THE Gippsland Regional Indoor Sports Stadium, Traralgon will be buzzing with energy this Saturday.

The South East Melbourne Phoenix NBL side is coming down yet again, this time to face Illawarra Hawks.

A well-built connection between the region and the Phoenix is only becoming stronger, as the NBL side makes an appearance in Traralgon for the third straight year.

“It’s wonderful to see the NBL games played in Latrobe City, providing our community with the opportunity to see elite sport from their home town, and to be inspired by the players,” Latrobe City Mayor, Darren Howe said.

“Major events like this attract visitors from across the state, which provides an opportunity for us to showcase our region and sporting facilities to the wider audience and further solidify our standard as a destination for elite sport events in South East Victoria.”

Last month, a number Phoenix players ran a clinic at Kosciusko Street Primary School in Traralgon.

“I’d like to personally thank the Phoenix players for engaging with the local school students, inspiring them to have their own sporting aspirations,” Cr Howe said.

“Having professional basketballers in town sparks immense joy and excitement for them, and it is something they’ll remember for years to come.”

South East Melbourne Phoenix have made a huge commitment to the region since their arrival in the NBL, engaging with regional towns and sparking basketball interest.

“As a club since our inception it’s been a real mandate of ours to ensure that we’re not only an aspirational destination club for residents of Melbourne, but also for the south-east regions of Victoria,” South East Melbourne Phoenix Chief Executive, Thomas Greer said.

“We’re really excited to be back (in Traralgon) … we feel like we’re building a bit of a fortress for ourselves out in here in regional Victoria.”

Last year, the Phoenix won a double overtime thriller in a packed-out GRISS against Sydney Kings, which was a display of immense talent.

Phoenix captain Mitch Creek was at the heart of the action, while then-injured Kings player Xavier Cooks went on to sign for NBA team Washington Wizards, playing 10 games, proving the level of quality on display.

“This has become a hallmark of our season, we love the partnership with Latrobe City Council, supported by the state government, we feel like each year we are building on that spectacle,” Greer said.

Creek, coming from the regional town of Horsham, said he loves coming to other regional towns to inspire the next generation of talent.

“I think anytime you get to come out into the country, especially somewhere we’ve already come and played – we had a double overtime thriller … I think when the community and the regional communities see we are genuine people … that’s inspiring to the next generation,” Creek said.

“We’re trying to win every game, we’re trying to give them the motivation to take that next step and dream a little bigger and maybe believe in that dream a little more … we’re living proof that that’s every bit achievable.”

Creek believes the Phoenix connection with regions like the Latrobe Valley shows their dedication to being the face for country basketball.

“I believe that we actually make a conscious effort to go into the communities that some people might deem to be a little to hard or too far, for us we can go as deep as you want into the woods and we’ll run our clinics, we’ll go and have meet-and-greets, we’ll sign autographs, we’ll take photos, we’ll interact with the communities because we feel like its important,” Creek said.

“Maybe (the) NBA is a dream for a lot of kids, maybe it wasn’t, but hopefully now it is because they’ve seen a Horsham boy who grew up on the farm, used to ride to school everyday, used to go to the creek after school and make bike jumps with his mates has now played in the NBA playing (against) Giannis Antetokounmpo.”

Creek played five NBA games for Brooklyn Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves before returning to Australian shores to play for South East Melbourne Phoenix.

He has been presented with three All-NBL Second Team achievements, while securing his first All-NBL First Team appearance last season.

South East Melbourne Phoenix will take on Illawarra Hawks on Saturday, December 16 at the GRISS from 5.30pm.

Tickets are still available via Ticketek.