Life is all about experiences.
When you live your life as a professional athlete, the direction these experiences take can shape you. Such is true for Melbourne United’s Josh Boone.
Boone has re-signed with United for the up-coming 2017/18 NBL season after joining the team with just twelve games remaining last season.
Yet Boone’s journey to get to Melbourne took many twists and turns along the way. From College success to an NBA career cut short. From having to effectively re-start his career and questioning whether he’d play again, to having to fight to get paid; before finally landing in a stable environment.
Boone has seen a lot over his 11-year professional career.
He burst onto the scene as a freshman at UConn in 2003/2004, where he teamed up with Emeka Okafor to form a devastating frontcourt. Starting nearly the entire season, he made his mark defensively, helping the Huskies to the NCAA title over Georgia Tech.
“There’s nothing that really beats winning a Championship,” Boone told NBL Media recently from New Jersey.
“I was incredibly spoiled that I was able to do that as a freshman. The whole experience from Day 1, looking back and seeing my growth and the team’s growth.”
“Initially when I got there, I had a teammate named Ben Gordon and I didn’t really like him very much because he gave me the true freshman treatment. Anytime I did anything wrong, I was getting yelled at, I was getting screamed at and it took me a little while to develop a thicker skin. But it really helped me in the end.”
Boone played under Hall of Fame Coach Jim Calhoun with the Huskies and made a leap his sophomore year after Okafor had left for the NBA. He led the team in rebounding, was second in scoring behind Charlie Villaneuva, and became one of the Nation’s top shot-blockers, earning Big East Defensive Player of the Year honours. Boone credits his Coaches and the environment they set up for his development.
“They’re great,” Boone said of the UConn Coaching staff. “A lot of it has to do with the fact that they really run the program like an NBA style program. They do a great job of preparing their guys for that next level. It shows because the guys that leave there have proven that they’re pretty much ready for the NBA once they get there.”
Boone had some serious lottery buzz after his freshman year and would likely still have been a lottery pick following that breakout sophomore year, but ultimately decided to return to Storrs.
Apart from wanting to continue to play with teammates and close friends including Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams and Denham Brown, his aim was to complete his diploma in three years as Okafor had done. It’s a decision that he often ponders.
“I don’t want to say that I made a mistake staying for my junior year, but I do believe that I was definitely ready after my sophomore year,” Boone explained.
“Do I regret it? I wouldn’t say that I regret it. I wouldn’t say that it was the wrong decision, but I will say that I was absolutely ready to make that leap after my sophomore year.”
After a slight decline in numbers as a junior, Boone went on to be a first-round draft pick; selected 23rd overall by the New Jersey Nets. He played 4 years with the Nets, but never stuck as a starter.
After not being re-signed, he headed overseas for the first time, signing with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls of the CBA in China. To say it was a culture shock would be an understatement.
“I was certainly re-thinking things for sure,” Boone admitted.
“That first week was really, really rough. Between having never spent significant time in a foreign country before, especially one where no-one spoke English, and then to top it off, adding the food difficulties along with the vigorous practice schedule, it was kind of a perfect storm.”
Boone eventually settled into life in China, staying nearly three years, but it was far from an experience that catapulted his international career.
“I had two really good years in China and then the third year in China, I was leading the league in rebounding, I was second in blocked shots and I was sent home by my team,” said Boone.
“I ended up at home, I played two games in the D-League and was injured in the second game and that was when I had my knee injury.”
It was an injury that Boone would not recover from quickly. Tearing cartilage in his knee, he required a special type of microfracture surgery and barely played for the better part of two years.
“It took me almost a full two years to really get back and I essentially had to re-start my career entirely,” Boone told NBL Media.
“After the period I was out, I did two weeks in the Philippines and they sent me home for really no reason whatsoever. The team was 2-0 and I averaged about 25 [points] and 20 [rebounds] in the two games I played and they still sent me home.”
The long layoff before Boone got to play a full season again definitely took a toll on him mentally.
“There was a time when I really wasn’t sure if I was ever going to be able to play again,” Boone explained.
“For about a seven or eight month period, my knee did not get better – at all. I plateaued on my rehab and there was a solid six months where I was not able to do anything on the basketball court; I couldn’t run and I couldn’t jump.
“It was after a time period where I had already gotten back on the court and was okay. And then all of a sudden I had a blow-up in July . From July until late December, early January, I just was unable to do anything.
“I missed out on NBA Summer League with the Wizards and also missed out on NBA training camp with either the Wizards or the Pacers. So it was tough.”
Boone’s mental strength was tested throughout that period and he found it to be one of the toughest periods of his life.
“It was kind of the perfect storm of everything in my life going in the wrong direction,” he admitted.
“It was without a doubt the toughest year or year and a half that I’ve ever faced mentally and emotionally. But thankfully I was able to get through it with help from my family and by switching rehab programs, and then finally breaking through to the point where I was able to play again. But it took a long time.”
When all was said and done, between the rehab period, being sent home from the Philippines and then spending the remainder of the 2013/14 season in the D-League, not only had Boone had to overcome his injury, but he’d effectively missed out on two full years of income.
However, he persisted and re-booted his career in Bahrain in September 2014. From there he signed on to play in Estonia the following season, which was an experience that tested his mental strength in a different way.
“One of the toughest overall situations that I’ve been involved in, would definitely have to be when I was in Estonia,” said Boone. “That was not a fun situation at all. I was in a very good league [the VTB] but it was playing for a team that wasn’t very good and I didn’t feel that the organisation was run overly professionally.”
His team, BC Kalev/Cramo, were late with his money nearly every payment and Boone had taken a discount with incentives built into his contract based on wins. So because the team struggled, he wasn’t getting those bonuses and losing a large amount of money.
“I didn’t feel as though the organisation cared enough about winning,” Boone explained. “That didn’t sit well with me because I’m a very competitive person.”
Boone ended up leaving mid-season for BC Khimki in Russia and is still owed money from his Estonian contract to this day.
From Russia, Boone went to Turkey and things may have gotten worse.
“That was the worst experience I’ve ever had,” Boone said. “And it’s just a shame because it didn’t need to be.”
He did not elaborate further about Turkey, but left after just one game. Boone had planned to go to Dubai next; however their loss was the NBL’s gain as an opportunity arose and he jumped at it.
Boone’s agent had been advised by Tony Ronzone of the Dallas Mavericks, that Melbourne would be a good situation for him. Ronzone had visited with Melbourne United earlier that season and a recommendation from a senior NBA figure was a good sign as far as Boone was concerned.
“I couldn’t wait for the Dubai thing to happen so 36 hours later, I was on a flight,” said Boone.
He arrived in Melbourne on Christmas Day as an injury replacement player for United and made an impact off the bench immediately, helping his new team to three straight wins to start his NBL career.
After so many difficult periods in his professional career, Boone instantly felt at ease and at home playing in the NBL for United and was quick to explain why he’s now coming back for a second season.
“The overall experience playing in Melbourne. If Turkey was the worst, I would say Melbourne has been the best for me,” Boone told NBL Media.
“When I combine everything basketball related; the organisation is incredibly professional, Vince [Crivelli] is great, our owner Larry [Kestelman] is great. I really liked all the coaches. The players are fantastic there, much better than I ever would have anticipated in Australia.
“But then, also living in Australia is just so nice and in particular Melbourne. It’s so similar to me living in the States that I really had no adjustment whatsoever.
“If anything, I like the people there better than the people in the States,” he joked.
“As much as Turkey was the perfect storm of negatives, Melbourne is kind of the perfect storm of positives for me.”
After all he’s been through to get here, Boone deserves a positive experience.