By Lance Jenkinson
South East Melbourne Phoenix can finally step out of the realm of the unknown.
While the Phoenix’s destination is to be determined, they at least now have a starting point after the opening five rounds of the NBL21 schedule were revealed recently.
It will be an exciting start to the campaign for the Phoenix, tipping off in a blockbuster ‘away’ game in the much-anticipated local derby against Melbourne United on 10 January.
Can the Phoenix score their first win of the season over United like they did in their inaugural season last year?
South East Melbourne’s first home fixture of the season will be against a revamped Illawarra Hawks four days later.
The Hawks are now coached by Brian Goorjian, who needs no introduction around these quarters.
The six-time NBL title-winning coach led the South East Melbourne Magic and South Dragons to championships.
“To be opening our season with a crosstown Throwdown, followed by hosting the Hawks and former NBA player Deng Adel, is a perfect start to the season,” Phoenix CEO Tommy Greer said.
“We can’t wait to get the games under way.”
While the delay to the start of the season due to Covid-19 has been difficult to swallow, the patience of the players and fans will be rewarded with a glut of basketball early in 2021.
There will be 39 games played in the first 37 days of the season with the Phoenix and United doing the honours of opening the season in a Sunday night game on 10 January.
In that span, the Phoenix will play nine games – three at home and six away.
Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell is delighted to have some clarity over the starting point of the season.
“I think all of the players and staff welcome confirmation of a starting date,” he said.
“It’s great to know what we’re preparing for now and how we will schedule our year.
“I love that we are kicking things off with a grudge game against United.
“Obviously we have great memories from last season’s kick-off.”
South East Melbourne star Mitch Creek and his teammates are ready for a return to competitive action.
Like all NBL teams, the Phoenix have endured a long preseason as they waited for Covid-19 numbers to dwindle.
“We’ll be raring to go,” Creek said.
“It’s going to be a very exciting time for basketball across Australia and especially in Victoria.”
NBL21 – Rounds 1-5
South East Melbourne Phoenix fixtures
Sunday, 10 January: Melbourne United (away)
Thursday, 14 January: Illawarra Hawks (home)
Saturday, 16 January: Illawarra Hawks (away)
Thursday, 21 January: Brisbane Bullets (away)
Sunday, 24 January: Brisbane Bullet (home)
Sunday, 31 January: Cairns Taipans (away)
Wednesday, 3 February: Illawarra Hawks (home)
Saturday, 6 February: Adelaide 36ers (away)
Saturday, 13 February: Sydney Kings (away)