Where Are They Now? Simon Dwight

When we started the ‘where are they now?’ stories, perhaps the player that was requested the most by fans was the shot blocking monster from Canberra, Simon Dwight.

Dwight entered the league in 1995 as a skinny rookie with the Canberra Cannons and despite finishing 2nd in blocks per game and a respectable 9 ppg and 6 rpg, he finished 2nd in rookie of the year voting to John Rillie. He went on to play 11 seasons in the NBL, leading the league in blocks per game for 8 of those seasons and winning defensive player of the year in 2002.

In 1998 Dwight left the Canberra Cannons, signing with the West Sydney Razorbacks whilst flirting with the idea of going to the NBA to join the Charlotte Hornets. He went to play with West Sydney until retiring in 2005 after just 11 seasons (he gives his reasons why he retired below). And since retiring he has completely fallen off the basketball radar, however we tracked him down to ask him a bunch of questions everyone has wanted answered for so long.. including why he decided to give up the NBA to stay in the NBL.

Check it out..

You’re one of the rare players to have only played on 2 teams during your NBL career, what made you leave Canberra in 1998 to join West Sydney?

SD: Money and job security. I would have been happy to stay with the Cannons and play for only 1 team. The reality is that at that time they were not in a position to compete financially with other teams in the league, particularly West Sydney at that time who had enormous backing from Canterbury Bankstown Leagues Club. It was very disappointing to see the cannons go under and even though they would last another few years after I left, even in 98′ the writing was on the wall and I did not hold out hope that a Canberra team would remain viable into the future.

You were offered a contract by the Charlotte Hornets in 1999 but you declined, do you remember the reason why?

SD: There were a number of reasons for not taking up the Hornets offer and as they have done since, people will judge it how they like. I can give you reasons such as it was the year of the lockout and they gave me no assurance that I would travel with the team let alone be in the 10 or actually play, but for most people they aren’t valid reasons, it was the NBA after all..! As with most blokes and athletes in particular, our ego’s don’t easily allow us to admit we’re daunted by something or lack the confidence in our own ability but in hindsight that’s exactly what it was. I was happy where I was and my ambitions didn’t really extend past being the best NBL player I could be and most importantly representing my country at every opportunity. Do I regret it…. No. The experiences I have had then and since and to have been among the men I played with and against during my career is a privilege I wouldn’t change.

Despite being one of the best shot blockers in NBL history, leading the league in 8 of your 11 NBL seasons, you only won defensive player of the year once.. Do you think your game was ever over looked or underrated?

SD: I’m very proud of my shot blocking record. Whether I should have won more defensive awards is best judged by my teammates and opposition players who can give you a first hand opinion as to how effective l was 1on1 and as a team defender. Was my ‘D’ underrated…? I would say possibly, but most importantly not by the blokes I played with. If you asked Fred Cofield, Darnell Mee, Rob Rose, Derek Rucker, John Rillie or Sam Mackinnon I would humbly suggest there was a certain reassurance for them that if they took a chance on a steal or overplayed they’re man, they knew I would be there on the help side 99.9% of the time to either block or change the shot. During my career there were some defensive guards who commanded enormous respect and attention for the way they played defensively. This overshadowed some big men who not only blocked shots but were excellent 1on1 defenders too. That’s the big mans lot though, guards get all the glory!

Chris Anstey said when he thinks of the great 1997 under 22 world championships he thinks of you of, what are your recollections of that team and that time? What was your mindset coming into qtr final v USA at u23s after going from starter to DNPCD.

SD: The 97′ Aussie team was phenomenal to be a part of and I would have carried the water if that’s what it took to be a part of it! I’ve never been around a group of individuals who were so committed to each other as we were to achieving that gold medal. To come back from the adversity we faced early on showed enormous character. I don’t have the best memory for individual games but I feel as if I can recall every moment from every game of that tournament. The noise of our hometown crowd, every shot we made, what boots I was wearing…everything Iike it was yesterday. As Chris (Anstey) points out, the US game was special. Why I went from starting to a DNP I don’t know, I wasn’t told and l didn’t ask. Don’t get me wrong, I had the shits about it but I do not recall it being difficult to get ready for the US game after not playing. Historically I had played well against US teams and I remember being confident that I would get a run and being determined to contribute in whatever time I got. As it turns out, that was one of the most memorable 2 quarters of basketball I have ever been involved in. That game really was a mental crossroads for our team. After that game we knew we had something special on the boil and the 2 games that followed completed one of the greatest series of games that Australian basketball has ever seen.

You retired in 2005 after 11 NBL seasons, what made you step away from the game?

SD: My retirement wasn’t planned or welcomed. I had been having some knee problems pre season which wasn’t allowing me to train much and for reasons only known to themselves the Razorbacks thought it best that I should retire. When I declined and said I would honor the 3 year deal I’d just signed, I received a hand delivered letter to my home stating that I would not be allowed to take part in any further team activities (basically they sacked me).That was pretty devastating as I’d had close to a career season the previous year and I certainly felt I could replicate that again given a proper injury management plan. They obviously felt they could get greater value from bringing in other players. It got a little messy after that but eventually we came to an agreement. As part of that, I couldn’t play for the period of the contract (3 years) and as they say, the rest is history… I received a few offers after that but I’d been out of the game too long and already established a new career.

What have you been up to since retiring? Where are you based at now?

SD: I now live in chilly Canberra with my wife and 2 boys. I work for the Australian Federal Police as a member of the Specialist Response Group. These days I challenge myself by coaching pre teenagers in the U12 Wests Magpies Basketball team.

Do you still follow the NBL? Have you been to any games recently?

SD: I haven’t been to an NBL game in about 4 years. I watch a game occasionally but if I’m honest, in the last 3-5 years the overall standard of the league has declined. I find it hard to watch a full game these days, which is unfortunate as Australia’s talent pool is arguably at its highest level ever. All our finest players are overseas and our league is suffering as a result. For many years the talent we have had in this country has been let down by the management of the league and the governing body. It’s a long road back to the crowds and community status the NBL had during the 80’s and 90’s, but a few strategic changes need / must be made in order for the competition to move forward.

Would you like to be involved if the NBL returned to Canberra?

SD: Canberra and the Cannons hold great basketball memories for me and it would be fantastic to see them back here. If someone thinks I can assist if the cannons were re- established it would be great to be a part of that. Although Canberra is quite small, the amount of ex NBL players and the history and experience they could bring is enormous. I hope whoever brings the team back engages with that resource.

What do you miss the most? 

SD: Playing was great. The crowd, the feeling when your playing well but most of all I miss turning up to a small association court everyday and training with my mates! Banging bodies, helping young players get better, them making you train harder cause you don’t want to be out done by a young kid, talking shit, shoot out comps at the end of training and oh to be that fit again! That’s what I miss most. Age and hindsight really give perspective on what great memories I have. Spending 10 – 15 years getting paid to play a sport and travel all over the world with great mates like Sam Mackinnon, Brendan Mann, Scott McGregor, Russell Hinder, Chris Anstey and Mark Watkins to name a few will always remain a very special period of my life.

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