The constant reinvention of Tom Abercrombie

Publish Date
Friday, 29 September 2023, 8:35AM

By Christopher Reive

Times have changed since Tom Abercrombie first burst on to the scene with the New Zealand Breakers.

When he made his Australian Basketball League (NBL) debut as a fresh-faced 21-year-old during the 2008-09 campaign, he did so with a spring in his step, the ability to stretch the floor, and an affinity for the midrange jump shot.

But over the years, among changes in the way the game is played, the rise of analytics and several changes in coaching regimes at the club, Abercombie has willingly left his game at the mercy of the team; a consummate professional whose only concern is what he can do to affect winning.

It’s a major reason why current coach Mody Maor says he would keep re-signing Abercombie “until he can’t walk anymore” and why the 36-year-old is set to make his 400th Breakers appearance when the side host the Cairns Taipans on Saturday night.

“I think coming in as a youngster, you’re wide-eyed and a little bit oblivious to a lot of stuff; for me, especially, some of the technical nuances of basketball,” Abercrombie says.

“I relied a lot on my athleticism back in those early days and especially those first sort of probably 10 years in the league, the analytical side of basketball wasn’t really there. There was much more of a willingness to shoot midrange jump shots.

“That was my game early on with pull ups from the midrange, that was my money shot. All of a sudden now it’s like that’s the taboo shot that you’re not allowed to shoot. So, part of that reinvention is understanding where the game’s gone and how it’s played.”

Abercrombie still remembers his first game in Breakers colours clearly. Though he can’t recall the opponents, he doesn’t have to dig through his memory bank too long before being able to recount how his five points in the game came around.

Checking in late in the piece, Abercrombie drained a corner three with his first shot in the NBL, before they ran an alley-oop play for him on the next trip down the floor. They were two means of scoring that would become synonymous with his career in the team; his dunk on top of Memphis Grizzlies’ forward Jaren Jackson Jr – who would go on to be a future NBA defensive player of the year – when the sides met in 2019. A moment fans won’t soon forget.

He has been a part of all four title-winning Breakers teams, earning Grand Final MVP status in 2011, while his statistics have fluctuated wildly throughout his 15 years in the league.

“My own individual stats have never been the important thing to me and I think that’s why I’ve been able to stay here so long and be successful with different regimes,” he says.

“I’ve leaned a lot more on my defensive capabilities and ability to shoot the ball later in my career. The athleticism is still there – probably a little bit more selectively now – but you have to be able to adapt.

“I’ve played for six different head coaches, and they all have their own style and way of doing things. Some of them want more from you, some of them want less. That role changes and I’ve always tried to do whatever I can to help the team win and help the team be successful.”

While Abercrombie has been with the team in its highest moments, he has also been there for their lowest; “nothing really compares” to the two Covid-19 impacted seasons in which they finished second-bottom (2020-21) and dead last (2021-22), he says, while also admits there were times when he questioned how much longer his career would last.

“I’d be lying if I said those thoughts haven’t crossed my mind from time to time. I think every athlete thinks about that as they’re playing. It comes with the territory a little bit; that roller coaster you go through during a season, there are plenty of highs and plenty of lows.

“I’ve been very lucky to do this for a very long time and that’s what I keep reminding myself. I am extremely lucky to be able to do this for a job and I still love it, and I’m still able to contribute at a high level, and do things to help my team, and I’m happy where I am.”

After the team fell one game short of a fifth NBL title last season, the suggestions that Abercrombie would be hanging up his singlet following the campaign were quashed when he agreed to return for a 16th season.

Had the team won the title, things might have been different. But they didn’t, and returning means he will be able to bring up the 400-game milestone; that fixture being a home game is an added bonus.

As for what he’s returning to, Abercrombie suggests there is plenty for fans to be excited about with the team that has been put together.

“We’re as talented as any team we’ve ever had,” he says.

“It’s always a bit of a wait and see approach to actually get into the real deal and see how things fit, but we’ve got all the pieces we need and I think we have a system that can make us very successful.

“It’s up to us to go and implement it, and be willing to do the dirty work, night in, night out.

“We’ve certainly got all the makings to be a very good team.”

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission

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