Australian basketball is reaching fever pitch.
In the last month alone, five-star college recruit R.J Hampton signed with the NZ Breakers, and engaged in a Twitter conversation with mercurial point guard LaMelo Ball – giving him a little *hint, hint, nudge, nudge* asking him where he’s going to play next season.
Sydney Kings big man Andrew Bogut and his Golden State Warriors swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals, and are currently battling in the NBA Finals series against the Toronto Raptors. Australia won gold in both the men’s and women’s FIBA 3×3 Asia Cup and the 2019 FIBA Under 19 women’s World Cup team was announced. The Boomers World Cup squad of 18 players was also named; the ones that are tasked with delivering Australia’s men’s team its first major medal at a senior competition. That’s not forgetting the warm up games they will play against Canada and the United States in just a few weeks’ time.
With that in mind, you’d forgive Basketball Australia’s new CEO Jerril Rechter, for taking a moment to shut the curtains, pour herself a long cup of tea, and put on some soothing tunes to switch off for a fleeting minute.
When I spoke to her this week about her time in the position, and the hectic beginning she has encountered so far, she was refreshingly enthusiastic and full of praise for those working behind the scenes.
“It’s been a very exciting time for me personally since joining Basketball Australia eight weeks ago.
“I’ve met with our state and territory Associations and I’m spending time with our key stakeholders – including the Australian Basketball Players Association, the AIS, Sport Australia and the NBL.
“I’ve been struck with the enthusiasm and passion that so many people in all facets of basketball have for the game.”
An ex-Chief Executive of VicHealth and current board member of AFL club the Western Bulldogs, Rechter is no stranger to the various complexities that come with running high-level, elite organisations. It’s this experience, and a healthy love for the game of basketball, that she believes will hold her in good stead over the coming months.
“Like so many of your readers, I am a long standing basketball fan. I played basketball at high school and I have always enjoyed the game.
“It’s a sport for everyone and it has a strong role in uniting communities and sectors in a global movement. I’m passionate about sport and the benefits it brings both those that play, and those who are connected to a team.
“I have worked in and around the [sporting] sector for many years, and I understand both the incredible upside, but also the challenges that so many sporting organisations face.”
Perhaps the greatest challenge that she speaks of, lies between Basketball Australia (BA) and the National Basketball League (NBL). Historically, the two have experienced vast differences in vision, and business direction. There’s no hiding from this fact.
For Rechter and Basketball Australia however, the announcement of a new landmark partnership between the two organisations should go some way to burying the proverbial hatchet that has existed for a number of seasons.
“Basketball Australia and the NBL have recently announced a new partnership where the NBL is the commercial rights holder for the sport. This has created one basketball voice in the marketplace and will make the game stronger and more unified. It’s a good example of how we can work together to ensure the NBL, the grassroots competitions and the elite programs can strive to be the best.”
Going further, Rechter subtly mused that the NBL’s upward trajectory, and signing of overseas talent, isn’t an anomaly, or a one-off, off season of hype.
“All the indications are that the NBL is going to continue to flourish, and to attract elite athletes.”
On objectives, key deliverables and exactly what direction BA takes in the future with regards to this partnership, Rechter played a straight bat, and would not delve into any real detail.
With positives aplenty to focus on in the current climate of Australian hoops – it appears to be a case of “let the good times roll.”
Aussie women, the WNBL and WNBA
Passionate Australian basketball fans would be well aware of the stellar record that the Opals, and our Australian women have on the world stage. A silver medal at the last World Cup is perhaps the greatest feather in the Opals cap, but with players such as Liz Cambage, Alanna Smith, Steph Talbot and Rebecca Allen all currently playing in the WNBA, and a raft of others crafting their trade both here and abroad, there exists in women’s basketball in Australia, the potential for a world-beating, elite dynasty. This isn’t lost on Rechter.
“Women’s sport has seen an amazing rise in recognition globally over recent years. Our female athletes are a large part of this.
“Basketball Australia will continue to manage the Chemist Warehouse WNBL competition, Australia’s longest running female national competition, and we will continue to nurture the development of the players. Winning the silver medal at the 2018 World Cup is testament to where our players sit amongst the world’s best and we need to continue to support and profile these national sports stars.
“And, our women are about to attend their second high performance training camp for the year in the US.”
🇦🇺Opals record in major tournaments is outstanding!
2018 / 5-1 🥈
2016 / 5-1 5⃣
2014 / 5-1 🥉
2012 / 6-2 🥉
2010 / 7-2 5⃣
2008 / 7-1 🥈
2006 / 9-0 🥇
2004 / 7-1 🥈
2002 / 7-2 🥉
2000 / 7-1 🥈
65-12 overall record this century, 65-4 vs everyone not named USA!#FIBAWWC #GoOpals pic.twitter.com/hpfclbH2We
— The Pick and Roll (@PickandRollAU) October 1, 2018
The long road ahead
With World Cup warm up matches, the World Cup proper, the WNBA playoffs, a bumper NBL season, and another iteration of the NBA all on the (very near) horizon, Rechter has big hopes for not only the success of the individual teams and players, but for the strength of the organisation she now leads, and the continued growth of the game of basketball in Australia.
“The FIBA Basketball World Cup warm up matches between the Boomers and USA Basketball in Melbourne and the Boomers and Canada in Perth have come at the perfect time when basketball is growing domestically. It’s a unique moment in time to put the game at the forefront of Australia’s busy sporting calendar. We believe these games will provide a legacy for basketball in this country and we can continue to grow from there.”
“The continued growth of the 3×3 game is also giving the game another opportunity to be played in international commitments and importantly, on television. With both women’s and men’s teams excelling in this format, it’s another avenue for the game we will embrace as the sport debuts at the 2020 Olympics and 2022 Commonwealth Games.
“Last week we announced the Boomers squad for the FIBA Basketball World Cup and it is the strongest group we have ever put together. We believe that at our best we can contend for a medal and like every other country, we are chasing gold!”
Regardless of what happens, there’s little doubt that the profile of the sport is growing at an exponential rate on our shores.
Following the conversation and interactions with Rechter, your scribe for one, thinks that there’s not many better people to be at the helm, as we navigate these highly exciting times as a nation of basketball fans.