• Ian Stacker

Selection issues continue to haunt Opals

Odd selections appear to have become common practise with the Opals, but this began long before the selection of the final team for Rio last week.

When Brendan Joyce was appointed Head Coach of the National Women’s team, the Opals, it raised more than a few eyebrows, Brendan while successful in his own right as an NBL coach, he had relatively zero experience coaching women’s basketball. To be appointed to the highest role within the women’s game seemed an odd choice, many thought that surely there were other candidates, experienced in the women’s game who would be more appropriate and worthy for the top job.

To understand how he was appointed you need to understand the perfect storm of the beliefs of The Peter Principle theory operating at Basketball Australia at time. In brief summary The Peter Principle concludes that people within a company eventually rise to a level within an organisation where they are in roles that are above their competencies. High profile CEO Kristina Kenneally was at the reins (Kenneally was the former Premier of NSW at time of widespread corruption within the system), Steven Icke was in his final days as High Performance Manager (Icke was the former Football Manager at the Carlton Football Club, they are still trying to recover from those days) and Andrew Gaze was and still is the basketball expert on the board of BA and Chairman of the High Performance Commission (Andrew was a really great player)

Icke had come up with the great idea that the National coaches had to be based in Canberra, this was a nonnegotiable and subsequently discounted some of the most experienced coaches working in the women’s game such as Tom Maher, Guy Molloy and Sandey Brondello. All had interest in the job but none had interest in living in Canberra. Carrie Graff had been harshly judged a failure in the role due to the Opals coming up with the Bronze Medal at the 2012 Olympics so rather than suffer the humiliation of applying again and not being reappointed she chose to not apply.

Icke was left with a choice between Joyce – whose family lived not far from Canberra in Wollongong, Brian Agler, who the hell is that? you might ask, he’s a journey man WNBA coach who of course was prepared to move to Canberra and Phil Brown who already lived in Canberra but had no real chance at the job. Once they realised they were left with a few questionable options, a last minute call was made to Maher, who had only just committed to coach the Chinese National Women’s team again so was now out of the picture.

Joyce was appointed and the Opals won Bronze at the 2014 World Championships!! Hang on a minute Bronze?

The next odd selections came in the form of the assistant coaches. The question first asked among the WNBL community when appointments were made was “Who the hell are these guys?” Damien Cotter and Scott Butler. Cotter was at the time the NSW Institute of Sport Head Coach and had just had a stint with the under 19 men’s National team and Butler was the Basketball Queensland High Performance Coach for North Queensland. Both experienced coaches with junior boys, neither with any experience in the WNBL or with senior women. Cotter has since had a failed attempt at coaching in the NBL with the Sydney Kings. The final addition to the coaching staff was Lori Chizik, an experienced WNBL coach who hadn’t coached in the league for some time but maintained involvement through coaching junior girls State teams and helping with National female junior teams as well as TV commentary for the WNBL, she certainly has done her time in the league and in women’s basketball.

Given the WNBL is the showcase of Basketball Australia’s competitions it’s difficult to understand how they see appointing a coaching staff without any significant links to the league as an endorsement of their own product. To suggest there are no coaches worthy of involvement with the National Women’s team is hard to justify given the depth of talent within the WNBL coaching ranks. The other obvious problem is that there is clearly no succession plan around the support staff appointed to the program.

The odd player selections first started with Tess Lavey as the anointed point guard of the future. Now I don’t know the WNBL very well but I certainly have good contact with many who do and most were scratching their head at her selection for the World Championships in 2014 but she has long been considered a lock, by the coach, for the Olympic team.

Next the fiasco with Abbey Bishop and her being forced to withdraw from selection for the World Champs team due to her child minding responsibilities and a BA policy on the issue that has been well documented.

The final disputed selections occurred with the announcement of the 2016 Olympic team. Abbey Bishop 2015 WNBL MVP and Suzi Batkovic 2012, 2013, 2014 & 2016 WNBL MVP both failed to make the cut among the 12 players to represent Australia, social media went off about this and it’s hard to understand the choices made.

In one of my previous articles I wrote about how coaching for BA is far less scrutinised than coaching in the weekly grind of the WNBL and NBL however the one-time BA coaches are under the spot light and under public scrutiny is the Olympic Games.

Brendan Joyce is a proven coach, those who have followed his career closely would know that his time at Wollongong and Gold Coast in the NBL probably ended with questionable selections of playing personal being an issue. At the end of the day if the Opals are successful then he will be able to rightly prove all his detractors wrong. When I left Glen Saville off my 1997 National Young Men’s team many thought me wrong, even today I still get ribbed about leaving him off the team, my comeback of course is that we won the World Championship, that usually ends the conversation. We clearly picked the best team to help us win. Time will tell if Brendan and BA has picked the right team.

So how does a successful Olympic Games look for the Opals? Carrie Graf was virtually forced out after getting the Bronze Medal so I guess anything less than a Silver medal will make it hard to defend selection decisions. Not just decisions made by Brendan Joyce but also decisions made by the powers that be at Basketball Australia in the first place.

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