Perth Wildcats star John Mooney doesn't care about rookie award eligibility

Does Mooney care about ROTY eligibility? (1:25)

John Mooney shares his thoughts about not being eligible for the NBL's Rookie of the Year award despite having a huge season for the Wildcats. (1:25)

Put the word 'rookie' aside, and John Mooney remains one of the most impressive and effective players in the NBL.

Mooney is the only player in the NBL averaging a double-double - 17.1 points and 12.3 rebounds a game - is an anchor for a Perth Wildcats team with the best record in the league, and has been doing it on a wildly consistent basis.

What's more impressive is that he's in the midst of his first professional season.

He's a rookie in the literal sense of the word but, because he's an import, the big-man isn't eligible to be in contention for NBL's Rookie of the Year award; that trophy is only up for grabs for local players and Next Stars. That's led to a campaign, of sorts, led by the famously assertive Red Army, to lobby the NBL to allow Mooney to be in the running for the award last won by LaMelo Ball.

The reality is that the rules aren't likely to be changed, but does Mooney care?

"No, I really don't, man," Mooney told ESPN.

"I see some of the banter on Twitter about whether an American should be allowed, or whatever they call it, [whether] a restricted player should be allowed, or an import should be allowed to win it. I don't care, man. I really don't.

"I'm a team-first guy, and I'm trying to do everything I can do to help the team win."

That sentiment is typical of a Wildcats player. The franchise has become famous for recruiting free agents who can put ego behind them and fit into a role within a structure that's demonstrated to be a winning one.

Before the 2021 NBL season began, most experts didn't have the Wildcats making the postseason, and the reasoning was sound; the team seemingly diminished in talent and Mooney was an unknown at the professional level.

Well, at the midway point of the season, Trevor Gleeson's team sits atop the NBL ladder with a 13-4 record, Mooney is looking like the second-most effective player in the entire league - only behind his teammate and MVP frontrunner, Bryce Cotton - and the systems the franchise has become famous for, continue to operate at an extraordinarily high level.

"I think the first thing that comes to mind is just the character of all the guys on the team," Mooney said.

"Everyone, from one to thirteen, everyone's very unselfish and everyone's very team first. I think that's why coach Gleeson recruits these types of people; the people on the team are gonna put the team first and put winning before stats, put winning before any personal achievement, so I think that's when group success comes to fruition.

"I can't say enough about all my teammates, all the coaching staff; everyone wants to win here. They're very passionate, and it starts at the top with coach Gleeson. He comes in everyday, he's animated, he's energized.

"He's one of the best coaches I've had, if not the best coach I've had. I can't say enough about the whole crew, man. I'm loving it."

That's a significant plaudit for Gleeson, because the 23-year-old is coming off a four-year career at Notre Dame under Mike Brey, who's widely regarded as one of college basketball's most respected head coaches.

Playing for the Fighting Irish was where Mooney showed off a savant-like knack for rebounding, coming in second in all of college basketball with 12.7 boards a game. That skill has seamlessly translated to Mooney's NBL career, where he's already put up a league-high 13 double-doubles over his first 17 games.

"My mentality is that every shot's gonna be a miss, and I was taught that at a young age, from my dad and my older brother," Mooney said.

"People have stressed to me at a young age that every shot's going to be a miss, so I use positioning and use strength to try to be able to have position and have a good chance at getting the ball when it comes off.

"When a shot goes up, I'm trying to do everything I can to try to get position on my guy. I'm not gonna outjump a lot of people, or I'm not gonna get it way above the rim; that comes with strength and just grit to go get the ball.

"Yeah, man, I love rebounding, for sure."

Mooney will more-than-likely end up finishing the season as the league's leading rebounder and is on track for an All-NBL First Team selection, all while helping his Wildcats emerge as an obvious playoff team.

But, being the Rookie of the Year is probably off the cards; again, because the rules are the rules. And again, it's not like Mooney cares.

"If they change the rule and whatever happens, great, but I really don't care about that. I really don't."