Load the Cannons: Cal Bruton calls for NBL team in Canberra
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Load the Cannons: Cal Bruton calls for NBL team in Canberra

Self-confessed "baller for life" and basketball legend Cal Bruton has called for the rebirth of a Canberra-based NBL franchise and hopes the impending arrival of the Illawarra Hawks can help make it happen.

If the former Canberra Cannons coach's dream comes to fruition, he truly will have seen it all in Australian basketball.

Showtime: Cal Bruton during his stint coaching Canberra Cannons.

Showtime: Cal Bruton during his stint coaching Canberra Cannons.Credit:Richard Briggs

He saw NBA legend Magic Johnson suit up for the Canberra Cannons a year before watching the foundation club collapse. He went within a whisker of bringing NBL games back to the capital before the then-Wollongong Hawks entered voluntary administration in 2015.

He isn't getting too excited about the potential of Illawarra and the ACT government bringing pre-season games to Canberra because he has been spurned before, but Bruton hopes it lays the foundations for the return of the Cannons.

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The NBL season tips off on October 11 with no matches scheduled for Canberra, however Basketball ACT boss Michael Haynes is hopeful of striking a long-term deal to host Hawks games in the capital.

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Bruton will be "the first one through the door cheering them on" if Illawarra play in Canberra and he hopes NBL owner Larry Kestelman can help establish a permanent presence in the region.

"To me, Larry Kestelman is the key. We need a team here in the nation’s capital," Bruton said.

"Illawarra playing exhibition games, unfortunately I can’t get really excited about that one, but if that’s going to be a start, let’s do it. Let’s put the swag in the bag and let’s keep it moving.

"I think basketball is on the verge of something really special here in Australia, particularly with what Larry Kestelman is doing, and it’s a shame the nation’s capital is not represented in that.

"Particularly whilst we’ve got the NBA Global Academy based here, we’ve got the AIS here, we’ve got these different high performance programs and great coaches.

"Back in the day I always saw players from the AIS flowing into the Canberra Cannons. Now, not having that top tier, kids are not aspiring to play at that highest level here in Canberra and our highest performance team [Canberra Gunners in the SEABL] is 0-20.

"I think we need to get on board with Larry Kestelman and find out what model he is looking for, so the nation’s capital can be represented. I had Magic Johnson involved with our program, he actually played with the Canberra Cannons - a hall of famer."

The NBL has had no major discussions about establishing a franchise in Canberra but the booming competition is keen to tap into the market through the Hawks, however government support is crucial to making it happen.

The Hawks are keen to expand their footprint to Canberra and southern NSW under new general manager Mat Campbell, with the franchise looking to welcome a new fan base and shake off the financial troubles of recent years.

Bruton is desperate for the NBL to return to Canberra as he prepares to launch a national sport development traineeship program with the AFL's Sportsready education and employment program in Canberra to "give kids a pathway using basketball as the engagement tool".

Cal Bruton flanked by Randy Rutherford (left) and Jamie Pearlman (right) during the Cannons era.

Cal Bruton flanked by Randy Rutherford (left) and Jamie Pearlman (right) during the Cannons era.Credit:Paul Harris

Bruton worked with Chief Minister Andrew Barr to bring the Hawks to Canberra in 2015, saying "we raised the money and had booked in three games, and then I checked the internet and saw the Hawks had put themselves into voluntary administration".

"I’m embedded, I’m in. I’m just disappointed that here in Canberra it has been hard work, and I’ve only been living here for 19 years," Bruton said.

"For me, I try to keep it all balanced. I don’t get too high or don’t get too low, because I’ve seen it all before. It’s been a serious merry-go-round, you better believe it.

"I’ve spoken to many people about always having a team here, to see it come so close and disappear... I’m not a pessimist, I’m an optimist. You’ve got to show me something good before I’m going to jump on that one again."