"Through hell or high water": Team-first Hopson's sacrifices for NBL championship

Melbourne United import Scotty Hopson enters the NBL 21 Grand Final series in red hot form, averaging 16.7 points in just 20 minutes per game off the bench in the 2-1 semifinal win over South East Melbourne.

The overwhelming title favourite throughout the season, United survived a scare in booking their third Grand Final appearance in four years, trailing by 17 points during the second quarter in Game 3 against the Phoenix.

"I just wanted to do anything possible to help us win," Hopson told ESPN from Perth ahead of Game 1 against the Wildcats.

"I didn't care whether I played five minutes or 25 minutes, if a guy was playing better than me put him in the game and I'll cheer him on."

A bona fide star in the league after receiving All-NBL second team honours with the New Zealand Breakers last season, the dynamic scoring wing has sacrificed his own individual statistics for the betterment of the stacked United roster.

Hopson's minutes per game have dropped by 7.4, his shots 4.5 and his points 7.3, yet the 31-year-old doesn't mind, he just wants to win.

"Coming into the season I was open to fulfilling any role I needed to play for the organisation for the team to be successful," Hopson explained.

"That was my mindset, the only thing I had been worried about in this entire process was winning a championship. Through hell or high water, the process of getting to that, I was willing to sacrifice to get to this point."

The American import flew to Australia in December, fulfilling two weeks in hotel quarantine before joining the team right on the eve of opening night.

Despite his reputation as one of the premier scorers in the league, Hopson had little time to find his feet in a star-studded line-up that boasted household Australian names like Jock Landale, Chris Goulding and Mitch McCarron.

"I watched a few of their preseason games before I was on the team, and I could just see the selfless energy and the camaraderie among the team. Everybody had a mentality that they wanted to do more for each other, and it led to winning," he said.

"Our focus was for me to be myself but not alter that chemistry that the team had been building over the past few months and I think we've meshed well over the season in terms of finding our comfort among ourselves.

"That's part of the reason why I've had success this season, the players, coaches and organisation have been nothing but supportive of Scotty Hopson and I really appreciate that. We're a team that has really banded together."

Scoring the basketball has never been an issue for Hopson wherever the game has taken him, posting double-digit scoring averages in the G League, China, Europe and the NBL during his 10-year professional career.

Afforded the freedom to express himself on the offensive end within the United offence, Hopson acknowledges the expectations from head coach Dean Vickerman have been clear from his opening practice with the team.

"Offensively there's a lot of freedom that comes with playing for a coach like Dean. I think the one thing that he's looking for is how relentless you can be on the basketball floor in terms of your effort and your energy," he said.

"He really goes hard for guys who give that passionate energy, especially on the defensive end. I've been trying to get myself to a place all season where I can play that brand of basketball while also playing my style."

Facing a Game 1 and 2 in Perth due to COVID travel restrictions to and from Victoria, that energy and effort will be of the utmost importance in arguably the most intimidating road arena in the league.

Asked about the prospect of playing in front of a parochial Wildcats crowd, Hopson drew a smile.

"I like these kinds of environments. We worked all season for home court advantage, and I'd love to play the first game in Melbourne, but under the circumstances we can't," Hopson said.

"Our team has been resilient on the road all season and for that reason I'm confident going into Perth or any other environment that we walk into."

The potential reward for a season of sacrifice is just three wins away if they are good enough, with the semifinal win just part of a six-month process.

"There really wasn't much of a celebration, man," Hopson said. "We got back to the hotel, had some dinner and guys called it a night. We understand there's a bigger prize.

"We did what we were supposed to do. Going into this next series I think there will be a little bit more of a celebration after we hoist the trophy up in the air."