Darryl McDonald has known Josh Giddey since he was little. The 57-year-old former NBL star, synonymous with the league’s glory years of the 1990s and 2000s, played against Melbourne champion Tigers Warrick’s dad Josh.
Warrick Giddey would then serve as an assistant coach for the Tigers where McDonald’s played his career. They coached juniors together at the Tigers and against each other in basketball in school.
McDonald remembers Josh Giddey buzzing around basketball camps when he was young, having fun and completing all the drills. Most recently, he’s worked closely over the past 12 months with the young gun who as a first-round pick is making waves in his rookie NBA season.
“There was one day that I remember seeing him play,” says McDonald. Josh was playing for the Tigers in the Under-18s against Bulleen at the State Basketball Center [in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs].
“I watched him come out of a pick and roll and throw a left handed dart in the opposite corner. When I saw that, I said to myself “it’s different, I haven’t seen anyone at that age do that”. And beware, he is right handed. I had heard he was good but it was that game, I was like ‘OK, he’s special’.
During the lockdown in Melbourne last year, mutual contact reached out to McDonald’s. “Josh wants to work with you” was the message. So the pair got to work at Hoop City, a new, state-of-the-art basketball facility by the bay.
“I remember him as a little boy,” says McDonald. “When I started training him I walked in and saw him and I was like, ‘Damn this guy is a 6-foot-8 point guard, these guys don’t grow on trees. It was obvious he had NBA potential. His game and what he can do is made for the NBA.
“I like his composure. You can’t rush him, he plays at his own pace. And he’s a rookie, sixth pick in the draft, people are going to try him but he’s not backing down and I like that about him.
“He hoops, plays his game, does what he can and is efficient. Just put the ball in his hands and let him play. I look at Luka Doncic and I think Josh has the same ability – that size, being able to look over defense and make plays.
At the end of 2020, Giddey traveled to Adelaide for his first NBL season where he would win the Rookie of the Year title. At the end of the season, he reconnected with McDonald’s.
“He hit me on Instagram – ‘I’m coming home for six weeks, going to the gym,’” McDonald said. “His agent hit me too and said, ‘I need you to work with him and get him ready before America,’ so we went Monday through Friday for about five weeks.”
Ahead of the NBA Draft in July, Giddey lifted weights every morning, shot with Andrew Gaze and then met McDonald’s at 8 p.m.
“It was a lot of ball handling, a lot of pick and roll stuff. He worked hard. We went an hour and a half every night and he was hitting hard with each exercise, ”says McDonald. “Not a day did I walk in and had to say ‘listen man, if you don’t wanna go take a day off’.”
Watching Giddey play in the NBA is a “joy” for McDonald’s. “I love what I see,” he says. “Josh plays but plays really, really well. I mean he just turned 19. Look at his ability to create, to give pictures to people, to take pictures of himself. You see why he’s on this stage.
Jack McVeigh played with Giddey for the Adelaide 36ers last season in the NBL. He remembers his teammate Brendan Teys receiving a call from a private number while on a road trip.
“He was an NBA scout, maybe Golden State,” says McVeigh. “He didn’t ask a single question about basketball. Teysy then said “it’s so good I didn’t have to lie”. The call was so easy because Josh is a good boy, a great teammate, he listens, his head is fucked up. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and has all the traits you want in a human being.
It might be tempting to underestimate the pressure on Giddey in his freshman year in the NBL, but McVeigh says the Australian league is “no joke”. “My rookie year was tough and I was 21. He was 18, had a lot of pressure and was playing for a life-changing opportunity. And he was cool and calm all the time.
McVeigh loves the full support the Australian basketball community has for its latest breakout star. “Children buying his jersey to play with him on 2K to the guys who play a major role in the NBL, bypassing it and showing him his support and his love, ”he says.
“Everyone wants the child to be successful.”