Basketball: Bruton bursting to get rare three peat with the Breakers

By Michael Brown

Teammates get benefit of his enthusiasm as he urges them on towards perfection.

CJ Bruton's illustrious career has included five ANBL titles with three different clubs.  Photo / Greg Bowker
CJ Bruton's illustrious career has included five ANBL titles with three different clubs. Photo / Greg Bowker

Tradition dictates that before tonight's game at the North Shore Events Centre, the championship banner won by the Breakers last season will be raised.

Standing on the court, probably with a cheesy grin on his face, will be CJ Bruton.

He will enjoy tonight, especially as it will be done in front of arch-enemies the Perth Wildcats, the side they beat in last season's grand final series to win their second straight ANBL title.

The two teams respect each other, but to say like each other would be going too far.

Bruton could think of no better team to open the new season against as the Breakers chase a third consecutive title. The banner-raising will agitate and motivate Perth in equal measure, adding extra spice to a tasty season opener, and Bruton loves nothing more than playing in the big contests.

The 36-year-old proved that last season, when he averaged 17 points a game in the post-season and was named finals MVP. He will long be remembered for the two long-range bombs he landed which broke Perth in the final game of an epic series.

That was in stark contrast to earlier in the season, when his knees creaked and body ached and he even went a game without scoring a point. Retirement, it seemed, wasn't far away.

But Bruton is rejuvenated heading into his 16th ANBL season. The shaggy hair has gone, the knees are less painful and he's had an off-season for the first time in recent memory. He's ready to play.

"I am 60 in dog years and been around the block," says Bruton, who signed a new two-year contract at the end of last season. "But this whole pre-season I've played the majority of games.

"In the past, everyone used to complain that CJ doesn't do pre-season, he's only waiting for the playoffs. This time I was there. And I had a great time."

Bruton's enthusiasm and hunger are infectious and have a profound impact on his teammates. He's still the most vocal in the side, constantly chipping away at and chiding his teammates at practice, but it's born out of a desire to win. He sets and demands high standards on and off the court and it's a large part of why he has won five ANBL championships, three with different clubs, in his illustrious career.

Bruton is also something of an evangelist, constantly preaching the message of basketball and the Breakers' place in the community. It's a role he takes seriously and enjoys.

"To be able to share that with every kid who comes in here [to Breakers HQ], it's like Christmas all over again," he says. "Every day. We're all Santa Claus and get to share our presents and the love we give to be able to play this great sport."

Nothing promotes the sport more, however, than success and the Breakers are chasing a rare three-peat.

Sydney are the only team to achieve the feat, when they won the ANBL in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and it will come as no surprise Bruton played his part.

He missed the first season of that run, so doesn't truly know what it's like to win three in a row, but is under no illusions about how difficult it's going to be for the Breakers.

"It's really tough. When I was in Sydney and I was going for my three-peat, which was four in a row for Sydney, we fell short. We finished top of the ladder and ended up losing to the Melbourne Tigers. It was gut-wrenching.

"For us at the Breakers, we still have our core group together and the hunger is still there to be part of something special and something I have never been a part of."

Bruton will continue to operate off the bench. It was a move introduced last season not only to help his ailing body get through games but also to enhance his effectiveness.

He doesn't need to run the floor as the game takes shape and opposition teams get little let-up as the likes of Bruton, Dillon Boucher, Corey Webster and Will Hudson take to the court.

Bruton will tell his teammates about the sacrifices they will need to make to be successful again and the importance of overcoming frustration.

He will probably also tell them about how brilliant he's likely to be.

"Outstanding," he says when talking about his role this season. "I am just trying to be flawless."

He might be joking but he's done it so often in the past it won't be a surprise if he does it again.

Calvin Thomas Bruton jnr

Age: 36
Position: Guard
ANBL games: 457
ANBL clubs: 6 (Perth - 1994, Brisbane - 1997, 2006-08, Wollongong - 1998-2000, Canberra - 2001-03, Sydney - 2003-06, Breakers - 2008-)
ANBL titles: 5 (2004, 2005, 2007, 2011, 2012)
In 1997: Bruton was selected by the Vancouver Grizzlies in the NBA draft but wasn't signed by the team.

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