NBL's 'Mr Irrelevant', Matt Bardsley proving his basketball credentials

Otago Nuggets coach Brent Matehaere almost used the last pick of the National Basketball League draft to get free ice cream.

Instead, he gave that 'Mr Irrelevant' tag to Matt Bardsley and hasn’t regretted it since.

Bardsley has always held ambitions to play in the NZ NBL but up until this year, that dream never became a reality.

The new format, featuring no imports and a minimal number of Aussie NBL players, meant the 24-year-old had a genuine shot at finally making a roster, but had to sit through the inaugural draft last month.

Eighty-three times Bardsley listened for his name to be read out and 83 times he was left disappointed.

His last chance came with the 84th and final pick. The pick belonged to the Nuggets, the team he had trained with for the past few months in Dunedin.

It was a nerve-racking time for the 24-year-old.

"I was hoping it was me and it was about to be announced, then [NBL general manager] Justin Nelson stopped and talked about something else, a sponsor or something, and I was like 'oh no!'" Bardsley tells Newshub.

Just a few moments later, the Nuggets confirmed they had selected him - to his massive relief.

"I was just over the moon," he says.

A combination of nerves and excitement meant Bardsley didn’t even hear a throwaway line describing the final pick of the draft of 'Mr Irrelevant' - a nickname give to the final pick in the NFL American Football draft.

The moniker has stuck, but Bardsley isn't fazed.

"It's never really bothered me," he says. "I'm just here playing basketball - I don’t care what I'm called."

The recently graduated primary school teacher has since handed out a lesson in opportunism and taken his role of super-sub for Otago with both hands, averaging 3.8 points per game at an impressive 56% field goal percentage.

Those numbers were helped by an 18-point night against Taranaki Mountain Airs, a performance that put the 'Mr Irrelevant' tag well and truly to bed.

"I just want to go out and hustle, and bring the energy where I can really," Bardsley says. "If my teammates can put me in positions where I can contribute, I just [want to] take those opportunities with two hands and run with it."

His cameos off the bench have played a part in helping the Nuggets secure the No.1 seeding heading into the NBL Showdown playoffs and has vindicated Matehare's decision to select Bardsley with the final pick of the draft.

During an early TV interview, he joked about selecting Auckland ice cream man and basketball fanatic Giapo Grazioli with that pick, so the team could get free 'hook-ups'.

"Obviously, on the night, options were wide open, but in reality, we had already decided to pick 'Bards' as our last pick in the draft," Matehaere tells Newshub. "I guess the story is a bit of a Cinderella one.

"You're plucked out of the obscurity and dragged up, and now you have an opportunity to put on a show and that’s what [Bardsley's] doing."

Bardsley's performances have earned him a different nickname from Nelson.

"I've dubbed him 'Mr 84', Nelson tells Newshub. "What an excitement machine." 

'The Sal's NBL draft captured everybody's imagination and the very last pick was a young bloke by the name of Matt Bardsley, and geez, I've loved watching him play.

"Good on him, Mr 84. He is one of the success stories of the NBL Showdown."

The Manawatu native hopes his story can lead to another opportunity in next year's competition and Nelson has no doubt it will.

"I think he's going to get future contracts, I really do." Nelson says.

But for now, there's only one thing on his mind and that's lifting the trophy with the Otago Nuggets.