In just his second game back on the active roster after missing 12 games with a fractured left fibula, Dallas Mavericks forward Ryan Broekhoff received the surprise of his life.
It was the morning of the Mavs’ Jan. 31 game in Houston, and Broekhoff and his teammates were about to have a meeting to talk strategy about facing the Rockets that night. Broekhoff wasn’t expecting to be an integral part of the game plan.
But lo and behold, Broekhoff’s name was on the chalkboard as one of the five starters.
“I didn’t even notice it, to be honest,” Broekhoff told Mavs.com. “I was just having breakfast and I was talking to (center) Maxi (Kleber) and he was like: ‘Ah, you’re starting.’
“I said, ‘OK, Maxi, you’re funny.’ He said: ‘No, no, no, your name is on the board.’ I looked and said: ‘Alright. I’m starting. Here we go.’ “
Following a long journey to get to the NBA after playing five years in Turkey and Russia on the heels of a solid career at Valparaiso, this turned out to be the first start of Broekhoff’s two-year NBA career.
“It was awesome,” Broekhoff said. “I was nervous starting for the first time in a long time. Coming off an injury and to get told you’ve got Russell Westbrook and James Harden coming at you, it was definitely a test.”
Broekhoff finished the game with nine points and five rebounds in 20 minutes, all season highs. He was 3-of-7 from 3-point land. Those were very palatable statistics considering the native of Australia was just trying to work himself back into the swing of things after suffering the fractured fibula against the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 29.
“His numbers aren’t gaudy since coming back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “But he’s played consistent defense, he rebounds the position well and he’s one of the better shooters on our team.”
With so many variables to consider as a first-time starter — not to mention having to contend with a pair of All-Stars in Harden and Westbrook — this made for a restless afternoon for Broekhoff leading up to his first NBA start.
“I’m not huge at taking naps anyway,” Broekhoff said. “But that definitely didn’t happen that day.”
If the game against the Rockets was ecstatic for Broekhoff, the Mavs’ game the next day at American Airlines Center against the Atlanta Hawks was an emotional affair. That’s because Broekhoff’s mother, Jo Toebelman, was in attendance at AAC and watching her son play in an NBA game in person for the first time.
Broekhoff finished the game against the Hawks with eight points and a season-high six rebounds. Needless to say, his mom was elated.
“She’s a proud parent,” Broekhoff said. “I mean, this is the NBA. It’s very hard to get into no matter who you are.
“I took a little bit of a long journey compared to some players, but that’s just how it is. Some guys come in very young and some guys have to keep working and find some roles that need to be filled. That’s sort of how I see myself, as a role player to come in and knock down shots, play some defense, grab a couple of rebounds and just sort of compliment the stars that we’ve got.”
A 6-6, 215-pounder, Broekhoff was 17 days shy of turning 28 years old when the Mavs signed him to a two-year contract on Aug. 6, 2018. It was a monumental occasion in the Broekhoff household that was taken to the next level when his son, Jackson, was born approximately eight months ago.
Broekhoff’s mom came to Dallas from Australia earlier this season to visit her grandson.
“It’s just an extra set of hands around the house,” Broekhoff said. “When she came earlier in the season I actually didn’t play while she was here.
“So it’s nice for her to kind of at least get to see me play and spend some time with her grandson that lives halfway around the world.”
Of course, the very busy NBA schedule doesn’t afford Broekhoff the moments he desires to spend sufficient time with his son.
“He’s doing really well and now he’s crawling and getting around, and these last couple of months he’s being just more of who he is and his personality is coming out,” Broekhoff said. “With me being so busy traveling and everything with the games, I really try and take the time when I’m at home to interact with him and get quality time while I can, because these moments can be passing quickly and he’s kind of getting into these milestones before I guess I’m ready It’s a lot of fun and he’s a lot of fun.”
What wasn’t a lot of fun for Broekhoff was the fractured left fibula. Broekhoff had just re-entered the game with only 1:17 remaining, and he made a 3-pointer with 46.2 seconds to go.
Then came the moment that would sideline him for the next month.
“It was (the Lakers’) last offensive possession,” Broekhoff said. “(Lakers guard Troy) Daniels was at the top with the ball and I was playing defense on him, and he went to drive and I think he changed directions and he just kneed me in the right spot with the right amount of force.
“I thought it was just kind of like a knee-to-knee knock that you get and it’s a little bit sore and a little bit numb, and then after 10-15 seconds it’s kind of back to normal. We started going the other way and I had a little bit of trouble sort of getting up the court, so I was a little bit worried that maybe I had done something, but I definitely didn’t think I’d fractured a bone or anything like that.”
Now, Broekhoff is back doing what he does best. Back doing the precise duties that earned him the Horizon League Player of the Year during the 2011-’12 season in his junior year at Valparaiso.
“Broekhoff’s just a constant,” Carlisle said. “If you walk in the gym real early you’re going to see him come in at a certain time every day. His preparation is the same every day. He’s meticulous in his prep to be ready to play.”
Even if his first NBA start was a long time coming.