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The 'Bruton' of the ABC Trophy


THE Warrnambool Seaside Carnival was one of the feature events on the national basketball calendar back in the 70s and beyond, a chance for teams to gather over the Australia Day long weekend (as it was then) to test their mettle.

The Geelong Cats of the SEBL were there one year and creating quite the buzz behind their playing-coach, the feisty, aggressive Cal Bruton and his crew of American cohorts including John Revels and Steve Kalocinski.

Bruton already had stamped his imprimatur on the NBL, arriving in its inaugural 1979 season as Brisbane Bullets’ marquee import, leading the league in scoring with 33.2ppg.

Trust this. It would have been 40-plus if there had been a 3-point line, his wicked long-range shooting and slick skills delighting fans nationwide as he captivated Brisbane in much the same way Jerome Randle has Adelaide in his thrall today. 

So now here he was, sewing the seeds with Geelong, building the club into a second-tier powerhouse for a run at the NBL.

It worked too, in 1981 his SEBL champion coming to Adelaide for a tournament against reigning NBL champ Launceston, the St Kilda outfit which claimed the regular season honours (but missed the finals due to World Club Championship commitments) and local champion West Adelaide Bearcats.

When Geelong won that tournament, Bruton’s contention they were top tier, not second, was immediately vindicated and in the club’s 1982 NBL debut, he took them all the way to the grand final.

For three years Bruton had Geelong around the mark, winning Western Division titles (it was a two conference set-up at the time) but falling tantalisingly short in the post-season.

Returning to Brisbane in 1985, he finally tasted championship glory before losing the following year to Adelaide 36ers.

In 1987 he rebuilt a struggling Perth Wildcats franchise, using the 36ers as his blueprint and starting the club on a playoff journey from which it never has faltered since.

The K-Mart Classic was inaugurated in 1987 by prominent Sydney basketball junkie Mike Wrublewski, bringing all the NBL teams together at Homebush for the first organised NBL Preseason Tournament.

Bruton's Wildcats arrived resplendent in striking white tracksuits. They were by far the most professional-looking outfit in Sydney but they didn't just look sharp off the court.

In what was a harbinger of things to come, Bruton's Wildcats won the K-Mart Classic and went on to knock the defending champ 36ers out of the semi finals, before losing to Brisbane and Leroy Loggins in the grand final.

Two years earlier he'd won a championship with Loggins, in 1982 he'd lost to Loggins when Leroy led West to the title over Cal's Geelong Supercats.

In 1990, Bruton had the last laugh when Perth broke through, beating the Bullets for the championship, Bruton "retired" and coaching from the bench.

Resurrecting flagging NBL programs in Hobart and Canberra still were on Bruton's busy agenda, the Hall of Famer one of the most focused and talented players of his era or, in fact, of any era.

But just as media at times had trouble telling its Loggins from its Higgins, or its Bruton from its Burton, Cal stamped his name into the sport's records in Australia.

KELVIN?? ABC-TV's NBL coverage of the grand final acknowledged the 1979 top scorer. Sigh.

There's a reason his name is jointly on the preseason trophy with Loggins, two men who were essential in the league forging its initial identity and moving the game from suburban stadiums into entertainment centres.

On Monday, the captain of one of the eight NBL or two CBA teams contesting the Australian Basketball Challenge in Bruton’s favourite city of Brisbane, will plant his hands on the Cup. It carries quite the legacy.

Full ABC Draw:

Friday

Session #1

2:30pm — 4:30pm Game 1 — Perth v Tianjin

5:00pm — 7:00pm Game 2 — Sydney v New Zealand

7:30pm — 9:30pm Game 3 — Brisbane v Zhejiang CB

Saturday

Session #2

11:00am — 1:00pm Game 4 — Cairns v Adelaide

1:30pm — 3:30pm Game 5 — Illawarra v Zhejiang CB 

Session #3

5:00pm — 7:00pm Game 6 — Melbourne v Tianjin

(Fireworks in between games)

7:30pm — 9:30pm Game 7 — Sydney v Brisbane

Sunday

Session #4

11:00am — 1:00pm Game 8 — New Zealand v Cairns

1:30pm — 3:30pm Game 9 — Illawarra v Perth

Session #5

5:00pm — 7:00pm Game 10 — Tianjin v Zhejiang CB

7:00pm Dunk Contest and Three-Point Shootout

8:00pm — 10:00pm Game 11 — Adelaide v Melbourne

Monday

Session #6

10:30am — 12:30pm Game 12 — Perth v Sydney

1:00pm — 3:00pm Game 13 — Adelaide v New Zealand

Session #7

5:00pm — 7:00pm Game 14 — Brisbane v Cairns

7:30pm — 9:30pm Game 15 — Illawarra v Melbourne

9:30pm Presentation of Loggins-Bruton Cup, Ray Borner Medal

Sep 21

Content, unless otherwise indicated, is © copyright Boti Nagy.