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Former Jazz guard Bryce Cotton rediscovers love for basketball with Australia’s Perth Wildcats

Former Utah Jazz guard Bryce Cotton is the NBL’s reigning MVP as a member of the Perth Wildcats in Australia. Cotton and the Wildcats will face the Jazz in the preseason opener on Saturday, Sept. 29 at Vivint Arena.
Former Utah Jazz guard Bryce Cotton is the NBL’s reigning MVP as a member of the Perth Wildcats in Australia. Cotton and the Wildcats will face the Jazz in the preseason opener on Saturday, Sept. 29 at Vivint Arena.
Eric Woodyard, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — January 1, 2017, signified a New Year and new beginning for Bryce Cotton.

The former Utah Jazz guard arrived in Perth, Western Australia on that date to begin a new chapter of his basketball life.

Growing up in Tucson, Arizona, he immediately noticed some changes in the Australian culture, but quickly adapted. Being exposed to different types of animals was among the top of the list of the 26-year-old’s craziest overseas experiences.

“I saw a kangaroo one time on the side of the freeway,” Cotton recalled. “So, like out here (in America), we may see, like, a dead armadillo or something like that but it may be a dead kangaroo on the side just from getting hit so it’s a little different.

“They’ve got a lot of spiders, but you get used to it, though,” he continued, laughing. “I have not touched those waters. I’m not messing with the sharks; that’s for sure.”

Adapting culturally off the court may have been uncomfortable initially, but on the court he wasted no time establishing himself as one of the premier guards in Australia.

Cotton was named 2018 MVP of the National Basketball League (NBL) after leading the Perth Wildcats to a 2017 NBL championship, where he garnered Grand Final MVP honors following his 45-point Game 3 performance.

Cotton now returns to Salt Lake City on Saturday for a preseason matchup against his former Jazz team as a member of the Perth Wildcats in Vivint Arena at 7 p.m. Perth has won two of the previous three NBL titles while reaching the playoffs for 32 consecutive seasons.

Vivint Arena was actually EnergySolutions Arena when Cotton played his last home game for the Jazz on April 13, 2015, scoring 21 points with four assists in a 109-92 victory versus Dallas.

His ridiculous one-handed, alley-oop flush, off a lob from Rodney Hood in that game, was voted Dunk of the Yearfrom KSL Sports in addition to being highlighted throughout the league.

“One of the things I remember about Bryce is when we were in the lounge and trying to get him a lob,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder, who coached Cotton for 15 games in 2014-15. “We had seen a lob play and I had him draw it up, so he drew up his own lob play and it was better than any lob I had drawn up for him so I won’t be surprised when that happens.”

Six-time NBL Best Defensive Player Damian Martin often teases him about using that photo of the dunk as a screensaver on his cell phone, but Cotton insists, “That was a big joke.” In all seriousness, Martin feels he’s the best player in Australia.

“He’s evolved over the time he’s been with us. He’s always had the skills, but he’s taken his game to another level,” Martin said. “People are going to say I’m biased because I’m a teammate, but I’ve been fortunate enough to play against a lot of NBA players with the Australian national team and it blows my mind he doesn’t have a full-time roster spot in the NBA.

“To be honest, when I got told we’re playing two NBA teams, my biggest fear to come out of it was losing him to a contract over here but that’s being selfish,” he added. “He deserves to be in the NBA. I’m confident it’ll happen one day, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying calling him a teammate and I know the Utah Jazz fans are going to enjoy the show he puts on Saturday night.”

Cotton first signed a pair of 10-day contracts with the Jazz in February of the 2014-15 season, which was actually Snyder’s first year as head coach in Utah. He was eventually waived before the start of the next season then experienced brief stints in San Antonio, Phoenix and Memphis before taking his act overseas.

Stops in China and Turkey were along his path before settling in Australia.

Cotton now claims that’s the best thing that ever happened to him, but would be willing to rejoin the NBA if the opportunity presented itself, even after agreeing to a three-year deal with Perththis offseason.

“It’s definitely a blessing,” Cotton said. “Australia helped me find my love for the game again and I mean that to the fullest for sure.”

“Anytime you play in front of an NBA team or NBA coaches, it’s definitely an audition and just to showcase what you can do and also you don’t want to get caught up in so much with proving yourself to these people because it may take away from the team’s play,” he continued. “But I feel like if you just be yourself, and you don’t get scared of the moment, everything will be fine but it’s definitely no time to be half-stepping, that’s for sure.”