Ryan Broekhoff’s mother, Jo Toebelman, said the scene Tuesday was almost too surreal.
Sure, her son dreamed of playing in the NBA someday. Every young basketball player does at some point.
But the fact that he actually made it? That’s another story.
“I just want to cry” Toebelman said. “Never in our wildest dreams did we ever think he would be here and it’s amazing.”
Toebelman arrived from Australia two weeks ago for a six-week trip stateside. The shock still hasn’t worn off, she said. Her son really does play for the Dallas Mavericks.
Even after a year and a half, she admits it’s still hard to believe.
“I’m just so proud,” she said, while overlooking Ryan as he snapped pictures with young children and signed autographs. “It couldn’t have happened to someone nicer. He’s just a good guy.”
Toebelman said Broekhoff’s resilience and return from injury has also been remarkable. In fact, at the start of the season, he wasn’t even in the Mavericks’ rotation. Then he landed playing time midway through December before suffering a broken fibula in the final minute of the Mavericks game in Los Angeles on Dec. 29.
The injury would just become more Broekhoff folklore. It happened at a time when catastrophic wildfires ravaged Australia. Broekhoff went to work and used his platform to raise funds for his homeland, joining forces with his countrymen. Exactly one month later — he started his first game in the NBA (more on that later).
“I think the big thing is, Ryan never forgets where he comes from,” his mother shared.
Tuesday afternoon, Broekhoff, his mother and seven-month-old son, Jackson, attended the Dallas Mavericks Reading Challenge at the Fort Worth Public Library. The event is a partnership between the Mavs and Whataburger to encourage children to read (note: read more about the challenge here).
“To be able to be a role model for kids and help them with something important like reading fills me with a sense of pride,” Broekhoff told a throng of reporters after the event.
Broekhoff said that reading is one of his favorite pasttimes, and although the Mavs players’ book club has dissolved this season, many of his teammates still talk and share stories about books they’re reading. He stressed to the children that reading can be fun and educational at the same time.
“Reading is a part of my life, and my journey, and something I use every day,” Broekhoff shared with the youth. “Now I get to pass on my love to my little kid. He’s more into eating the books at the stage, but I’m sure he’ll grow into loving it.”
Toebelman admits it makes her quite a proud mother to hear Ryan encourage the children.
In fact, she said her son’s rise to the NBA is just as magical as the storybooks that lined the shelves behind him.
“He left home when he was 17,” Toebelman shared, tears of thankfulness welling up in her eyes. “He hasn’t been home for Christmas in 12 years.
“He’s always been overseas. We really miss him. To see him up there with the children today — that’s something I’ll never forget.”
Broekhoff was never supposed to make it to the NBA.
The 6-6 Aussie swingman didn’t even start his final season at the Australian Institute of Sport. One of the main reasons he was even recruited to Valparaiso was based on genes.
Both of Broekhoff’s parents played high-level hoops with the Frankston Blues, a junior club in Australia. A scout believed his potential and imagined with those genes, he’d eventually evolve into a basketball force.
In the end, Valparaiso was the only Division I school to offer Broekhoff a college scholarship.
“We went through a lot,” Jo shared. “It wasn’t always easy. That’s why all of this is such a shock.”
Valpo soon learned Broekhoff was a massive return on investment.
After signing with the school, Broekhoff hit a growth spurt and matured into his body. That summer he excelled at the U-19 championships and then arrived on campus his freshman year as one of two newcomers. His sophomore season was his breakout campaign.
Broekhoff knocked down 64 treys and doubled his assists and steals.
“Lots and lots and lots of practice,” the Aussie told one child Tuesday who inquired about his silky shot from the 3-point arc. “Lots of 3-pointers all day. A lot of practice.”
Broekhoff would excel his final two seasons at Valparaiso, earning All-American honors in 2012, and he suspected that he’d play somewhere overseas one day. But even as a senior, he understood the insurmountable climb to ever step foot in an NBA game.
“The NBA is something I’d love to do at some point,” he told the Times of Northwest Indiana. “It’s something that anyone who plays basketball would love to do, but only a small number get to do. Right now it’s kind of all in the distance.”
In the 2013 NBA Draft, Broekhoff’s name was never called. Instead, he bounced around in various professional leagues and played international competition with Australia.
Then on Aug. 6, 2018, the miracle call arrived. Dallas was in the hunt for someone like Broekhoff and eventually signed him to a two-year deal.
The sharpshooter made his NBA debut in October of 2018 and played sparingly as a rookie. In June of 2019, his first child — baby Jackson — was born.
Then, last Friday against the Houston Rockets, Broekhoff made his first NBA start and finished with nine points, five rebounds and a block.
“My leg is still not 100 percent,” Broekhoff said. “But to go from breaking a bone in my leg, to coming back early from that, to starting. . .
“I’ve enjoyed the challenge of coming back and being able to contribute. Hopefully I’ve been able to put my best foot forward and perform to what the coaches and everyone thought of me.”
Well, everyone except his mom. Broekhoff said even though he’s now in the NBA, his mother still knows best. She’s his biggest fan — and coach.
“I tell him, when your shots are short, use the legs a bit more,” Toebelman said. “Don’t live and die by the three.
“Get to the basket. Rebound. Get to the foul line. Easy points.”
Asked if his mom gives him some positives about his game before adding her corrections, Broekhoff laughed and said: “Nooo. No she does not.”
As they got ready to leave, Toebelman admitted that basketball is just the icing on the cake. She said watching Ryan hold his son, Jackson, on his lap and read to children in a country thousands of miles away from home, in a league he was never even supposed to play in, makes her emotional.
She added: “I still can’t believe this is real.”