Bogut eyes Boomers medal in World Cup and Olympics

Andrew Bogut’s list of basketball accolades is as long as Thon Maker’s wingspan.

NBA Champion, All-NBA team, All-NBA defensive team, number one NBA draft selection, Naismith college player of the year and three-time Olympian — the list goes on. Yet with all the individual achievements and accomplishments etched next to the Bogut name, there is one landmark that he has yet to conquer, one peak that he has yet to climb — guiding the Boomers to a first every World Cup and Olympic medal.

Now 33 years of age, Bogut is undoubtedly in the twilight of his basketball career. He recently returned to Australia and will play with the Sydney Kings in the NBL. While this was a decision that was undoubtedly based upon personal reasons, but it was also one made with an eye to the next two years of his career, and his iron clad goals of playing a key role in the World Cup (2019) and Olympic (2020) campaigns.

When revisiting Bogut’s career with the Boomers, you understand why the dream has become so ingrained in his heart.

Making his Olympic debut as a teenager in 2004, he played alongside the likes of Shane Heal, Tony Ronaldson and Jason Smith.  Fast forward to the 2016 Olympics, he was joined by Australia’s growing array of NBA stars in Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Ingles and Aron Baynes. According to FIBA, Bogut led the Rio Olympics tournament with 3.6 assists a game, more than any other centre in the games, and finished as one of the best three Boomers in points (9.1), rebounds (5.1), assists (3.6) and blocks (1.4) in that run.

Now in the midst of a golden era for Australian basketball, he plans to play alongside that same crew from Rio while overseeing the welcome additions of the next generation of Australian NBA stars in Ben Simmons, Dante Exum and Thon Maker. Having played across three eras of Australian hoops, Bogut has a deep understanding of the passion and pride the Boomers jersey instills in its wearer.

The agonising bronze medal defeat against Spain in Rio still haunts Bogut, and he was quick to declare he wanted another shot at that elusive medal. In a previous chat with The Pick and Roll, Bogut was typically candid when talking about that fateful night against Spain.

“We absolutely shat the bed,” Bogut said. “Nothing went right and we couldn’t make a basket. We couldn’t get stops, and they smashed us.”

That devastation has fueled Bogut’s desire ever since. Heading into a promising two-year stretch for the Boomers, I got a chance to chat with him about his goals moving forward, and the rising expectations that come with boasting the household international names the Aussies now possess on their roster.

The Boomers will head into both major tournaments as genuine medal fancies, and outside of the always dominant USA squad, they may just have the next strongest roster on paper. Forever an underdog in the basketball world, Bogut is acutely aware of the point of difference that expectation can bring.

“That’s going to bring different challenges,” Bogut, a veteran who’s played three Olympic tournaments (’04, ’08, ’16) and averaged 11.7 points and 5.9 rebounds over 19 games, admitted. “We haven’t been in the position where we’ve been the most talented team going into any tournament, we generally as an Australian national team punched above our weight, but now it’s a different switch and our mind has to come on, where we now have to realise now that we’re a top dog.”

A rarity in years gone by, the Boomers will be able to field a deep lineup that boasts NBA-level talent.

“We’re a top five team on paper, so it’s a scary prospect in a way, because everyone is going to come after us, so we have to know that going into tournaments. All of a sudden we’re the ones that are going to be hunted,” Bogut continued.

One of the NBA talents that is set to make his national team debut in Japan later this month is Milwaukee Bucks center Thon Maker. I caught up with Thon is San Francisco in late March, and even mentioning Bogut’s name, and the possibility of playing alongside him in the green and gold brought a beaming smile across his face.

“For myself, I feel like I can pick a lot of things off his brain, learn a lot from him,” Maker enthusiastically explained. “I’m always learning something about the game from Bogut, so somebody like him would be good, especially because he’s seen it all at the basketball level in the NBA, and in national play. I definitely want to see him go one more time. And if he goes, I think we are going to do really well as a team, too.”

