Written by Greg Dawkins, Photos by JDR Creative
USC Rip City guard Kyle Zunic has signed a two-year deal with the 10-time NBL champions Perth Wildcats.
Zunic, 22, will make his NBL debut as one of two development players for the 2021 NBL runner-up club, which has won five of the last seven NBL titles.
The 188cm combo guard came to the Sunshine Coast in June to make his mark on the inaugural NBL1 North season with a goal to make an NBL club and to help Rip City win. Zunic, who averaged 12.91 points, 5.08 assists and 6.33 rebounds for the season, had an instant impact and his gritty defence saw him take on some of the league’s toughest assignments.
“The experience was unbelievable and so much more than I could have ever asked for,” said Zunic, who helped the University of Sunshine Coast basketball club reach its first state league top tier semi-final.
“The Rip City team welcomed me in with open arms and it allowed me to play so freely and have my game improve so much as the season went on.
“I think playing in such a high quality league was definitely something that got me ready to go for NBL because I was able to guard such high quality players on the opposing team to see how good these NBL players really are.”
In Perth’s announcement, general manager of basketball operations Danny Mills compared Zunic with Wildcats legend Damian Martin.
“Kyle has a Damian Martin type mentality, he’s a defensive-minded guard, someone that can come in and be disruptive on that end and make a shot on the other,” Mills said.
High praise but something that gives Zunic added motivation to work hard and continue to play “the right way”.
“I love this comparison and it’s such an honour to even be mentioned with someone as good as him,” Zunic said.
“He is such an amazing player and one of Australia’s greats that played basketball the right way.
“I’ve always looked up to him as a player and tried to get my defensive style of play somewhere near him because he was one of the best defenders to ever play in this league.”
“Kyle is a winner,” Arousi said. “He’s an on-court leader and his level of defensive intensity left everyone in awe but also raised the standard for everyone to follow, and they did.”
The Sanctuary Point, NSW product, who won two Big South Conference Championships with the Winthrop Eagles in the US collegiate system, pointed out a couple of Rip City milestones as his highlights of the NBL1 season.
“I think the highlights would firstly be us going on the Cairns/Townsville trip and getting two wins up there because I found out how hard it really is to do that up there,” he said. “The boys just really enjoyed our time up there and I think that trip got us so much closer as a group. Then obviously winning a quarter-final game (against Gold Coast) was an unbelievable experience that I’ll never forget because we played such a good game together.”
Unfortunately Rip City fell a quarter short of a home NBL1 grand final after the Mackay Meteors got hot in the final quarter to claim a come-from-behind 106-91 win.
After the game, Zunic’s teammate and soon-to-be NBL rival Tanner Krebs, was heard to say, “let’s run it back.” For now, Zunic is not too sure what the future holds but is grateful for his time on the Sunshine Coast.
“I really enjoyed my time here,” he said. “It was an unbelievable season that is unforgettable.”
The Rip City fans won’t forget the young NBL stars either. And they won’t have to wait too much longer for the NBL schedule to be released before marking the calendar for a Krebs versus Zunic battle in a Bullets home game against the Wildcats.