Playing with the confidence, intensity and energy he trained with was all Joey Wright asked of Jack McVeigh when he threw him in the deep end six games ago and the rookie has delivered with his focus now on helping this Adelaide 36ers group reach their potential.
McVeigh signed with the Sixers on a three-year deal coming into the 2018/19 season on the back of a tremendous college career at the University of Nebraska on top of being a regular in Australian junior teams and having already made his Boomers debut.
The 22-year-old was a bright, young prospect and he has no trouble admitting his long-term goals are to give the NBA a shake and to play for Australia at the Olympic Games.
But right now all his focus is on the 36ers.
McVeigh might have entered the season an exciting rookie, but opportunities were scarce over the season’s first 20 games with him managing a total of nine points.
He wasn’t deterred, though, and continued to give everything at practice and stay ready for his chance to come. It did in Adelaide’s double-header Round 14 against Perth and Sydney, where they won both games big.
Ramone Moore had gone down with a calf injury and coach Wright looked at McVeigh as the man to step up.
While McVeigh came up big and now over the past six games is averaging 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds, what Wright challenged him to do was to come into games with the same energy he provided on the training floor.
“It was a couple of things but Joey had been on me all year about telling me to do what I did in practice in games. He was on me about looking like a different player in a game than I do at practice,” McVeigh said.
“At practice I’d walk around talking a bit of trash and being confident, but then in games I’d walk on and kind of be passive trying to do all the right things.
“So he was just telling me to back myself in games and I felt like he believed in me, so that helped when I went out there knowing the coach had my back.
“That made me feel like I could go out there and give it my best shot and it definitely helps that Joey had belief in me and as crazy as it sounds when I wasn’t playing, he made me feel like I belong in this league.”
While McVeigh knew that his coach had confidence in him, it was up to him to come up and deliver that energy during games.
If you look at his teammates like Jacob Wiley, Nathan Sobey, Harry Froling and Anthony Drmic, and they play with that intensity all the time and now McVeigh has been able to prove he can do that in games.
“Joey stayed on me the whole time and would sit down with me from time to time and tell me stick with it, and that I was putting in good work and my chance would come,” he said.
“Me and Joey would do individuals all the time so I felt pretty good the whole time even when I wasn’t playing. I knew he was confident in me and I was confident in myself so that really led to me being able to step onto the court and helping the guys out.
“It’s fun with the attitude we have as a group but especially me and Wiley. I’ve become really close with him and we both bring similar levels of energy with the way we show up.
“We just try to bring the energy to the group out there and try and provide what Joey is always preaching, which is to have fun and enjoy it.
“Then when Ramone got injured, Joey said to me that he would put me out there early in that first game and he told me to just have fun and bring the intensity. That’s what I did and I’ve been having fun the last few weeks I can tell you that.”
It’s those famous gruelling Joey Wright practice sessions that helped make sure McVeigh was ready to go to play in the NBL even when he wasn’t playing much over those first 20 games.
And when you consider he has teammates like Sobey, Drmic, Wiley, Froling and company, there’s no question the competitive spirit at an Adelaide training session would be pretty high.
But he couldn’t be happier with his decision to come to Adelaide and with how competitive of a group he’s joined.
“We get after it, that’s for sure. We are really going at it and getting some good five-on-five in, no doubt, and it’s fun,” McVeigh said.
“That’s how you get better and it carries on throughout the season after starting in pre-season, and it’s the only way you push yourselves. The only way to get better is by going hard and that’s why I came to Adelaide.
“Joey’s success over the years is because he brings in competitors and I love to compete. I love it, I’m living the dream and I don’t even call what I do going to work.
“Going into practice every day, being around the guys and getting better all the time, I just feel comfortable playing basketball. Obviously I aspire to huge things, but right now I’m very grateful for where I am in Adelaide and playing under Joey. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
McVeigh had plenty of options both in Australia and overseas about where to begin his professional basketball journey once he left Nebraska given how well he had performed both for the Cornhuskers and with Australia at different levels.
But what he wanted more than anything was to go somewhere he could win.
Given the 36ers have reached Grand Finals in 2014 and 2018, and claimed a regular season championship in 2017, he knew they were close but also hungry and now he hopes to help them into the playoffs and hopefully all the way.
“When I was deciding where to play I just wanted to go somewhere I thought I could win. I wanted to be part of a winning culture and I believed in Joey and everything about this club,” he said.
“It’s definitely a competitive environment we have here and we talk about winning a lot, and we strive to win. We don’t go out preparing for anything less.
“Obviously it’s an extremely competitive league so it’s tough but we want it pretty bad. But everyone in the league does so it’s all about just going out and executing to get the job done on the night.”
While McVeigh has enjoyed the chance to show what he’s capable of on the NBL floor on the last six games and the 36ers currently sit in fourth position after last up wins against Cairns and New Zealand, he knows they are guaranteed nothing.
To make sure of a finals berth they have to beat Melbourne at home on Sunday and then Perth away next Friday but for him, to be in a position where it’s win or go home, it only stokes his competitive drive further.
“We are playing playoff basketball right now where we have to win every game. It’s like March Madness where you win and you go on or lose and you go home. It’s every hoopers dream really,” McVeigh said.
“It’s unbelievable really. With the way the league is in general, that’s the reality of it that we might not make it still or we could go on and win the whole thing.
“Everyone that watches the league knows that’s a real possibility because either of those things can happen, which is pretty awesome for the league.
“It’s good and bad. Obviously we’d want to be in the playoffs already and had we not dropped a few games that we did early on we’d be in a lot better position. But every game is huge in the NBL and that’s what it has come down to.
“The coaches have been preaching that to us all season and this is why, because it’s true. Our first game of the season where we lost to Perth is as big as what the last game of the season against Perth could be. That’s what has been awesome about this league.”
McVeigh couldn’t be happier with the situation he’s found himself in with Adelaide coming out of college. But longer term, he has set himself the biggest of goals and why not.
“I set myself the biggest goals, there’s no point setting anything lower,” McVeigh said.
“I want to play at the Olympics, I want to have a crack at the NBA and see where my basketball can take me and make sure I have no regrets when my career is all set and done.
“But I love Adelaide and I have a three-year deal so they are stuck with me. I can’t complain at all, I love everything about the program we are building here and I’m excited for what we can achieve.”