• Ian Stacker

Oops Opals

Wow what a win by the Boomers overnight. They are now into the final four and a win away from winning our first medal in senior men’s basketball. They have played outstanding basketball all tournament and I think I will wait until their journey is over before further comment as there is other business that needs some discussion.

The disaster that has turned out to be the Opals should have been harder to predict. It is rare that such a shaky start to a tournament, five wins but hardly any convincing play, continues into decline when a blue chip team like the Opals is involved. In the men’s section Spain started horribly with a 0-2 record but came back strongly to win their final three games and finish the top of their pool. The Opals looked beatable in each game that they played but most expected them to steady and fight their way through the quarter and semi-finals and still play off for the Gold medal, it wasn’t to be.

Most will call for Brendan Joyce’s head but as I have stated in my previous blogs Brendan’s appointment rightly or wrongly is an indicator of lack of good leadership and planning at the Basketball Australia level. Sometimes horrific results can stimulate change throughout an organisation, such as when the 1976 Olympic results were so poor that the Federal Government created the AIS to enhance our preparation as a Nation for international events.

I was at the AIS as Men’s coach during the funding application period for 2012 to 2016 when all the sports put their case to the Australian Sports Commission for funding into the next Olympic cycle. My position gave me close exposure to the decision making processes of BA, the AIS and the Sports Commission and I was often bewildered at the priorities and processes within the leadership of the organisations. I shouldn’t have been too amazed given the history of such things at the elite level of Basketball.

To my knowledge BA have never had a stated policy on coaching appointments, terms, the process for selections and the key performance indicators for being considered to coach National teams. Certainly the word “merit” has never been much of a consideration with regard to National staff appointments. My observation over many years now is that ‘nepotism” has been the most important factor in jobs and this has dated back to and probably started in the Lorraine Landon era with National teams. Never did anyone have more power with regard to coaching appointments than Lorraine and Patrick Hunt’s influence the dominant force in appointments at the junior national team level. If Patrick or Lorraine didn’t like you then your chances of getting a National job were much harder than if you were in their corner.

With power in the hands of single people it is not hard to see how friendships and self-interest can start to influence important decisions. Basketball is a pretty small community once you start to get to the pointy end of the system and too often decisions made by single people have significant effect down the line.

When Larry Sengstock was appointed CEO of Basketball Australia many thought it was a giant step forward for the sport, finally we had a basketball person in charge and many hoped it would start to change how the sport operated. One of Larry’s first appointments was to hire someone to fill the newly created role of High Performance General Manager for BA, their key role was to manage National teams – the role had come about after the Sports Commission held an investigation into how BA could improve its performance in International competition. After a worldwide search for the most suitable person to fill the role Wayne Carroll was appointed by Larry to the position. Coincidentally Wayne was also a close personal friend of Larry’s.

Given that I was appointed to the position of AIS coach during this period I guess I can hardly criticise the decision making, however I understand it took quite a bit of work to get my name over the line over some less credentialed candidates. I did also apply for the position of HPGM and didn’t get past first base.

Wayne Carroll left BA not long after to head up the new stadium development with the Knox Basketball Association and most would know how that ended. About this time there was also a bit of a power play at the BA board level with Larry Sengstock being moved out with Scott Derwin and Kristina Kenneally jockeying positions with Scott becoming the new interim CEO while Kenneally became the new Chairperson of BA, not long after that they changed spots again with Sengstock being dumped and Kenneally becoming the new CEO of BA. I think Larry’s last meaningful appointment at BA was to appoint Stephen Icke as the new HPGM, I applied again and missed out again. Icke and Sengstock had a relationship dating back to their days with the North Melbourne Giants and the North Melbourne Football club.

The combination of Icke and Kenneally set the foundation for the eventual appointment of Brendan Joyce as National Women’s coach despite very little experience in the women’s side of the sport.

But who else can claim to be involved with these decisions because it is the decisions to appoint people like Icke and Kenneally that lead to disasters such as the Opals collapse. There has certainly been a lack of actual basketball experience at the Board level of BA, these are the people who ratify appointments and should ask appropriate questions about what is going on and the only true basketball person sitting at the table during this period has been Andrew Gaze.

