- Tip-off: 2:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Melbourne United is not a team that most American fans, nor the Thunder are super familiar with. For Head Coach Billy Donovan’s team and their purposes, the opponent at this stage of the season matters very little. It’s all about how the Thunder plays and executes.
It is, however, an honor and a delight for the Thunder organization to welcome Melbourne United, a professional Australian club, to Oklahoma City for Sunday afternoon’s tilt. That’ll be tipping off in the early morning hours on Monday in Melbourne, and it’ll be an opportunity for fans from opposite sides of the world to tune into a clash between two very different basketball clubs.
There will be a handful of familiar faces for college basketball aficionados, and one in particular for Donovan – Casey Prather, a former standout on one of Donovan’s Final Four teams at the University of Florida. In general, the quality of basketball in Australia has risen dramatically in recent decades.
“There have been some good players that have come from Australia that have come over to the United States and played,” Donovan said. “They obviously have good youth programs there. They have some professional teams. There appears to be a strong financial commitment to playing.”
As for how what the Thunder looks like on the floor on Sunday, it’ll be similar to the group that the faithful at Chesapeake Energy Arena saw on Friday. Patrick Patterson and Alex Abrines remain out as they still need to compete in contact portions of practice, but Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony could join the rest of the regular rotation players by seeing minutes from the opening tip through parts of the third quarter.
Regardless of the number of minutes and the specific opponent, Westbrook always approaches every game with the same level of intensity and focus, and most importantly, gratitude.
“The point of playing this game is you love it and you embrace it. You’re very blessed to play this game,” Westbrook said. “Not a lot of people get a chance to go out, wake up, go to work and do something they love to do. I embrace that moment and that’s all that matters. Whatever comes along with that, it’s nothing but blessings.
Much attention has been paid to the Thunder’s trio of All-Stars, but the players on the squad have been very quick to point out the impact that their other teammates are making, and how that all 17 men (15 regular spots and two Two-Way spots) will be critical to the team this season.
In particular, the Thunder’s reserve group that plays alongside some of the Thunder starters will be comprised of both veterans and youngsters who have to make an impact this season for this to be a championship-caliber group.
“The second unit is going to be key for us. In order for us to be successful, we’re going to need those guys,” Anthony noted. “That’s a unit we’re going to rely on when we come out of the game and need a breather and need to either sustain a lead, close a gap on a lead or we want to take a lead from 5 to 10 or 10 to 15. Those guys are going to be very important.”
The Thunder is a group comprised full of professionals at their craft and has leadership galore. There’s no doubt that the team will be doing its absolute best to make things flow on both ends of the floor as quickly as possible. But they’re not kidding themselves. It’s going to be a long, steady growth curve for the group as they learn one another’s tendencies and how to best collaborate with one another.
“We’re still figuring it out,” Westbrook stated. “We’re going to continue to figure it out throughout the season. It’s going to be a season-long process.”
“It’s more of us and what we’re going to do and execute offensively and defensively. We’re trying to tighten some things up right now,” Anthony said. “You’re going to see us continue to get better each day and each game. Melbourne is next on our list.”