Cal and CJ Bruton Shoot For the Stars in Morayfield
For NBL Hall of Famer, Cal Bruton, basketball is much more than just a game.
“My father was killed when I was seven years old, and being the only male in the family I had to step up and be the man of the house from a very young age,” he said.
“Mum found me a mentor who was a basketball coach, and he gave me the opportunity to play and eventually I made my high school team, before getting a sporting scholarship to Wichita State University in Kansas. I was the first in my family to go to college so it was pretty special.
“Growing up, we couldn’t really afford for me to travel and play in big tournaments – a lot of the time I had cardboard in my sneakers!”
After nearly cracking the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs and trialling again with the Kansas City Kings, Bruton got the call to come to Australia and play for the Brisbane Bullets in the inaugural NBL season in 1979.
“I looked like a black Eskimo when I landed in Brisbane after coming from minus 37 degree weather in the States!” he said. “I knew I had a chance to really establish myself here, so I worked hard on being the best player I possibly could be.”
He finished his debut season as the league’s leading point scorer, and in 1980 joined the Geelong Supercats, winning Coach of the Year in his return to the NBL in 1982, while also starring as a player.
After re-joining the Bullets in 1985 and helping them to their first NBL championship, he was awarded with selection in the Australian Boomers for the 1986 World Championships.
“Making the national team was a big deal for me, and I had to renounce my US citizenship, but I made a commitment to the sport which I still have today,” he said.
Bruton led cellar-dwellers Perth Wildcats to the grand final in 1987 as a playing coach, before becoming head coach and masterminding their first ever championship in 1990.
He was honoured with induction into the NBL Hall of Fame when it opened in 1998, and after retirement turned his attention to junior coaching.
His passion for inspiring the next generation of superstars has taken him all over the country, and will see him host a two-day clinic in Morayfield on July 7 and 8 with his five sons, including six-time NBL champion and current Bullets assistant coach, CJ.
“Hosting these clinics as a family enhances it not only for us, but for the participants,” Bruton said. “Basketball has given us all tremendous opportunities, and we want to share our message – that the sport can be a platform to develop yourself and become a vehicle to travel all over the world.
“We really try and teach the kids not only the fundamentals of basketball, but how to apply those skills to life. We show them how to put ‘S.W.A.G. in your bag’ – a good skill set, strong work ethic, an aptitude for learning along with a great attitude, and short-term and long-term goals.
“We like to keep it fun with drills, games and prizes, as well as playing music – we teach the kids they’ve got to learn to dance as well!”
Bruton’s emphasis on transferring on-court skills to other areas is put to good use as director of Charity Bounce’s ‘Stand Tall’ program, and Business Development Manager/Mentor for AFL SportsReady ArtsReady programs, using basketball to provide guidance on education, employment and healthy lifestyles, with a particular focus on Indigenous groups.
“I grew up in a disadvantaged neighbourhood with a lot of black kids, and when I came to Australia I noticed there weren’t a lot of Indigenous players in our leagues,” he said.
“I helped Danny Morseu with his rehabilitation to make the 1984 Olympic team (the first Torres Strait Islander to do so), and after that started venturing out around the country to places like Darwin, Alice Springs and the Kimberley’s in WA to try and give Indigenous kids an opportunity to participate in the sport and develop fundamental skills of the game.
“Every year I make sure I visit the communities to provide the resources they don’t have access to, as well as identifying the gifted players and giving them motivation through achievement certificates, courses and scholarships. We’ve had close to 30,000 kids in total come through our Bruton fundamentals program.
“Morayfield is pretty special to me, and I’ve got some very good friends there like Shelly Boyd and Jeff Williamson who I’ve know from my Perth days, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Held at Morayfield Sport and Events Centre, the clinic is open to boys and girls aged eight to 16, with participants encouraged to register before the day at www.blackpearlbasketball.com.au.
“Coaching the Bullets, I’ve seen firsthand the skill, enthusiasm and passion for basketball in the local area,” CJ Bruton said.
“Aussie starts like Ben Simmons, Aron Baynes, and Joe Ingles started out their careers playing for local clubs and attending clinics just like these, and who knows, maybe the next all-star is right here in Moreton Bay.”