an expectation to win. The roster was better, and healthy, and had some semblance of depth.
There were times when it was tough for this head coach to focus on the basketball side of things in Wollongong, because it was often muddled with business. There were constant reminders for Jackomas to play the Hawks' Next Star, AJ Johnson, and those voices naturally grew louder with each loss. Those pressures were on top of a team that was consistently at the bottom of the NBL in defence, rarely seemed to look organised on either end, with a pair of import guards who hadn't been performing up to their respective standards.
Jackomas' overall record as head coach of the Hawks -- over one and a bit seasons -- was 5-32, and he's in a results business.
So, on Tuesday morning, he was sat down by the Hawks' owner, Jared Novelly; GM of Basketball, Mat Campbell; and CEO, Stu Taggart, and relieved of his duties. That trio told the playing group shortly after. The team will have to pay out the remainder of Jackomas' three-year deal, while Justin Tatum -- one of the team's assistants, and father of Jayson -- was chosen to take over as interim head coach.
Hawks assistant, Paul Mellet, was also let go on Tuesday, sources said. Shaun Roger and Lachlan Lonergan were both kept on.
The Hawks have begun their search for a permanent replacement. Most of the big names have already said they're not interested, but there's also a sense the team will give Tatum a chance. If he wins games, it's not out of the question for him to remain on as head coach for the remainder of the season.
Beyond this season, the Hawks will need to do some soul-searching. What sort of franchise do they want to be -- and what can they be, being based out of Wollongong -- and will the eventual permanent head coach resemble that?
Xavier Cooks is off to Japan
Xavier Cooks was hoping for Washington to be his home after signing a multi-year deal with the Wizards last NBA season, but a front office change meant he was one of those who was sent packing after training camp.
Cooks had multiple NBA two-way contract offers, sources said, but has instead opted to head to Japan.
The Australian Boomers forward has signed with the Chiba Jets in Japan's B.League -- the country's top league -- for this upcoming season, sources said. He joins a team that features fellow former NBL player, John Mooney.
The sense is that Cooks -- a one-time NBL MVP who was a member of the Australian national team at the 2023 FIBA World Cup -- would rather take significant guaranteed money overseas than, at 28, work his way back up the NBA ladder.
If Cooks has a desire to return to the NBL next season, the Kings have his right of first refusal.
More NBA teams arrive in Australia
As expected, more and more NBA teams are heading to Australia as Christmas comes around.
Earlier in the month, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Utah Jazz, and Sacramento Kings made the rounds across multiple NBL games, sources said.
This week, Trent Redden -- the Los Angeles Clippers' General Manager -- attended practices for both NSW-based teams, sources said. The Kings' Alex Toohey and the Hawks' AJ Johnson and Lachlan Olbrich are among the draft-eligible prospects on those teams.
The Pistons have remained present in Australia, sources said, while the Washington Wizards also currently have a representative in the country.
My favourite plays of the week
Here's Alex Sarr with the nice Gortat screen to get Bryce Cotton open for a layup. This should be in every big-man repertoire. These days, Steven Adams does this at an elite level in the NBA.
Nice Gortat screen from Alex Sarr. pic.twitter.com/9SJQOksWKA— Olg's Notebook (@OlgsNotebook) November 10, 2023
Teams should always be looking for early advances. This, from Alan Williams, is obviously a wild version of that, but the heads up play gets the Phoenix an easy bucket.
Alan Williams with the pin-point, full court pass to Cummings. pic.twitter.com/HwXX5gzu0n— Olg's Notebook (@OlgsNotebook) November 15, 2023
Mahmoud Abdelfattah really emboldens his big-men with the offence the Kings run, and both Jordan Hunter and Jonah Bolden have answered the call. Here's Hunter finding the smallest of windows to find Jaylen Adams on the back door cut. Of course, the finish is also insane.
Jordan Hunter with a crafty back door feed to Jaylen Adams, who finishes the very tough layup. pic.twitter.com/cNxCuhxYMy— Olg's Notebook (@OlgsNotebook) November 15, 2023