‘Veteran’ Nick Kay set to lead next generation of Boomers to FIBA World Cup Qualifiers
Sitting in the hotel of the Shimane Susanoo Magic team in Japan, Nick Kay laughs when he is described as the grizzled veteran of Australia’s Boomers squad for the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Kay told ESPN, shaking her head.
It might be a funny thought for the 29-year-old, but it’s reality for Kay, who went from a speculative addition to the squad for the World Cup in 2019 to a major piece of the Boomers bronze medalists at the Tokyo Olympics.
“What suits me best is the fact that I started as one of those young guys, I went to the Asian Cup. It was about doing everything you could to do part of that team and now four or five years later I’ve been lucky enough to make it to the World Cup and the Olympics.
“I just don’t ever want to turn down an opportunity to play in the green and the gold. Unfortunately a lot of guys couldn’t make it this time, but I couldn’t get my hands up fast enough to get involved. I love it, I love wearing it and it’s something I’ll always take advantage of when it comes around.”
Currently playing in Japan’s top-flight B.League, Kay is the only member of the Olympic team able to compete in the qualifying tournament to be held in her new home base later this month.
On that occasion his selection was automatic but returned to training camp in Australia in 2019, and Kay admits it was a daunting experience fighting for a spot on a star-studded Boomers team.
“I remember thinking that the majority of this team is still in the NBA and I try to go against those guys. The real basis for me was just trying to find something different that I could bring to the team. Something that would give me an edge and help me be part of the team,” he said.
“I’ll never be the top scorer, but I figured if I chased every rebound it would give me every chance. It’s one of those things, it’s not necessarily going to be about being the top player but finding something you can do really well and helping the team. That was the most important thing I had to focus on.”
The historic encounters against Team USA at home and the following World Cup became a coming out party for Kay on the world stage, with the big man logging over 20 minutes per game, including a 16 point and 11 rebound outing. in the heartbreaking semi-final. -final loss against Spain.
“The first time you face Team USA, it’s kind of intimidating. These guys that you’ve looked up to and looked up to all your life. They’re at the top of the NBA arena, all-star games and everything. Until what you get on that pitch seems a bit surreal but once you get on the pitch it all goes away It also helps when you have talented guys like (Aron) Baynes and (Andrew) Bogut who have been in that situation . You just don’t want to let these guys down,” he told ESPN.
Twice selected to the All-NBL First Team with the Perth Wildcats, Kay took his talents to Spain after the World Cup, with the lessons learned from his first major international tournament fresh in his mind as his eyes became fixated on an Olympic spot.
“I realized I had to change slightly. The ability to play against bigger European bodies was something I didn’t have a lot of experience with. That was the main reason for moving next season to head to Europe. I wanted this experience.”
Kay spent the 2020-21 season with Real Betis, before heading to Tokyo and playing a key role again, averaging 31 minutes, 11 points and six rebounds per outing in the green and gold.
Now part of the Boomers program and a forever member of the historic team, Kay tips his hat to veterans like Joe Ingles for setting the standard. The news of a torn ACL for Ingles earlier this week was a blow to anyone close to the Australian star. Asked to describe Ingles as a teammate, Kay uses an off-court anecdote to describe why he’s such a valued teammate in the NBA and in the Aussie camp.
“We’ll have so much banter and chatter, but then you’ll get a message from him out of the blue,” Kay says. “A great example is earlier this year, I’m sitting in my apartment, my fiancée isn’t there, I’m alone and suddenly I get a message to look at in the mail.
“The next thing I got was an Aussie care package with boxes of shapes, Tim Tams, whatever you can think of. He didn’t have to do that, he did his best to do something that would help and be kind to me. That’s the kind of guy he is, he goes out of his way to do things for other people.
Although he is quick to explain that his time in Japan has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, Kay admits that life away from home can be difficult, which makes gestures like Ingles’s all the more meaningful. . With international travel still complicated due to the pandemic, Kay hasn’t seen his fiancée in nine months, although he hopes to be reunited in the coming weeks.
With that in mind, the arrival of the Australian team in two weeks is on the mind, with Kay and his self-proclaimed “spotted Japanese” ready to act as tour guide for the journey party.
“Having the qualifiers in Japan is going to be something exciting. The Japanese love basketball and are so enthusiastic that they will be really supportive. I can’t wait to show you guys.”
From the periphery to the core, Kay is an integral part of the Boomers program, though he refuses to take anything for granted. With the FIBA Basketball World Cup slated for 2023, Kay’s next decision is unclear, but wherever he goes, the Boomers will play a major role in the decision-making process.
“It’s about preparing and making sure you’re in the best possible place. I have a lot of conversations with (former Boomer and now assistant coach) Matt Nielsen, he always stays honest, and I’m just going to trying to figure out what the best is to be as prepared as possible to try to be part of this team.”