I first tried to raise concerns about Icke in my role as AIS coach with both the powers at the AIS and with Kristina Kenneally. She was not at all interested in even discussing my concerns as they were, in her view, HP area. I indicated to her that the problem was Icke and she just wanted me to sort it out with him. I felt he was incompetent so I didn’t see any point in trying to point that out to him any further. This was all long before the BA submission to the Sports Commission for funding and the great ideas of full time national coaches based at the COE and the other changes that Icke would go on to propose.

I also raised my concerns with Andrew Gaze in his role as a BA board member, Chairperson of the High Performance Commission and a member of the panel that appointed Icke. While he listened to my concerns there was certainly no action taken until long after Icke’s grand plans had been implemented and the women’s program had been set on a fatal course.

Once Icke’s grand plans had been implemented he was moved on not long after, officially he resigned and moved out but the damage was done.

Andrew was certainly a great player for Australia however in his role as basketball expert at the supreme leadership level, in my opinion, he has failed the sport. He has so many fingers in the pie with his business interests in the sport, TV and radio commentary and now coach of the Sydney Kings it appears impossible to make decisions in the best interest of the sport without being influenced by his own interests. There are many other ex-players and coaches who could independently make decisions for the good of the sport but Andrew has been a lock in for the role of basketball expert since he hung up his boots, and how have things gone during that time? He was at the table when Kenneally and Icke entered the scene and was on the panel that appointed Icke, I think he needs to move on.

I have previously lobbied for the creation of a Technical Panel within BA to handle coaching appointments, coaching succession plans and player selection policies. Having too much power in one person’s hands leaves decisions open to the types of clashes of interests, incompetence and or nepotism. It’s much harder to get poor decisions past a competent group of highly qualified people.

The situation where National coaches can select their staff without any sort of vetting procedures has seen some very odd appointments made over the years. There have been times where I have turned on the TV to watch the Olympics and I haven’t known the names of some of the people sitting on the bench and I have been working at the elite level of the sport for quite a long time. I have already covered the Opals staff in my previous blogs but even the Boomers have made some odd selections over the years. Brett Brown having Shane Heal on staff, given Shane’s total lack of experience in coaching at the time seemed odd at the time, when it came out years later that Brett and Shane shared business interest that went horribly south then it didn’t seem so odd. Luc Longley was on the panel that appointed Andrej Lemanis then he turns up on Andrej’s staff, surely there was some sort of conflict of interest there, maybe not. While things are going well for the Boomers at these Olympics it doesn’t discount the need for appropriate procedures to select all the coaching staff.

Surely there is merit in establishing a credible process for selecting our National coaches and their support staff. To give the head coach total say in who they add to their staff would be like appointing your team captain and then allowing them to pick the rest of the team. Some good people, well credentialed would surely miss out. The best qualified coaches need to learn to work together as a unit just as the best players do. Having an existing relationship with the guy who gets the top job shouldn’t be the highest priority.

One of my good friends who reads my blog calls me “bitter and twisted” and he is right. I am bitter and twisted, my time has come and gone however I really care about our sport and it’s about time BA provided some leadership so that appointments and selections are based on merit, not nepotism. Recently a coach applied for a position with the COE, after failing to get the job he was advised by a COE coach that the fact the he had “liked” my blog article on Rethinking the COE on Facebook it indicated a lack of support for the COE program. really!!! It’s hard to comprehend such mindsets.

Jan Stirling was appointed the new HPGM late last year – yes I applied again and yes I missed out again, at least I’m persistent. Jan getting the job was a fait accompli, she had been involved with other HP projects with BA and she is well qualified for the job. BA also have a relatively new CEO in Anthony Moore. Andrew Gaze remains the only basketball person from the Icke and Kenneally period and I think he has to go. BA have a chance after the disaster of these Olympics to set some new standards, get their governance issues to being creditable. When a young coach asks how can I get to be an Olympic coach one day there should be a clear pathway where merit and achievement in the field is the foundation criteria for selection.

Basketball deserves better than what we have been given in the past, Penny Taylor deserved better than what she was dealt these Olympics, when Andrew Gaze, in his TV commentator role, interviewed Penny after their quarter final loss and asked her “Is there an explanation for the performance of the opals?” she could not have handled the situation any better but really it should have been her asking Andrew the same question. She could also be justified in asking “how could you let this happen?”

However just me crying about it won’t get anything done, remember I’m bitter and twisted so my opinion is held in low regard, if you agree with any of my rant please don’t be afraid to “like” or “share” this blog as the more people who voice their disappointment the more chance of meaningful change.

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