AUSSIE hoops fans always hoped to see Deng Adel in the NBL, some were even brave enough to expect it down the track.
However, in 2021, not long off his NBA debut, at 23 and coming into his prime... that seemed too good to be true. Even if you were willing to entertain it as a hypothetical, it would probably place the Melbourne-raised star in the southern capital.
Instead, his first professional outing in Australia will come in Wollongong with the Hawks, a franchise under new ownership and not shy about making noise. It says a lot about the times, but also the pulling power of coach Brian Goorjian who made Adel his priority signing, and got his man.
Adel admits it's not what he necessarily expected, for one he planned to be kicking in the NBA door via the G League after making 19 appearances for the Cleveland Cavaliers last year. He was far from done but, in this mad COVID-world, the handbrake was wrenched on.
In many ways it's taken him back to the future, having traveled to Florida on the off-chance an opportunity on an NBA bubble roster spot came up. The call didn't come, but he's taken to opportunity to get back into the Victory Rock Prep, his high school alma mater.
"I was playing in the G League [with the Long Island Nets] when the season got cancelled so I was waiting around for calls and stuff like that to play in [the resumed NBA] but it didn't happen," Adel told Australian Community Media from Florida.
"It's been pretty weird because you didn't know what to expect, whether you should shut your body down like it's the off-season or keep training in case anything resumes.
"It was pretty tough but I worked out until they said they were completely shutting it down. I'm down here ay my old high school, I'm getting in the gym there and spending my summer here working out and just trying to keep sane."
The extraordinary circumstances put a return to Australia back on his radar as a path back to the NBA, with the NBL now grabbing plenty of US eyes, ones that matter.
"Honestly for me, I didn't know when the next NBA season was going to start so I thought it would be a good opportunity to go back home and play," he said.
"I've always wanted to play at home at some point in my career. It obviously came a lot sooner than I expected but it's strange times right now, the opportunity presented itself and I'm happy with my decision.
"The NBL has grown so much in the last couple of years and it's definitely a top-three league in the world so its value is held very high here for NBA scouts and agents.
"It's only going to get bigger so I figured why not be part of that movement where I can help grow the game back in Australia. I want to come in and have a great season, work really hard on my game, and seize whatever opportunity comes after that."
Brian Colangelo was straight forward and said, you want to be an NBA player, you want to go back to the league and Goorjian was the exact same way. Having that kind of mindset for coaches is rare.Deng Adel
The fact that part-owner, and former NBA Executive of the Year, Brian Colangelo and Goorjian were on board with that plan was major factor in swinging him towards Illawarra.
"I would've loved to play in Melbourne too but it was just [the Hawks] approach, Brian Colangelo being an NBA GM and Brian Goorjian being the most winningest coach in the history of the NBL," Adel said.
"They came with a plan, Colangelo knew what I was trying to do and what the year would be about for me. He was straight forward and said, 'you want to be an NBA player, I know you want to go back to the league'.
"Goorj was the exact same way and having that kind of mindset for coaches is rare. Seeing the work he did with a couple of guys like Joe Ingles and stuff like that, it was an easy decision from that aspect."
The NBL's run-and-gun style also appealed, both personally, and for the eyes that will inevitably be watching from the US looking for another Torrey Craig or Terrance Ferguson.
"One of the major reasons I wanted to play in the NBL because you get seen, it's on the map," Adel said.
"You can go to a team in Europe but you're playing slow sets and bringing the ball up, it kind of diminishes certain peoples' talents.
"I watched some NBL games last year and it was pretty inspiring just getting out and running, getting quick possessions up. That's what the NBA's about in terms of playing style so that really helps."
Of course those best laid plans may well get tossed again given uncertainty over the start of the NBL season that's been pushed back to December.
It may yet be postponed further with Melbourne in the grip of a second COVID-19 wave that saw 12 players from United return positive tests.
With his family still residing in Melbourne it's a situation Adel is well-attuned to, though he plans to make the trip to Australia next month.
"I spoke to [family] and they're obviously at stage four now so it's just safety first," he said.
"Florida's pretty bad to. I've been in lockdown for a while just staying in quarantine and going to three places - the gym, back home and to the grocery store so it's pretty tough.
"A lot of it depends on what goes in in the next couple of weeks, especially with the NBL board and what they plan to do, but my plan is to get there in September.
"I'll quarantine for two weeks and then get out and into the flow of things, meet all the staff and the other players, build that early bond and then just get to work."