• Ian Stacker

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie...

It’s been an interesting week or so in politics with politician after politician having to resign as they have held dual citizenship which has made them ineligible to represent the Australian public in parliament.

It appears their loyalty to Australia needed to be emphatic by denouncing any other country which may also lay claim to them.

This got me wondering about the naturalised Australians who have represented us in Olympic and World Championship competition. Most of the naturalised players who take out Australian Citizenship can retain the citizenship of their Country of origin so they actually become dual citizens, usually it’s Australian and American.

I wonder whether the highest priority for our new Australians is to (1) go to the Olympics or (2) represent Australia? I think there is a clear difference between the two. The Olympics looks like a wonderful time, the best of every sport in the world, who wouldn’t want to go!

It’s hard for me to conceptualise how someone who has grown up in another Country is passionate about representing Australia. Surely Americans grew up wanting to represent America, if they aren’t good enough to do that then that should be it. Like 99% of the population they miss out on that honour.

Certainly, when youngsters start playing sport, they dream of representing their Country at the highest level. Some also dream of making the NBA or WNBA, but a constant reflection by most who make it to both, is that wearing the green and gold is their highest honour.

Would it be reasonable to request naturalised players to renounce their citizenship to their Country of birth if they truly want to nudge out some home-grown talent from our National team?

One of my first basketball memories on this topic was when the 1972 Olympics were on. I was 14 or 15 at the time and I couldn’t understand why our National Men’s team had three American born players. (Perry Crosswhite, Ken James & Tom Bender) FIBA obviously didn’t like that look either changing the maximum of naturalised players to one per team not long after. I guess I also found it difficult to understand a few years earlier, when I would go and watch the VBA men’s championships down at Albert Park Stadium, where the Church Tigers (later called the Melbourne Tigers) would have about five Americans on their roster. Meanwhile their main rival, the St Kilda Saints, who featured Aussie basketball legends Brian Kerle, Ken Cole and Eddie Palubinskas played with no Americans. It just seemed to make me like the Saints better than the Tigers.

Our Olympic men’s teams have featured one naturalised player on the following occasions; 1976 Crosswhite, 1980 Crosswhite again, 1992 Leroy Loggins, 1996 Scott Fisher, 2000 Ricky Grace, 2008 Shawn Redhage, 2016 Kevin Lisch. Several have also attended World Championships and other International tournaments but my research department is not prepared to delve much deeper than the Olympics.

The Opals, to my knowledge, haven’t had the naturalised players to the extent the Boomers have, probably due mainly to the fact the Opals didn’t have many import players in the WNBL, they used Aussies. I wonder if that had something to do with their superior success to the men in international competition? The Opals were carrying the scoring load for their local WNBL team whereas the Americans usually carried the scoring responsibility in the NBL. With more imports now starting to play in the WNBL I expect more naturalised players will follow Kelsey Griffin into the Green and Gold.

Now is the time I should state in no uncertain terms that Americans have been a wonderful influence on basketball in Australia. They have helped raised the bar for our standard of play, some have gone into coaching which has also helped further develop our game and thankfully some have even reproduced giving us the home-grown talent of Dante Exum, Ben Simmons, Jonah Bolden, Keanu Pinder, Dane Pineu, Anneli Maley and others.

As I think deeper into the issue with the naturalised players taking spots on the Boomers and now the Opals (Kelsey Griffin), I am confident that it’s influenced by my own personal view of what the Olympics and International basketball is about. My view is that these events are the place the talent developed in one Country is pitted against the best talent from other Countries.

Basketball Associations around the Country run their local basketball competitions and camps with the dream of producing players who one day might represent them at the highest level. Basketball Australia run all sorts of elite camps, Junior National tournaments, select players for the Centre of Excellence investing millions in their development. Then at the very peak of the mountain we pick a player who has been in the Country for five minutes ahead of someone who has grown up on the dream of playing for the green and gold.

Kyrie Irving apparently qualifies for Australian Citizenship as he was born in Melbourne, he left here as a baby and was raised in the USA. He has rightly chosen to play for the USA and personally I wouldn’t be comfortable with him putting on the green and gold. He learnt his hoops in the US and he should rightly represent them.

I believe there is no requirement for coaches or support staff to even be Australian citizens to be with our National teams, apparently, they aren’t part of the team! Significant resources are also put into coach development programs throughout the Country, I’m sure all coaches working at the junior levels also dream of coaching a National team one day.

Brian Goorjian, Brett Brown and Ken Shields have all been on the staff of our Olympic programs while the Boomers have also used technical assistants (video guys) who have not been Australian citizens, not a job Aussies would like to do it seems.

As a coach of a National team I would personally find it very difficult to select a naturalised player over someone who had represented the Country in Junior and Senior competitions.

The Opals are competing at the Asian Championships this week and I wonder whose dream Kelsey Griffin has taken away. I can remember when pressure was put on Rob Rose and Darnell Mee to make themselves available for the Boomers once they had taken out citizenship – the main objective of taking out citizenship was to allow them to play as Aussies in the NBL thus increasing their value and lengthening their NBL careers. Darnell and Rob both stated on several occasions that it was never their dream to play for Australia, their dream was to play for the USA, they didn’t want to take away someone else’s dream just for the chance to go to the Olympic Games.

Time to state again that Americans have been great for Australian basketball. But should we adopt the model created by our constitution and expect anyone who wants to wear the green and gold to show their true dedication to Australia by renouncing their citizenship to their motherland? I’d not only be interested to see whether they would still take it up or whether even then I found it palatable that they should represent the sport where so many people here devote many hours to helping young players achieve their dreams.

What do you think?

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