The Tasmania JackJumpers Could Australia’s Own Leicester City Story

The Tasmania JackJumpers Could Australia’s Own Leicester City Story

In their very first season, the National Basketball League’s newest team – the Tasmania JackJumpers – haven’t just hit the ground running, they’ve silenced every fan, hater, player and pundit to make the finals – a frankly unbelievable accomplishment for a club that had five employees, no stadium and no players this time last year. 

If NBL’s unfashionable underdogs – tactically assembled like Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s – win their next three games, they will be Australian sport’s version of Leicester City.

It is a huge ‘if’, given they are 2-0 down in a best of five series against the almighty Sydney Kings, blessed with recent NBA talent and part-owned by Andrew Bogut. 



But the colloquially named ‘Junkyard Jackies’ have continually beaten the odds in their debut season, ending the Perth Wildcat’s 35-year finals run and ruining Melbourne United’s dreams of silverware: Both in the space of a crazy fortnight.

The Tasmania JackJumpers Could Australia’s Own Leicester City Story
Josh Adams flying high en route to victory against United. Source: Tasmania JackJumpers Facebook

Like Leicester City in 2015/16, every bridge ahead of the Jack Jumpers appeared to be a bridge too far, until they conquered one after the other, bringing an entire state along with them for the ride. 

Already this is a Cinderella story that should make AFL heavyweights hang their heads in shame. If basketball can prosper in the Apple Isle, then surely so can football? Apparently not yet, according to league CEO Gillon McLachlan. 

With a splash of entrepreneurship from a bold leader, a passionate supporter base, and the right people in key positions, this team has proven anything is possible for Tasmanian sports fans.

You’re about to read the inside story of the Tasmanian Jack Jumpers: The David to your Goliath, the underdog of all underdogs, and the rank outsider that has captured the hearts of a state and the attention of a nation. 

FROM SCRATCH

To understand the true scale of the JackJumpers achievement, it is imperative to assess their journey through a Covid lens. 



Nothing has come easy for the JackJumpers. In fact, everything has been difficult. Scratching, clawing, and fighting is in their DNA. They had no other choice.

On February 28, 2020, the National Basketball League confirmed a Tasmanian team would enter the competition for the 2021/22 season. The announcement allowed 18 months to build a club from scratch and redevelop a rundown stadium.

The first three employees were CEO Simon Brookhouse, General Manager of Commercial & Marketing Christine Finnegan, and General Manager of Operations Jorrick Chivers.

Brookhouse and Finnegan were both based in Melbourne, while Chivers’ early work was done out of his own garage in Hobart.

If he needed a printer, stationery, or a chair to sit on, he would purchase them himself. There was no company credit card and certainly no communal office. An organisation that would soon be worth millions of dollars was – in its infancy – just a guy in his garage spitballing on a whiteboard.

By October 1, 2020, the trio were each working 14-hour days for the franchise. Eight sponsors were signed before they even had one player, 1,000 t-shirts were printed, and 4,000 loyal Tasmanians signed up to be foundation members for $90 a pop. In return, they received a cap and a thank you. 

There was a competition to decide the name of the club. Five names were shortlisted, and each week one option was rejected, culminating in a month-long process. The JackJumper is a tiny ant native to Tasmania. It’s no longer deadly thanks to modern medicine, but it’s toxic. The name, which itself pitches an ‘us against them’ mantra, was a resounding winner. 

From the name came a mascot that would travel around the state to spread the JackJumper message. 



SELECTING A COACH

The JackJumpers had two candidates in mind to coach the inaugural team. Both fell through. To find the right person, they put up an advert on LinkedIn and hundreds of applications rolled in within 24 hours.

By early January, Brookhouse had his man: Scott Roth from the Perth Wildcats. 

Roth, then 57, had played 160 NBA games and coached around the world. But the biggest challenge was getting him into Hobart before the borders slammed shut in the middle of last summer.

Having already completed a total of four weeks of isolation in hotel quarantine in Sydney, then Perth, Roth beat the border closure by 90 minutes. 

It was only recently Roth was reunited with his wife, who was based in Florida, after 16 months apart. 

