Daniel Joyce switches gears to attack the gaps on a basketball court. Off an opponent’s miss, the Wollongong native snatches quick outlet passes and pushes the ball, searching for layups. In the half court, he identifies open space, getting to the rim or assisting spot up shooters. Play him loose on a Ben Allen ball screen, he’ll slice to the hoop. Sag off and he’ll bury a triple right in your face. And once he gets a shot to drop, he gets buckets in bunches.
In his first organised game, eight-year-old Joyce dropped over 20 points. His dad, Brendan, was coaching the Ballarat Miners in Australia’s Continental Basketball Association – SEABL’s predecessor – so naturally there was no question which sport Joyce junior was pursuing. The next year the family moved to Wollongong when Brendan was promoted to coaching in the country’s top competition.
Growing up with a father who played 13 NBL seasons and coached pro ball was both a blessing and a hardship. It meant Joyce was around the game since birth, had tremendous guidance, and an ally in Australia’s highest ranks, but it left a young professional player more open than a corner jump shot to criticism.
After rising through the New South Wales basketball ranks – making state teams and training with the NSW Institute of Sport – Joyce joined the Wollongong Hawks as a development player with his dad the head coach. The following year, he was signed to the club. Joyce remembers upset friends relaying Internet comments about his abilities. Daniel Joyce is only an NBL athlete because his Dad picks the team, some would say.
“It used to bother me at first,” says now 28-year-old Joyce. “It actually hindered my performance at times, putting pressure on myself because I wanted to prove people wrong… But then probably after my first year in Wollongong, I let that go and I stopped listening to that stuff.”
When Brendan moved to coach the Gold Coast Blaze in 2007, Joyce followed, and his numbers began to improve. Then in a second season with the Blaze, he recorded almost nine points per game, establishing he could compete with Australia’s best.
Joyce had chosen the Australian professional route, because it appeared to be the safe one, instead of heading to the States for college – a decision becoming more popular at the time. But at 22-years-old, coming off the best year of his short career, Joyce wasn’t signed by a single team in the NBL.
“I was pretty down about basketball at the time,” says Joyce. “I thought I had a good season, but I didn’t get picked up.”
Then coach Guy Molloy called and offered him a spot back where his basketball began – playing SEABL in Ballarat.
“I just loved it down there,” says Joyce. “It was amazing, a real family atmosphere.”
After three years playing point guard in Ballarat, Joyce was offered a spot as an injury reserve, training with the NBL’s Sydney Kings. And mid-season, Australian Boomer, James Harvey, broke his arm giving Joyce another shot at the NBL. But again, the following season, no teams came calling.
“I found out quickly that I had to go to uni,” says Joyce. “You’ve got to have a backup plan. You want to prepare for life after basketball because it isn’t going to last very long. Especially in Australia, there are only eight teams, so it’s hard to keep a job. You have to be a really special player to get a long-term contract in the NBL.”
He began a Human Resources degree at Federation University in Ballarat, then transferred home to Wollongong. But as the next SEABL season approached, Canberra Gunners coach, Cam Barnes, contacted him to play. For the past three years Joyce has commuted for Thursday night trainings and weekend games, while studying and working out with coaches in Wollongong.
Last Gunners off-season, the Sydney Kings new coach, Damian Cotter, who had seen Joyce play for Canberra, offered him a spot back in the NBL. After another pro season competing with Australia’s top talents, Joyce has had a career year this season for the Gunners, improving in almost every statistical category.
Joyce has averaged 14.5-points, 3.7-assists, and 4.1-rebounds, shooting the ball at 42-percent from the field. Most impressive has been the point guard’s assist to turnover ration. At the helm of the offense, decision-making and an ability to maintain possession is crucial. Joyce has posted 85 assists with only 38 turnovers this season.
“Joycey is just a competitive beast,” says Gunners assistant coach, Andrew Coulter. “He loves competition and he loves to play against the best guys.”
Described by coach Coulter as the stylish member of the Gunners, the self-proclaimed coffee fanatic can often be found away from the court, sipping piccolos in Wollongong cafes.
Finishing up at the University of Wollongong, Joyce hopes to pursue a career in either recruitment or marketing after basketball. But while he is still on the court, Joyce says he intends to keep playing Gunners. After they have been flexible with his study schedule, he wants to return the favour by keeping a core group together.
“I love SEABL,” says Joyce. “This is my sixth season, so I obviously keep coming back. It’s just a lot of fun and every night you’re playing against top competition. You can’t relax any game because you get killed. It’s a talented league.”
Or find more of his work @ http://www.lachlanross.org/