• Ian Stacker

Emus fall short again

In case you missed it, last week the National Men’s Under 19 team lost the Oceania Qualifying series for the 2017 World Championships to New Zealand. It has barely caused a ripple in basketball circles which is probably a sad acceptance of how low the bar has been set for our National programs.

It is the first time ever we have not qualified for this tournament and a far cry from Gordie McLeod’s team who won Australian men’s first medal, a silver, at the World championships in 1995 and Rob Beveridge’s team who won Gold in 2003. Damien Cotter’s team even finished fourth as recently as 2013 closely losing both their semi-final and bronze medal games.

The under 19 team, in particular, has enjoyed international success due in part to the number of players who are based at the AIS which has provided significant preparation advantages for that age group.

So, what happened? And what is happening?

Those who will talk in defence of the result will point to the fact there are up to six players who would have been certain starters for this team who were not available due to them chasing the American dream of playing college basketball in the USA. This is a fair point and certainly the timing of qualifying tournaments needs to be looked at. I’m amazed this hasn’t already happened, but then again, I’m not!

The US colleges these kids are attending are never going to release them to play for Australia, not if it has a chance of costing them a win. College’s will talk the talk when recruiting players about always supporting their involvement with the National program but when push comes to shove they are rarely released. Only the most confident and patriotic player is going to turn their back on their college program to play for their Country, imagine that.

Even in the college off season, when some International events and camps are held, Universities will still pressure players to stay in the States and attend summer school – usually their holiday period – to catch up on classes they missed during the basketball season.

College basketball is a big problem for our National junior programs which creates quite the paradox for most of the coaches in the National junior programs who encourage the kids to go to the US. This problem has existed for quite some time now and often talked about needing a solution, I expect a solution may be a higher priority now that disaster has occurred.

The other issue for this under 19 team is the relative inexperience of the coaching staff at the International level.

Adam Caporn was appointed Associate Head Coach (whatever that means) at the AIS when it was renamed the Centre of Excellence in 2014. I see now that his title has been changed to Head Coach. A quick check of Adam’s resume will show he had never been a head coach at any relevant level beforehand so his appointment to one of the most important coaching jobs in the Country was, well, common I guess. Adam’s position at the COE gives him automatic appointment as the National under 19 coach under the program introduced by the infamous Steven Icke, and approved by the BA High Performance Commission and the Board of BA.

Prior to his appointment at the AIS, Adam was an assistant coach at St Mary’s University in the USA. His main job was to recruit Australians for their program, a trend that has certainly continued in his time at the AIS.

This is not the first time this group has underachieved. In 2014 they qualified through a three pointer on the buzzer to beat New Zealand and then finished 7th at the tournament, one of our poorest results, until now. Alarm bells should have been ringing then, but of course the whole coaching staff were reappointed so the writing was certainly on the wall.

Here’s a little history for you all. Mike McHugh had been the Basketball Australia National Player and Coach Development Manager for five years prior to 2013. In that time, Brett Brown had introduced the concept of a depth chart of players for the National Program. These were the players from around the age of 14 or 15 years who the coaches associated with all the National programs had identified as prospects for the Boomers. They were to be closely monitored and programs planned to ensure their development. The depth chart contained some 60 odd players to monitor.

Mike has also developed a depth chart of coaches that included the top 40 coaches who were identified as prospects for the National programs.

One of Icke’s last key objectives was to move Mike out of the role, Ickes departure soon followed and in the vacuum left National junior team appointments were largely left to the two National coaches of the time Brendan Joyce and Andrej Lemanis.

The three coaches appointed to the National under 19 team did not feature at all on that list of 40 prospective National coaches – they leap frogged 40 people into those jobs. Once again relationships became the highest priority in BA jobs rather than merit and experience.

I think the players deserve better.

When I was first appointed head coach of the AIS in 2010 Adam Caporn was the scholarship coach and I found him to be a coach with great potential, a quality human being. He was just short of practical coaching experience but I thought one day he could certainly be a good coach. It was his lack of experience in the trenches that needed to be had. He left not long after for St Mary’s and I guess has lived happily ever after.

I know the other coaches on the under 19 staff quite well too. Tim Mallon and Mark Radford are both good guys, heavy on work in the trenches but very light on in relevant international experience.

This is not a criticism of the coaches, it’s a criticism of a system that allows three people to leap frog forty into very important coaching positions.

It should be noted the women’s team qualified quite easily. Mistakes in the women’s program often take longer to impact as our women are consistently powerful in international basketball. If there are screw ups made it will usually be highlighted at the major event if the team fails to play off for the major medals.

This is a cristicsm of the BA system where one person can make decisions on coaching appointments rather than an appropriately qualified and independant panel of experts.

It’s also a cristicsm of the peanuts paid to coaches who must relocate to the COE for coaching jobs. You are never going to get the most experienced people to stay in those jobs when they must to move to Canberra and can also make more income in the school’s system or the NBL.

I understand BA is about to rekindle the role held by Patrick Hunt many years ago, as Head of Performance Coach Development – new title same old job.

This person will be based in Canberra (there goes the chance of getting the best possible person for the job) and no doubt part of their role will be to get the National junior programs in order. However, if it’s a return to the old days then relationships will once again become the highest priority rather than merit and experience. Hopefully the right kind of person will be appointed and the right kind of coaching pathways will be introduced to ensure disasters, like that which happened last weekend, never happen again.

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