From Bogut’s point of view, he gives the appearance and speaks with the tone of a man who understands his responsibility as a custodian for the current golden era of Australian basketball, but in ensuring it is structurally sound moving forward so the on court success can continue well after he hangs up his hi-tops. He leaves no doubt that he has plenty left to give on the floor, whilst also acknowledging it’s the new wave’s time to shine.

“Whether it’s Luc Longley back in the day, or your Jason Smith and Chris Anstey’s, everyone has played a part in developing the next generation and you want to make sure that it comes up even better and more confident than the current one,” Bogut said.

“The guys around my age have done a good job helping those guys. There will be a very good mix of experience and youth on the next few national teams but all of a sudden it’ll be those guys that are the veterans in two or three years so it’s an exciting time for the national team for sure.”

As a potential four-time Olympian, Bogut has seen it all at the national team level. He’s experienced the highs and the lows, and through it all has become consciously aware of what he needs to do moving forward to ensure he puts himself in the best possible position to suit up in the green and gold.

In signing on with the Sydney Kings in the NBL, Bogut spoke about the attraction of the limited schedule and travel for his often injured body.

“With my injury history I thought playing less games for my body will hopefully give me some more years down the track and obviously help keep me healthy for the World Cup and the Olympics so that definitely was a factor.”

With the 2019 FIBA World Cup and 2020 Olympics in mind, Bogut decided against playing in the third window of World Cup qualifying later this month in Japan and the Philippines.

“I’ve committed to the World Cup and Olympics from basically right after Rio. I said I want to be there for you guys in the World Cup and Olympics, and I’m not going to be playing in the qualifiers,” Bogut revealed. “No disrespect to the opponents, but I think the younger guys can use the experience and I think we should do more than okay over there.”

Whilst it would be great to see Bogut playing at every possible opportunity — especially for Australia — it’s tremendously exciting to hear him continually reiterate his focus on the bigger picture and the end goal; Boomers success.

“The whole reason of doing this was to be smart with my body, and if I came back to play NBL and then play every national team campaign, it would defeat the purpose of why I did it in the first place. I want to make sure I’m healthy for those two massive campaigns.”

The FIBA World Cup is scheduled for September next year, though Bogut certainly has the late portion of August circled on his calendar. This is of course when the US national team will hit Melbourne for a two game tournament warm up slate at Etihad Stadium. As a Melbourne kid growing up, the thought of playing in front of 55,000 fans is certainly on the Aussie basketball legend’s mind.

“It’s sensational! The [USA] haven’t been here since the Goodwill Games which was a long time ago,” explained Bogut. “To have the opportunity to play on home soil, in a football stadium, in a football city is pretty impressive.

“I know a lot of the guys are looking forward to it. It’ll be a historic event down here, especially getting that many fans to a basketball game. It’ll break an Australian record no doubt, and it’ll be a fun series to prepare for our World Cup campaign.”

Health permitting, Bogut will suit up for his second World Cup and fourth Olympic games. His averages of 12.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game across those major tournaments are impressive when noting that traditional box score stats rarely stack up as they do in the domestic competitions.  Make no mistake, Bogut’s impact will be important both off and on the floor, providing veteran leadership that the group will need, through the adversity that will naturally occur in a whirlwind tournament schedule.

With a potential front line of Bogut, Maker and Baynes, the Boomers hold an intimidating big man group that’s ready to unleash some hard-nosed Aussie basketball on the world. But for now, it’s all about preparation and taking care of his body leading up to the NBL season tipping off later this year.

“I’m training five days a week at the moment trying to work on my body to get strong for the season and there’s no issues right now so touch wood I’ll come into the season 110% and be ready for camp in August.”

A fit and firing Bogut could well deliver a long-awaited metallic reward for Australian basketball, and is daring to dream of gold. It would also double as the ideal retirement gift for one of Australia’s greatest ever players.

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