The Tasmania JackJumpers Could Australia’s Own Leicester City Story
Roth in the zone. Source: Tasmania JackJumpers Facebook

FINDING 15 PLAYERS

His job, with help from growing support staff, was to find 15 players to compete at the highest level. And they only had six weeks to do so before pre-season was due to commence. Not wasting any time, they locked in 15 players in four weeks.



There were swings and misses – including a prominent Australian point guard – but eventually, they landed marquee player Will Magnay, who had spent the last few weeks of the previous summer with Roth at the Wildcats and previously played NBA with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Rival NBL teams knew they were coming, armed with a $2 million soft cap and CEO Larry Kestelman’s full support. To protect themselves they re-signed players ahead of time, leaving the JackJumpers with a narrow pool of talent to select from. 

In their roster meetings, Chivers, Brookhouse and Roth prioritised character and resilience. They wanted players who would embrace Tasmania, help out in the community and grow the game on and off the court. The challenge was attracting players to live in Hobart, away from the bright lights of Melbourne and Sydney or the beaches of Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane.

Sam McDaniel (Melbourne United), Jack McVeigh (Adelaide 36ers) and eventual skipper and two-time NBL champion Clint Steindl (Perth Wildcats) were the main signings. 

Covid was still causing havoc though. Josh Magette flew from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Tokyo to Singapore to Sydney then had to quarantine for a fortnight there before flying to Hobart. 

Josh Adams left his fiancé behind and did not see her for another six months, while MiKyle McIntosh flew in from Canada on flights that cost the club $20,000 at the height of the pandemic.

To make them feel welcome, Finnegan’s commercial team provided players with childcare centres and primary schools to send their kids, food vouchers for local restaurants and anything they needed to help them settle quickly and engage with Tasmanian people. If they were guests on the Spirit of Tasmania, they were made to feel like royalty. Everything was geared to giving newly signed players a sense of belonging.

By mid-July 2021, Roth had a roster of 15 players. But expectations were low for the upcoming season. Very low. 



The Tasmania JackJumpers Could Australia’s Own Leicester City Story
Source: Tasmania JackJumpers Facebook

DOWN AND OUT

Without a high-performance centre, the JackJumpers set up at Kingsborough Sports Centre, about 15 minutes south of Hobart. 

Their first practise game was on November 14 and they defeated the Brisbane Bullets in overtime on December 3 on the opening weekend of the season.

Even after this win and their next one, most pundits had them finishing dead last. At 2-6, things were looking grim. 

But the plucky JackJumpers kept fighting, winning four on the bounce to even the ledger at 6-6.

Magnay’s season-ending knee injury forced Roth to reshuffle the magnets yet again. Surely they were done? Not even close.

Needing to win their last four and relying on other teams to lose, the plucky JackJumpers somehow pulled off a heist. All up, they won 15 of their last 20 games to reach the playoffs ahead of the more fancied Wildcats, who missed out for the first time since 1986.

Even in the last round, things were far from certain. The JackJumpers needed Perth to lose to Illawarra on the Friday, to win themselves on the Saturday, and on Sunday South East Melbourne Phoenix needed to defeat Perth. 



All three legs went the Tasmanian’s way. Then the JackJumpers upset united in the third match of a best of three playoff series to book a date with the Sydney Kings.

The Tasmania JackJumpers Could Australia’s Own Leicester City Story
Dodges Ferry Primary School rally the kids via Tamasmania JackJumpers Facebook

Not for the first time, the odds are stacked against the Tasmania JackJumpers on Wednesday night in Sydney but the whole island is behind them. Even if they lose – as most experts expect them to – nobody can doubt what an incredible run it has been.

Or, if they upset the Kings on their turf and find a way back in the following two matches, they will be the first NBL franchise in history to win the title from 2-0 down.

This fairytale may still have a few chapters left yet. And if it doesn’t, the JackJumpers have put themselves firmly on the sporting map. 

The Tasmania JackJumpers play the Sydney King’s at 7.30 pm tonight (May 11) in the third do-or-die game of the finals series.