Now that the dust has settled on another Olympic campaign we should celebrate the awesome job done by the Boomers at this event. To make to the semi-finals after a 16-year absence, in the manner they did, was an outstanding achievement and one that all associated with the team should be proud of. You could see that everyone involved with the team was engaged and truly believed they were capable of pulling off their ultimate goal of the Gold Medal. Their disappointment after the Serbian game was real, they truly believed they could go all the way and that is a significant coaching achievement to make everyone believe the dream was achievable.
My pre-Olympic blog on the need for the chemistry guys to step up was more than achieved and it was the chemistry of the whole group that was the cornerstone of their success. We were all truly proud of how they went about it, how they represented their country and all just as disappointed in how they bowed out.
I predicted that for the Boomers to succeed there were some style of play goals they needed to achieve for success. These included increased three point attempts, (from 14 per game in 2014 to at least 20 per game) increased and consistent three-point percentage (40% minimum) and a style of play that was based on passing that created “extra pass” opportunities resulting in more assists.
In the group phase, that included huge wins over Serbia and France, they shot 36.2% from the three-point line at 21 attempts per game.
In the historic win over Lithuania in the quarter final they shot exactly 40% on 25 attempts.
The disaster was the semi against the awesome pressure of the Serbian defense where they could only manage 12.9% at 31 attempts, the three point shot often the last resort when they couldn’t penetrate the Serbian defense.
Finally, in the Bronze medal game against the might of European super power Spain they hit 41.2% on 17 attempts, almost exactly the same formula as per the win over Lithuania and in many people’s eyes around the world deserved the Bronze medal, but it was not to be.
The Boomers led the Olympic tournament in assists at 24.3 assist per game, better than anyone and up 7 assists per game from the World Championships in Spain in 2014.
The Boomers played exactly the style of game they needed to play to be competitive on the world stage and competitive they were. Well done.
Given my criticism of the Opals overall selection process I’ve been questioned on how the Boomers have been able to succeed under the same circumstances. With regard to the coaching staff, the Boomers job came down to two obvious choices, Andrej Lemanis or Rob Beveridge. Both had great local experience winning championships in the NBL and both with great International experience, Andrej as Brett Brown’s assistant for four years with the Boomers and Bevo winning a World Championship with the under 19 National team. Andrej more than prepared to move to Canberra (after all he was living in New Zealand) with Bevo perhaps a little reluctant to leave Perth. As they say it was a no brainer, something even a flawed system couldn’t get wrong.
So what now?
Let’s not forget the Boomers haven’t made it this far since 2000, it’s been 16 years and I’m sure in 2000 everyone had great optimism about the future of Men’s hoops in Australia. Conversely it’s been some 20 years since the Opals haven’t medalled. How do we get some consistency and ongoing success for the Boomers and get the Opals back on the podium?
Anyone who has ever talked hoops with me would know that I believe the answer to our player development plans and programs lies with the Countries of the former Yugoslavia. My first visit to Slovenia in 1993 convinced me this is where our answer is, they have a club based program, a small population, limited resources and they are dealing with the same racial demographic of athletes that we have here in Australia. The infatuation we have with the USA and college basketball, where they have a school based system with a massive population and a very different athlete to what we have, is misguided and the sooner we look to Europe for our junior development needs the sooner we might get that elusive medal.
I took the AIS squad to Belgrade, Serbia in 2011 and we played some games against the Serbian under 19 team. I can remember the first time we were to play them walking into the gym as they were warming up. They looked like an Aussie junior team, all fair skinned but pretty athletic and strong. I thought we had a chance, until the game started. They proceeded to physically rip us apart, their defensive pressure was better than anything I had seen and their offensive execution and efficiency was clinical. It looked like the Boomers playing Serbia in the semi-final.
The coach of the Serbian team was yelling at the players the whole game, I asked Andrija Dumovic who was on our team and is of Montenegrin decent what they were saying? He just smiled and basically said the coach was questioning every element of their family heritage and their individual manhood. He was ruthless as was his team.
I spoke with the coach the next day and he was frustrated with the lack of effort from his players and the general lack of effort from Serbian juniors, he thought they were soft and they were losing good players to Tennis due to Djokovic and handball and soccer were also taking players. He had no patience for players who were not 100% fully committed to being the best they could be and said if they showed any weakness they were shown the door. This is the type of environment that creates the type of team that can dominate the Boomers, and others.
One of my former AIS players Mirko Djeric has recently moved to Serbia to play with a club team there. I contacted him following the Boomers loss to Serbia to ask him how practise was going. He said they had been training for 15 days straight, twice a day and it was relentless. This is how world class players are produced, it's no coincidence to me Andrew Bogut is from Croatian blood line, also part of the former Yugoslavia.
