Roy Ward talks to Daniel Sepokas of the Albury-Wodonga Bandits and covers this week’s big plays as well as the media wrap-up.
Real life can wait – Daniel Sepokas has some big dreams to achieve first.
The Albury-Wodonga point guard moved to the Bandits this season to try and earn the chance at playing in the NBL but first he wants to take his new club to the SEABL championship.
At 25 years old, Sepokas has played college basketball with division two school Lees-McRae College which is based on top of a ski mountain in North Carolina, then starred in New South Wales’ Waratah League where he won the most valuable player award last season with Sutherland Sharks.
After an MVP season, the high-scoring point guard hoped he would earn a tryout from NBL clubs like Sydney Kings or Wollongong Hawks but his phone remained silent.
“I was hoping to get a call up and it didn’t happen, I didn’t even get a tryout,” Sepokas said.
“So I decided to try SEABL and I’m enjoying it. I’ve put real life on hold for a bit to try and get to the NBL one day.
“At least later in life I can say I did everything I could to achieve it.”
Last year’s experience made Sepokas realise he needed to reach a wider Australian basketball audience so he started looking into playing in the SEABL.
Enter former junior club-mate Alex Opacic who played in the Bandits’ 2012 SEABL championship win.
“I grew up with Alex at the same junior association [Bankstown] and we were talking and I asked if they needed a point guard,” Sepokas said.
“He told Brad [coach Brad Chalmers] about me and Brad said he already had his eye on me so it all worked out from there.”
Moving from suburban Sydney to the border wasn’t much of a challenge for Sepokas after his “small-town” college experience and as a university-qualified graphic artist he also picked up work with a local signage business.
But playing at SEABL was a tougher adjustment and forced him to lift his training as soon as he arrived in town.
“It’s my first time playing with pro imports and pro athletes – you need to learn your role quickly,” Sepokas said.
“I was a scorer in my last team but that doesn’t mean I will be in this league so I looked to specialise with my three-point shooting and pick my spots to score from.
“I’m not always the best player because we have Deba George who is a beast, we have Donte [Nicholas], Cory [Dixon] and Clay [McMath] – any of us can score 30 points so I’ve been trying to find my role.”
Sepokas has filled a valuable role for the Bandits averaging 15 points per game and complementing George in the Bandits’ backcourt.
He has also had a couple of breakout games with 31 points against Canberra and North-West Tasmania.
Sepokas said he has enjoyed needing to be on top of his game every week to match-it with the elite guards in the league.
“Every week you look at the scout and you have a Shane McDonald or a Tom Wright,” Sepokas said.
“You have to prepare or you will lose. That’s basically why I came here because at other levels you knew which games you had to get up for and which ones you could say “I’ll be right”.”
The Bandits are looking to keep their immediate focus at present after overcoming a poor start against Frankston this weekend to beat the Blues.
This coming week they face a similar struggle against a skilled Sandringham side looking to finish their campaign with a few scalps.
“You have to mentally get up for those games because while those sides might not be in finals you can’t underestimate them.”
Currently on top of the East ladder, the Bandits will then get to test out their title credentials against Championship favourites, Mt. Gambier in the last round.
“Hopefully we can get these next two games, keep Dandenong off our tails and then get ready for Mt Gambier.
“They are our true test right now because they have steamrolled the competition and it would be a great test of where we are at.”
Whether the NBL calls come or not, Sepokas said he wanted to help the Bandits to go as deep as they could into the SEABL finals.
“The more our team keeps winning the more exposure we will all get,” Sepokas said.
“I’ll be waiting for that call and if not I’ll get ready for another season.”
*Ballarat import Roy Booker had a monster weekend with 34 points in the Miners’ win over COE then 35 points and five assists in his club’s desperation win over Dandenong.
*Mt Gambier star Damian Johnson had 17 points, 16 rebounds and three steals in his club’s win over North-West Tasmania.
*NW Tasmania’s Brad Simpson had a big night in his side’s close loss to the Pioneers with 25 points and nine rebounds off the bench.
*NW Tasmania bounced back well on Saturday night to beat Nunawading with Kyle Clark (21 points) and Nathan Wilson (20 points) leading the way.
*Hobart Chargers’ guard Tiri Masunda had 23 points, five rebounds and six assists in a win over Sandringham.
*Sabres’ import Rayshawn Goins was on fire with 30 points and 17 rebounds in the loss to Hobart.
*Kilsyth centre Tim Lang was a rock inside against Bendigo with 16 points and 15 rebounds while Braves star Tony Lewis had similar numbers with 19 points and 16 rebounds.
*BA COE shooter Dejan Vasiljevic found his range against Ballarat with 29 points including six three-pointers while teammate Jack White had 24 points and nine rebounds in the same game.
*Bendigo scorer Michael Vigor had 29 points and 10 rebounds in the Braves’ win over Hobart.
SEABL media links
*The Advocate’s Cameron Whiteley (@Cwhiteley12) reports North-West Tasmania scored a key win on Saturday night. Report: http://www.theadvocate.com.au/story/3252252/thunder-keep-their-top-two-hopes-alive/?cs=88
*Whiteley also reports on the Thunder’s loss to Mt Gambier. Report: http://www.theadvocate.com.au/story/3250443/thunder-unable-to-bridge-gap/?cs=88
*Mt Gambier Pioneers’ Tom Telfer reports on the Pioneers win over North-West Tasmania. Report: http://pioneersbasketball.com.au/fixture/seabl-round-16/
*The Courier’s Melanie Whelan (@melanie_whelan) reports on the Miners’ late push for finals. Story: http://www.thecourier.com.au/story/3251828/rule-out-at-own-peril-miners-hope-still-alive/?cs=63
*The Courier’s David Brehaut reports on the Opals’ visit to Ballarat to play Japan last Friday. Report: http://www.thecourier.com.au/story/3250243/last-gasp-opal-loss/?cs=63
*The Courier photographer Lachlan Bence filed this Opals picture gallery: http://www.thecourier.com.au/story/3250558/international-womens-basketball/?cs=70#slide=12
*The Border Mail’s Chris Young reports on a stinging post game message from Bandits’ coach Brad Chalmers. Story: http://www.bordermail.com.au/story/3250956/sluggish-bandits-get-frankston-shake-up/?cs=10
*Bendigo Advertiser’s Adam Bourke (@bourkey77) reports on the Braves’ weekend. Report, picture: http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/story/3251929/braves-lady-braves-in-form/?cs=81
Roy Ward (@rpjward) is a freelance sports writer who has covered the NBA, NBL, WNBL, SEABL and Big V during his career. He will be filing weekly columns on the SEABL men’s and women’s competitions during this season. For feedback or suggestions send Roy a tweet or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org