Where Are They Now? Axel Dench

When people talk about former NBL rookie of the year Axel Dench they usually ask the question “What ever happened to that guy?” so we decided to track him down to see what he’s up to now as well as his thoughts on the player points system and the NBL today.

In 2001 Dench signed with the Wollongong Hawks and helped them to their first (and so far only) championship. That same year he averaged 11 ppg and over 6pg, taking out the NBL rookie of the year.

He stayed in the ‘Gong for a few more seasons before going over seas and enjoying stints with the Tigers and 36ers, retiring in 2008 after just 5 NBL seasons.

But did you know he was a South East Melbourne Magic player? Or that he was in Star Wars III?

You were considered a rookie in 2001, however I read somewhere that you spent some time with the old SE Melbourne Magic. Is this true?

AD: I was on their squad straight out of High School in the mid 90’s, however was only an 11th man/training bait type player – so never took the court in any official league games. I did of course warm up at the start and half times of games like a boss so, you know, I had that going for me…

You left the Wollongong Hawks in 2004 and didn’t return to the NBL until 2006 when you signed with the Tigers. Where did you play in those 2 years in between?

AD: After leaving the Hawks in 2004, I played in the NZBL with a team called Harbour Heat for their domestic season. This then led to an Italian summer league in Treviso, where I teamed up with James Harvey. After that I signed the first of two contracts in Portugal, the first year with FC Barreirense, the second year with FC Porto. I was back in Aus on holidays after playing in a summer league in America and Neil Mottram exercised his European out-clause at the Tigers, at which point they signed me up to replace him for the 2006/07 season.

In 2007 you played on a stacked Tigers team that was the only team that could have knocked off the great 2007 Bullets team. Just how hard was it to defeat that Bullets squad?

AD: Super hard – and to be honest the few times we got them (or maybe only the once) we needed people like Chris Anstey or other scorers to play out of their skin to get the job done. We were equally as deep as them, but perhaps it was they’re level of chemistry, or how the roles each player was asked to fill, which were then filled to perfection, was at a level just that little bit higher than ours. Obviously we had an amazing team that year in terms of personnel, but Brisbane had different x factors – the likes of Sam McKinnon (MVP that year) at the top of his game, good import role players and Mark Bradtke going out on a high. A very tough squad to come up against at any time and much deserved winners that season.

The Tigers released you after the 07 season to free up some player points, 7 years on how do you feel about the NBL’s point rating system?

AD: From my very top-line understanding of it, I think it comes from a sound base, and good intentions, but if looked at closely, there are probably a number of holes in it that you could drive a truck through. Basically, if the points cap pushes a player out of a team, and he’s then not able to be signed elsewhere – and deemed unemployable –  then it can be seen as something that falls under restraint of trade legislation, which (I would think) is illegal in terms of contact and employment law. Making definitive judgement on a players employment capacity, based on an arbitrary ability measurement, and then holding to that decision isn’t applicable in many, if any, other industries. It’s not like an accounting business is constrained by employing certain staff because they’re too qualified. It’s like a double-dipping process when coupled with the salary cap. Of course the salary cap is a different conversation as it’s up to players to accept or not accept offers made to them for certain $ amounts. Under the points cap ruling, a player doesn’t even have the chance to make that decision, as a contract is removed from the equation before they even get to that stage.

Your last season in the NBL was 2008 with the 36ers even though you were still pretty young. Any reason why you left the league so early?

AD: I was 32 when I finished in Adelaide, so not altogether a spring chicken, but appreciate the sentiment! To keep playing I would have had to try and get back to Europe again. At that stage I was almost finished with my MBA, had a 1 year old son, and the previous 2 years of playing hadn’t been (from a personal level at least) what I’d hoped they would after returning from Europe previously. I realised that with an undergraduate and now almost a masters under the belt, it was time to put them to good use and join the real world.

What have you done since your NBL days?

AD: I spent 3 years in Finance with former Chairman of the Melbourne Tigers, Greg O’Neill. From there I leveraged my experience in to the brand management and advertising industry (for which my degrees majored in) and have been at Bastion Brands for the last two years as a Strategy Director. I’ve been fortunate that all the experience gained in basketball, coupled with the education and finance experience, has given me a fantastic basis for where I am now. I always knew I wanted to get in to the marketing industry and am very happy where I currently am.

Do you still play?

AD: I played BigV for a couple of years at McKinnon Cougars, where I now find myself as President, but stopped that level a couple of seasons back, and now only play socially in a mid-week competition to get a run up and down for a bit of fun.

Do you follow the NBL at all?

AD: I do, although the late game schedule is a bit of a sticking point. I’ll generally get to qtr time, and if the game is being called like a mixed martial arts competition, and scores are looking to top out in the 60’s or 70’s, then my interest wains a bit I’ll be honest. I was very lucky to have played around the time that some people rate as when the league was at its best (*please note: ‘played’ does not mean I necessarily include myself in ‘the company of said best’) and sometimes the lack of familiar faces or skill sets has me looking to college or NBA games. But, I think the NBL is slowly making inroads in to returning to the halcyon days of its past – basically all clubs should look to copy and paste the model the Wildcats have successfully embraced – and we’ll be able see its return to the high-point of a fans weekend.