Brisbane's trio of centers are leading the charge at the new-look Bullets.

12 Nov
By Dan Woods for

Some of the most intimidating behemoths in both mythology and pop culture history come in threes. You have Cerberus, guardian of the Underworld in Greek mythology, there’s King Ghidorah – enemy of Godzilla, or the three Gorgon sisters of Medusa, Euryale and Stheno.

The Brisbane Bullets are adding to the mythos of the three-headed monster in NBL24, with their trio of hulking behemoth centers in Aron Baynes, Tyrell Harrison and Rocco Zikarsky, and each head provides a different weapon with which Justin Schueller’s side can defeat its enemy.

At the head of the snake is Harrison, the 214cm big in his seventh NBL season who has finally earned an injury-free run at the big time, and the 24-year-old has established himself as one of the biggest improvers in the league.

Then is Baynes, the 36-year-old veteran presence who has seen almost all there is in the world of professional basketball. As an NBA champion and Olympic medal winner, he’s one of the greatest players Australia has produced in the modern era.

Finally, there’s Zikarsky. The 17-year-old Next Star who seems destined for a long future in the NBA. He’s already the tallest player in the NBL, but he moves with a cat-like litheness that belies his long and still developing frame.

Behind the scenes is assistant coach Greg Vanderjagt, who himself at seven-foot tall played almost 250 games in the NBL and has established himself as one of the brightest emerging coaches in the competition.

Before NBL24 commenced, anyone saying Harrison would have leapfrogged Baynes into Brisbane’s starting five would have received more than a few puzzling looks, but Vanderjagt says the new starter’s performances have come as no surprise to him.

“This is Ty and I’s fourth season together now,” Vanderjagt told NBL Media. “He’s always been someone who has a really good feel for the game, he’s incredibly intelligent, he has great touch around the rim, he’s a good athlete, he’s got good timing, the thing for Ty is he’s had such an injury disrupted last two years really.

“Ty has always had the ability to do what he’s doing and with a bill of clean health and a really good support group around him in terms of strength and conditioning and physio on our team you’re seeing what he’s capable of.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">That&#39;s a big man&#39;s move from Tyrell Harrison ?<br><br>Catch the final quarter live on ESPN via Kayo ? <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL (@NBL) <a href="">October 27, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

“He had that elbow injury and then he did his MCL last year as well, so he’s missed considerable blocks with those over the last few years. Everything’s clean, everything’s good, and his conditioning is as good as I’ve ever seen, his body is in the best shape of his career, and the fruits of his labour are starting to pay off.

“He’s always getting his individuals in, his recovery in, he’s doing extra lifts and conditioning, and he’s reaping the rewards. With 'Banger' (Baynes) missing some games Tyrell has really grabbed that starting opportunity by the horns and rolled with it which has been great for us.

“From here it’s only up for him, he’s still only 24 and it’s his seventh year in the league. Big guys traditionally hit their peak a little later, and I think we’re seeing Ty scratch the surface of what he can be in this league.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Tyrell Harrison says get out the way ?<br><br>Catch the action live on ESPN via Kayo ? <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL (@NBL) <a href="">October 27, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

For someone like an Aron Baynes who – on paper – is one of the biggest local stars to play in the NBL since its recent resurgence under the ownership of Larry Kestelman, the suggestion of playing a bench role could almost be construed as an insult, however Vanderjagt says 'Banger' is the biggest supporter in the club of the development of both Harrison and Zikarsky.

Baynes’ desire to see his teammates succeed speaks volumes of the culture that’s being created from the top down at the Bullets, so much so that he wanted to make sure Zikarsky was put onto the floor before him, so as to remain true to Schueller’s pre-game matchup strategy against South East Melbourne and Gorjok Gak.

“Banger has been an incredible mentor for our young bigs which is what you want from him with the world of experience he has,” Vanderjagt said.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">BAYN3S ?<br><br>Catch the action live on ESPN via Kayo ? <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL (@NBL) <a href="">November 2, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

“He made the comment again on Wednesday – he said, ‘I want these guys to take my minutes because it’s good for us if they take my minutes, but they have to earn it. I’m not just going to give them my minutes, they’re going to have to take them from me in practice’.

“For Banger to have that kind of approach and attitude is great for our group, he’s going to challenge these guys to make them better every single day, he’s going to impart his knowledge onto them, but he wants them to succeed.

“He wants them to take his minutes, but they’re going to have to earn it. 'Banger' wants Rocco and Ty to both be successful, but he’s going to posh them every day to be the best they can do and earn their spots in the rotation.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">? Check in with <a href="">@aronbaynes</a> at the opening day of the NBA Exhibition in Brisbane. <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBA Australia (@NBA_AU) <a href="">November 9, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Of all eight Next Stars to be plying their trade in the NBL this season, none has quite captured the hearts of the neutral fan as much as Rocco Zikarsky.

Whether it be the likes of Josh Giddey before him, or Alex Toohey alongside him, there’s nothing quite as exciting as seeing a local talent that’s destined for great things get the full backing of almost every fanbase in the league. Also, being 7’3” helps in terms of establishing Zikarsky as possibly the most universally appreciated cult hero in the NBL this season.

Vanderjagt says “we’ve seen flashes and moments of just how good Rocco can be this season”, and he’s correct. Given his size, age and raw, mouldable talent, Zikarsky is taking a little longer to establish himself in the rotation at the Bullets than his fellow Next Stars, but he’s been a highlight machine in a little over six minutes per game – and he leads the league in block percentage.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Block-o Zikarsky strikes again ?<br><br>Catch the action live on ESPN via Kayo ? <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL (@NBL) <a href="">October 27, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

According to Vanderjagt, the training environment that’s being created by Harrison and Baynes is helping elevate the emerging superstar to a new level on an almost day-to-day basis.

“Rocco is still only 17 and finding his feet in the world of professional basketball. The support network he has around him in the club internally is second to none,” Vanderjagt said.

“The practice environment he’s in day to day is harder than the game environment.

“Ty and Baynesy are coming at him every day and there’s no let up, they don’t make it easy for him so that competitive environment is making him better so come game day, we’ve seen flashes and moments of how good Rocco can be.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">28 seconds of brilliance ?<a href="">@BrisbaneBullets</a> Next Star Rocco Zikarsky gave us an exciting glimpse into the future during his NBL debut on Friday night ?<br><br>Learn more about Rocco and all of the NBL Next Star’s ?? <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL (@NBL) <a href="">October 1, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

“He’s taken his lumps along the way, but his maturity as a 17-year-old ... he always bounces back and finds a good spot after a negative outcome.

“It’s all part of the process for him and I think at times we just need to remind him to be patient and that the process of him developing and growing as a young big isn’t’ all going to be roses.”

Brisbane's three-headed monster will next take on the Sydney Kings on Sunday, November 12 at 4pm AEDT - live on ESPN via Kayo Freebies, 10 Peach and 10play.

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