Former Albury Wodonga Bandits wing Cirkook ‘Shaq’ Riak has signed with the Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames men’s team for the 2021 NBL1 West season, deciding to bring his talents west after spending the bulk of his career to date in leagues in Victoria, NSW and Queensland.

But he doesn’t want Flames fans to get too excited about his nickname, with the 29-year-old saying he understands the baggage it comes with, it’s just that’s what people have always called him.

“I don’t want people to get the wrong impression and think they’re getting the real Shaquille O’Neal; I’m definitely not a 7-foot-tall centre with a nasty dunk,” the 202cm guard-forward with a good jump shot said.

“I’m a much better shooter than the real Shaq… I’d describe myself as a high energy player, versatile and very competitive. I’m a small forward naturally, but I can play either the 3 or 4, it depends on the line-up. My strengths are probably shooting, stretching the floor, rebounding because I’m a decent size, and being able to switch on defensively.”

His 2019 NBL1 South certainly stats attest to that assessment, with Riak averaging 12.2 points and 7 rebounds per game in the last season of that competition, where he also shot from the floor at 47 percent and the hit the three-ball at 34.6 percent.

The opportunity to join Rockingham came about through his agent, and although he thought his preference was to continue with a Victorian club in NBL1 South, Riak says he was quickly convinced to sign with the Flames after quickly researching their recent history and roster.

“I’ve only heard and read good things about the club,” he said.

“Once I found out they were a contender in a highly competitive competition, which has rebranded as an NBL1 league, the opportunity was too good not to take. Certain guys obviously standout on the roster, like Greg Hire and Tom Jervis. I don’t know them personally yet, but I’m definitely aware of their stature as basketballers and when you get the chance to play with, and learn, from those guys in a competitive environment where you’re going to get the best out of everyone, you have to take it.

“It’ll be a big step up and if those guys have something to say I’ll definitely be listening. You’d have to be ignorant to miss it.”

Riak believes playing with guys of the calibre of Hire and Jervis will help make him a better player and to make his mark as someone who can play near the elite level in the country.

“Everyone wants to play at a level that is higher than the one they’re at,” he said.

“I want to get better, I want people to watch me and know I’m a guy who can play at this level and have an impact on the games. The NBL1 West shapes as a top league and when I looked into the league and saw how strong it was, and that the Flames have been in contention and are seen as contenders again, that got me really excited.

“That’s one of the reasons I signed; I’ve never played for a serious contending team, so I thought that would be fun. What could be better than making a championship your main goal?”

Riak will also be one of the few players in WA to have played in an NBL1-branded league before, and his involvement in the first South East Australian Basketball League season rebranded as NBL1 South leads him to believe it will be a success here too.

“Having that association to the NBL just took it to a new level of professionalism. We had a higher calibre of player join the league, which helps the existing players in the league get better,” he said.

“Guys who had good numbers in the G-League and Europe were actively trying to join the league. The exposure was great too and it drove you to do better because you know if you do something worth getting noticed for, you’re going to get noticed. That’s the first thing teams look for and see.

“I definitely think it helped get me this opportunity with the Flames. All those (NBL1) games were recorded and there for people to see. When I say I can hold my own there’s evidence to back that up. The first thing my agent was asked was for full games and they’ve (the Flames coaches) seen them.

“They know what they’re getting in me and they know what to expect from me because they’ve watched me.”

Riak arrives in Rockingham on March 27 ahead of the April 16 NBL1 West tip-off.

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