BRAD COLE THE ADVOCATE Throughout a lot of his junior career, so-called experts told Samajae Haynes-Jones that he couldn’t make it because he was too small. But by taking inspiration from two of his NBA idols that were also undersized, Haynes-Jones is continuing to show that his mantra of heart over height will hold him in good stead. The North-West Thunder’s new import arrived in Tasmania last week and is set to form a dangerous guard paring with local favourite Mason Bragg when the NBL1 South conference season gets underway on April 18.
The 23-year-old said Thunder fans can expect him to leave everything out on the court during his maiden stint as a professional player since graduating from Wichita State University in May last year.
“When I started playing basketball, Allen Iverson has been a hero of mine and Nate Robinson started coming onto the scene while I was in middle school,” the 183-centimetre Haynes-Jones said.
“I admired just how little they were and how much pride and love they would give to the game.
“A lot of people definitely said I couldn’t play at the Division 1 college level and wouldn’t get the opportunity, but now I’m playing overseas professionally and it is a blessing.
“While I haven’t got the height, I just concentrate on playing as hard as I can – heart over height, that’s what Nate Robinson said and I like that.”
Following two years at Wichita State, where he majored in general studies and sociology, Haynes-Jones always had dreams of making the step to the professional ranks. After trials with teams back home, Haynes-Jones said the opportunity to further his career in an overseas country that was on the rise was the ideal starting point for what he wants to achieve.
“Playing basketball as long as I can has always been my dream and every step is a new road for me so I’m very excited about this one,” he said. “I admired just how little they were and how much pride and love they would give to the game.
“I worked out for a couple of NBA teams and a couple of G-League teams and while they were good, I felt heading overseas would have been better for the start of my career.
“Australian basketball is definitely making a lot of noise back home because the level of competition is really high and that also attracted me to come out here.
“Hopefully I can bring some good leadership to the Thunder, play hard the whole game and show some speed with my guy Mason. We’re really looking forward to teaming up with in the back court and causing some trouble for opposition guards.”
The introduction of Haynes-Jones was part of a multi-faceted announcement by the Thunder, who also unveiled St Lukes Health as their new naming rights sponsor for the next three seasons along with a fresh set of playing uniforms for home and away games.
Club chairman Tony Barker said the deal with St Lukes Health, who are also the major sponsor the Launceston Tornadoes, was a great boost for the club after not officially having a naming rights sponsor last season.
“It’s great security for the club, and while we can’t disclose the monetary value of the deal, the value outside of that and the continuity it gives us is great,” Barker said.
“It’s a great match for their brand and what they are doing in Tasmania.”
St Lukes Health chief operating officer Darren Harris said it was an easy decision to come on board with the club.
“We’re really excited with the work the Thunder have done in the community and with the development of their players and we’re looking forward seeing where we can take this journey,” he said.
“It works really well (sponsoring both clubs), because there is a nice synergy between basketball and promoting health in the community through school programs.”
With the club set to play in another four double-header games with the Tornadoes again this season (two home, two away), Barker was keen to enhance the relationship.
“We got a really good response, but by the last game it had petered out a little bit so that is something we will look to amplify to another level this year,” Barker said.
“Maybe we all need to get involved with some extra promotion because it’s a great opportunity for people to see both men’s and women’s basketball together at NBL1 level.