By Andrew Lucas
“It’s been pretty special”- How one moment made the career and the life of Sydney Kings point guard Kevin Lisch.
From the cool depths of snowy Illinois in the Winter to the scorching heat of outback Perth in the Summer, Kevin Lisch made more than just a Basketball career down under.
He also made a family.
Lisch is just one of several players who have come from the US after missing out on an NBA dream to pursue a career in the NBL.
For Lisch, not only did develop a career in Basketball and build a family, he also became an Australian citizen and represented his country at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“The next step was to get my citizenship and I wanted to go about it in the right way,” Lisch said.
“The first thing that made me want to become an Aussie was my family.
“My wife is Australian, all four of my kids are Australian, it was more of a personal lifestyle decision that this is home to us as well.
“The real motivating factor was my family and the lifestyle.
“I call Australia home.”
The likes of similar players from the US who didn’t quite make a career in the NBA including the likes of Melbourne’s Casper Ware, Perth’s Bryce Cotton and Sydney Kings teammate Jerome Randle have all come to Australia and forged a career.
Not only have they developed their own games in the NBL, becoming household names with their signatures hotly sought after, they’ve also played a role greater than they could have imagined in Australia.
All three players finished in the top five of the 2017/18 MVP voting with Cotton taking out the top gong and it’s no surprise their success has coincided with the resurgence of Australian Basketball.
“I call Australia home.”
Lisch however grew up in the busy city life of Belleville, Illinois, a population of 42,000 shooting hoops with his mum, dad, brother and two sisters in his backyard, all with a distant dream to play in the NBA.
He played Basketball in High School and was accepted on a basketball scholarship at Saint Louis University after coaches from the college became aware of his prowess with the basketball.
Over his four-year tenure, Lisch was named in a host of representative teams on the back of his success at college, becoming the sixth highest scorer ever in one of the most talented college’s in the US.
Lisch’s coaches backed him to have a big future in the sport due his All-defensive capabilities and record he’d set for the most threes by an SLU freshman in a season.
After missing out on the NBA draft in 2009, Lisch continued to go about his work in his usual quiet manner, ignoring the speculation around him, before he received a phone call that changed his life forever.
“I knew I wasn’t going to get drafted, I had a good idea to go to Europe, you get yourself an agent and then I got the call to play in Australia,” Lisch said.
A connection between Lisch’s assistant coach in college, Chris Harriman and former Perth Wildcats coach and now close friend Rob Beveridge made that happen.
Harriman and Lisch’s college head coach, Rick Majerus had a close connection with Beveridge who convinced Lisch to come down under and pursue a career opportunity after missing out on the draft.
“I landed in Perth, pretty much the furthest I could go in the world from where I grew up,” Lisch said.
“It was pretty daunting at the time, but the rest is history.
“When I first came up as a young naive person out of college, he (Beveridge) took me under his wing and looked out for me.”
Lisch debuted in the 2009/10 season for the championship winning Wildcats struggling early on, missing shots and coming under the microscope of fans.
But it didn’t take long for him to become a fan-favourite reaching his strides as he progressed gradually through the season before winning the NBL Grand Final MVP award as Perth took out the title.
“It was pretty daunting.”
A noted three-point shooter and one of the best defensive players in the league, Lisch consistently maintained his strong form and was awarded the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award two years later.
A lazy 17,555km away from home, the move began to pay dividends for Lisch both on and off the court when he met his future wife Rachel Watman.
Lisch first met Watman while watching her play Basketball for the West Coast Waves before Beveridge introduced the pair to each other.
“He (Rob) was a coach and a matchmaker at the same time,” Lisch said.
“Rob was a great person for me away from home, we definitely have more than a basketball relationship, his whole family has been great to our family.
“He knew Rachel growing up, he introduced us and he’s stayed in touch and been apart of our lives.”
“Rob was a great person for me away from home, we definitely have more than a basketball relationship.”
After getting married only 10 months later, Lisch and his pregnant wife Rachel, travelled to Europe and Puerto Rico in search of further contracts and opportunities.
The attraction of playing in an elite competition was an opportunity Lisch couldn’t refuse.
“My wife has been unbelievably supportive,” Lisch said.
“We found out in Perth that we were pregnant, I had this crazy idea to try and play in Europe, she said sure, ‘I’ll have this baby in Paris,’ we go to Spain, ‘sure I’ll have this baby in Spain.’
“She’s been a really brave one throughout even with four kids at home, she’s been amazing.”
In 2015, the American declined a contract renewal, instead wanting to return to Australia to start a family which eventually yielded four children.
He reunited with former coach Rob Beveridge, this time at the Illawarra Hawks, but he had yet another dream to pursue.
Becoming an Australian citizen meant Lisch was eligible to represent Australia at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
The guard had set the league on fire with his devastating ability to force turnovers and then capitalise by knocking down clutch shots from beyond the arc to win games for his team.
He was selected on the back of an outstanding 2015/16 season where he won another MVP crown and was named the League’s best defensive player.
“There was the bonus of representing your country at the Olympics,” Lisch said.
“It was an unbelievable experience, I didn’t know a lot of those guys coming in but they welcomed me in with open arms.
“We talk about how close we were and that stands out but the comradery and relationships you form throughout the process stands out just as much for me.”
In 2016, when Lisch first arrived at the Sydney Kings, coach Andrew Gaze and former NBA star and teammate Steve Blake publicly said he was good enough to play in the NBA.
The Aussie Boomers made the semi finals of the Olympics and backed that up with a victory at the Commonwealth Games, only days ago.
There’s no doubt the influence of these American imports have notably improved the standard of Australian Basketball.
Their impact on the NBL has also coincided with a jump in crowds and a surge in TV ratings for the competition with a whopping 10,300 people packing in for the deciding match Melbourne and Adelaide’s grand final series.
Not to mention, we’ll all be waiting for a mouth-watering sell-out clash in 2019 featuring Team USA and the Boomers.
Having built a family of four children and a wife on top of forging a successful career in the sport he loved back home in Illinois, it was clear Australia was Lisch’s new home.
“This is where my wife’s family is from as well, I’m surrounded by great people and obviously I really miss my family from back home, it’s been wonderful.
“I guess it’s surreal if you sit back and reflect on that, it’s been a crazy ride.”
“It’s been a crazy ride.”
Take a listen to what Kevin had to say on Basketball and the move that made it all happen.