Melbourne United captain Chris Goulding celebrates with fans as he cuts down the net after winning last year’s NBL Grand Final series. Pic: Getty Images
Melbourne United captain Chris Goulding celebrates with fans as he cuts down the net after winning last year’s NBL Grand Final series. Pic: Getty Images

Forget Sydney, we’re the kings: Ware

"WE should be the favourites."

Melbourne United star Casper Ware has issued a stern warning to rivals, including glamour club Sydney Kings, wanting to dethrone the reigning NBL champions.

Since Andrew Bogut signed with the Kings in the off-season the one-time NBL whipping boys have been the talk of the domestic league.

But Ware hasn't bought into the hype, adamant the Kings will must go through Melbourne first.

"Saying we lost people, we're not as good, Sydney's better than us, this team is better than us, everybody got better so it's going to be a different season this year," Ware said.

"Nobody going to say they won it last year 'they're the favourites', no, they're talking about other teams being better than us already so that's our motivation this year, to show everybody that we should be the favourites."

The underdog tag sits comfortably on Ware's shoulders, having been written off in a basketball sense from day dot.

Casper Ware thinks United can soar again. Pic: Michael Klein
Casper Ware thinks United can soar again. Pic: Michael Klein

Ware, arguably the league's most explosive and damaging point guard, has returned to Melbourne for a third consecutive season hungrier than ever before to defend United's title.

"I like that, I like the underdog tag ... they can't do this, or he can't do that, it's about working hard and showing them what we got," Ware said.

Despite mixed pre-season form the Kings, very much like United last season, look set to be a vastly different proposition with time to build combinations on the floor.

The Andrew Gaze-led Kings' stacked rosters boasts Bogut, Jerome Randle, Kevin Lisch, Daniel Kickert, Brad Newley among others, including NBA hopeful Brian Bowen jnr.

Randle led the league for points (19.7) and assists (5.2) last season, with Ware ranked ninth in points (16.1) and third for assists (4.6).

Both, at their best, will again be in NBL most-valuable-player consideration.

"I'm very looking forward to it (match-up with Randle)," Ware said.

"You always want to play against a good guard, you know, you have that game marked in your calendar, but then again it's about the team.

"My team played them and I won here and my team did very well, it's not about me and Randle, whatever, it's about Melbourne United versus Sydney Kings, so that's how I'm going to think about it."

There’s plenty of eyes on Andrew Bogut and the Sydney Kings. Picture: Mark Stewart
There’s plenty of eyes on Andrew Bogut and the Sydney Kings. Picture: Mark Stewart

Despite losing championship winners Tai Wesley (New Zealand) and Dave Andersen (Illawarra Hawks) United added Boomers star Mitch McCarron, New Zealand international Alex Pledger and Casey Prather-clone DJ Kennedy.

Kennedy, like three-time NBL champion Prather, is incredibly athletic and boasts elite defensive and offensive weapons.

United enforcer Daniel Trist is untapped at the level, having led the second-tier SEABL competition in points (25.2) and fifth in rebounds (10.9) across 12 games, since returning from stints in Europe.

Young guns Pete Hooley and ex-AFL rookie ruckman Craig Moller also made giant strides in the off-season.

Moller led the SEABL in rebounds (12.1) and ranked fourth overall in points (23.2), winning another title, with Hobart Chargers, in the process.

United captain Chris Goulding said expectation from within had not waned despite all eyes being on the Kings.

"It's something I haven't had for a few years but we put enough expectation on ourselves - as a group - so whether everyone is talking about us or not it doesn't really matter to us," Goulding said.

"We know what we have to do and it's going to be interesting to see how that (Kings) group works out."

Chris Goulding hopes Melbourne lets its basketball do the talking. Pic: Getty Images
Chris Goulding hopes Melbourne lets its basketball do the talking. Pic: Getty Images

GILBERT GARDINER'S PREDICTION

Champion: Melbourne United

Runner-up: Sydney Kings

Sydney has splurged on talent to make a run at the playoffs but Melbourne should be too strong down the stretch, having added impressive pieces to the nucleus of the championship team.

MVP: Jerome Randle

Sheer weight of numbers in the Harbour City should be enough for Randle to get the edge on his nearest rivals, including United's Casper Ware and Mitch McCarron.