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Fordey on free agency

CQUniversity Cairns Taipans Head Coach Adam Forde has said there will be “no stone unturned” during this year’s Free Agency, which began on Friday for the upcoming 2022-23 NBL season. The Taipans have got four spots locked in: Mirko Djeric and Majok Deng were signed to three-year contracts in 2020 while the NBL’s Rookie of the Year Bul Kuol and Most Improved Player Keanu Pinder accepted their mutual options for a second season in orange.

Having just four players signed means the Taipans have seven roster positions available (and up to three restricted import players) and a relatively blank slate. With Deng and Djeric bringing years of experience and much-needed continuity to the playing group, retaining the league award winners was the first priority for Coach Forde before the start of free agency.

“They are massive pieces to lock in. There aren’t too many guys like Keanu, who has that type of skill set as a local player. You’ve got a threat and a fantastic rim protector who brings the types of qualities that Cam Oliver did when he was here, so he frees things up in terms of getting creative with the imports you look at bringing in,” said Forde.

“And Bul was hot on everybody’s list. There were teams that were obviously eager on his services, and credit to Mark [Beecroft] for navigating those discussions with his agent and getting to a situation where both parties were happy. We’ve easily got one of the best spot shooters in the league, who is only going to get a year better. I’m ecstatic we were able to get both of them.”

While the club has a proven history of finding diamonds in the rough and punching above its weight – breakout campaigns from Kuol and Pinder will again assist the Taipans in the recruiting process, as prospective players have seen the opportunities offered to them in Cairns under Forde’s system.

The Taipans coaching staff began preparing for their next campaign as soon as their season ended in April, with “Fordey” revealing the club has already been in talks with several Australian graduates returning home as opposed to waiting for NBL free agents this year.

“We've gone down the road with a handful of very good candidates. With the success of Keanu and Bul - it adds to the appeal to the other end for guys wanting to come in, knowing that we legitimately talk about an opportunity to apply their trade on a national stage and do so knowing that we are genuine in our approach,” he explained.

“This year presents a really good draft class coming out of college, so right now we have more of a focus on looking for the qualities we found in Bul coming out of college rather than looking for the qualities that we found in Keanu around the league. Not to be dismissive of some of the NBL free agents out there – but we leave no stone unturned.”

Ahead of his second year at the helm, the meticulous head coach also admitted that local players have taken priority in his process. While satisfied with his import trio of Tahjere McCall, Scott Machado and Stephen Zimmerman - in particular how they battled injury and adversity throughout the season - it’s the non-restricted players that he wants signed before looking internationally.

“I made no secret of it throughout the season and even in my last press conference, I acknowledged the importance and value of Tahj. Zimm came out and did exactly what we wanted him to do - which is to rebound and be a defensive presence. Scott is still one of the best point guards, who has that court vision that is incomparable in the league,” he said.

“But the important thing for us is really locking in our local contingent because I strongly believe that getting that local core is more important, and then you get your import pieces to complement that.

“So, while we have been in discussions with what direction we want to look at with our imports - the main focus, especially over the last six weeks, has been the local side of it. We're really excited to start rolling out these names soon.”

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