Now I am not suggesting we start to verbally abuse our players but somewhere between 15 days straight and what we currently do is the answer that can help us produce players capable of getting past the teams who always end our tournaments.
All development strategies in Serbia are driven by the Federation and the Country have high expectations of all involved. There is not much money there, there is not much glitz and glamour, there are basketball courts, basketballs and a huge work ethic. Those worried about the loss of Government funding need not worry too much, fortunately most Olympic teams performed poorly and the Opals have enough goodwill in the bank to still receive significant support and the Boomers have a good case for more funding. But let’s not forget the Boomers had a better result with less money than the Opals – it’s not all about the money, Serbia proved that. The Serbs not only work harder but there is a method to their teaching, the things they emphasize and the overall development of their players that we should be studying. Coaches here tend to express themselves as defensive or offensive focused but you can certainly see from the Serbian game they are excellent at both ends of the floor.
I have no doubt we can still learn from the US coaches and their technical expertise. However, as I suggested in my blog about the Centre of Excellence, that to accelerate the development of our players we need a pathway from our State based junior programs into our professional leagues.
I can assure you few of the Serbian and Spanish players attended college in the USA, it is not a thing they want to do. In Europe most want to get onto a professional team and the professional teams want to get hold of the best young talent. I would expect that in the past sixteen years many more of our best young players have taken the college pathway rather than the NBL pathway of the sixteen years before 2000. I think those who have made the NBA would still get there as its playing for Australia that provides that opportunity, not playing for small college programs. But that’s not the only problem.
I have been pretty critical of the system here in Australia and BA now have an opportunity to plan for the next Olympic cycle, most sitting at the table inherited the mess created under the former regime. Jan Sterling, who is now the High Performance GM of BA is an experienced campaigner with a Gold Medal in her cabinet and BA CEO Anthony Moore can hopefully provide the structural reform that can ensure that merit becomes the foundation criteria for our selection processes. The Sports Commission has been critical of the BA Governance and no doubt will still have questions to ask.
If we can all know the processes and requirements to be involved with the National program and the selection process can be more transparent. Then we can have more hope that the best people are getting the important jobs.
As I said last time only Andrew Gaze remains from the 2012 regime. When coaching against Andrew back in the early 90’s Dean Templeton who was coach of the Westside Saints, when commenting on the preferred treatment he thought Andrew received from the referees compared Andrew to the platypus, a protected species that had to receive preferential treatment. Some have reacted the same way to my suggestion he should step down from BA. For the record I think Andrew is a great bloke, he is among our best players, he is a wonderful TV commentator and a very successful businessman. I applaud his work in these areas. We are all about to find out if he is a good coach, although his SEABL record this year wasn’t too flash with the Melbourne Tigers at 3-21. Having Dean Vickerman beside him should help with the process with his Sydney Kings.
I think he has done a poor job as the Chair of the High Performance Commission and as a Board Member of BA. His decisions and influence have too many conflicts of interest to always act in the best interest of the sport. I think he should step down.
There are many other people who could do the job without other conflicting interests. Lauren Jackson and Michele Timms are both good examples, both legends of the game who have achieved much more international success than any of our male players. It would also be nice if we could find some local role for Tom Maher instead of letting every other Country benefit from all his international experience - perhaps mentor for all our National coaches young and old?
I received the following letter from someone on my mailing list this week I will let this person have the final word this week as I think it sums things up pretty well, as the Yugo's usually do;
Just a comment, if I may, I am just a parent on your mailing list, but just want to comment on your article below and you may or may not read it.
Anyway, I grew up in Serbia, a very poor country of 7 million people with terrible basketball facilities, with one third of children malnourished, with other team sports (soccer, tennis, volleyball, water polo) more popular than basketball and I often wonder why Serbia (or previously Yugoslavia), always wins a medal almost every year in Olympics, World Champs or Eurobasket and a country that I am fortunate enough to be living in, Australia, always fails. I often wonder why I get headaches and not joy from taking kids to games on Fridays and why I wish they liked and played a different sport.
I think I know the answer now that I read your article - it's because your article would make every newspaper headline and every news in Serbia. Who is going to read it here unless they are people like me on your mailing list? Over there if something is wrong, basketball community speaks up and is heard, questions decisions that were made on TV and in newspapers, people are accountable for their decisions and people don't have multiple roles like Gaze from coaches son - to basketball legend - to basketball commentator - to coach of his son - to basketball academy owner - to lifetime of entitlement and who knows what is yet to come. I find it interesting that it's only basketball that operates in this non-professional way in the Aussie society. For example, in my profession or in any other profession that I know of there are clear rules re conflict of interest.
Thanks again for reading this and for all your articles.
Name withheld in case they ever want a job at the COE