He might have been a bit of a late bloomer but Nick Kay’s career is well and truly blooming.
After realising his dream of playing for the Boomers in August the Tamworth product is relishing the opportunity to take the court for his country for the first time on home soil.
He’ll get that chance next Monday when the Boomers take on Japan in Adelaide in the second game of their first window of FIBA World Cup qualifiers.
“I think it is going to be one of those experiences you’ll always remember,” Kay said before flying out to China in readiness to face Chinese Taipei on Friday.
“Getting to play in front of your family and friends is always an awesome experience but to do it in the green and gold will be amazing.”
Parents Paul and Terrie, grandad Phillip Maher, who according to Terrie is probably Nick’s biggest supporter, and sister Alle will be among those courtside in Adelaide.
“We’re so proud for him,” mum Terrie said.
After having to watch Nick make his national debut from afar - they didn’t go over to Lebanon for the FIBA Asia Cup - she said there was no way they were missing out again.
All up there’s a contingent of about nine going, although that could grow before Monday.
She admitted it was a big surprise when he made the side to compete at the Asia Cup. Not the fact that he made it, but so soon with the current season only the 25-year-old’s third in the NBL.
Not one to get too excited, Kay’s manor of breaking the news speaks to his “cheeky” character.
“He rang me the first time he made it and said there’s an email I need you to look at,” Terrie said.
The email was informing him he had been selected in the 20-man squad to attend a training camp on the Gold Coast.
Impressing there he was named in the final side, which went on to win gold.
While natural talent has played a big part, Kay’s ascension to the national team is a testament to the value of hard work and persistence.
“He was a very late bloomer,” Terrie said.
“He played rep for Tamworth from the under 12s but he didn’t make the state team until he was top age 18s.”
He’d make the possibles and probables but never that final team.
But he never gave up and just continued to work harder.
His success hasn’t come without sacrifice either, Kay leaving behind all that he knew and moving down to Sydney to finish his schooling at Newington College.
“He’d just turned 17,” his mum recalled.
“That was a big decision at the time but one of the best decisions we’ve ever made in hindsight.”
Under the tutorledge of Rex Nottage, Kay’s game blossomed and in his final year of high school he was a member of the Australian under 19s team.
From there he went to the US where over four seasons with the Metropolitan State University of Denver he further honed his craft.
Fresh from a starring performance for his Illawarra Hawks side in their loss to Cairns on Saturday night, recording a double double, Kay said it was hard to pinpoint exactly when the dream of wearing the green and gold became more than just a boyhood fantasy.
“It’s one of those things you’re always hoping you get to do,” he said.
But to actually feel like you have the opportunity to do it is a different thing, and something that Kay hadn’t really thought about – yet anyway. Even when he was initially selected it wasn’t until he actually pulled the singlet on for the first time “that it sunk in”.
One of his fondest memories of his debut is getting his singlet presented by three-time NBA champion Luc Longley.
“That was a pretty awesome opportunity and just shows the culture we’re trying to build,” he said.
Terrie believes one of Nick’s best attributes is that he is a work horse.
“His work ethic is incredible and defensively he is exceptionally sound,” she said.
“He’s a very good defensive player. Again that’s credit to our own local coaches.”
It is drilled into them from a young age that good offence comes from good defence.
Kay agreed that his defence is probably one of the strongest parts of his game, and said he has has tried to bring a few elements to his defensive game to try and stand out.
The Boomers faced – and accounted for – Chinese Taipei during the Asia Cup, but they will be tough Kay said with a couple of players coming back into the side.
Proud of his Tamworth roots, he was honoured to receive the International Achiever award at the recent Tamworth Regional Sports Awards.
Posting on the Tamworth Basketball Association Facebook page Kay said he was “very grateful to be able to represent Tamworth in the green and gold this year” and acknowledged the role that the association had in getting him to where he his.