PERTH – Jonah Bolden is on the cusp of his Australian Boomers debut, and ready to help his nation chase down an elusive World Cup crown in China.
The 23-year-old Australian may be the youngest member of the Boomers’ FIBA 2019 World Cup squad, but he has experienced a professional basketball journey that belies someone of his age. Since leaving UCLA in 2016, Bolden has thrived during stops in Israel and Russia, before making his NBA debut for the Philadelphia 76ers last season.
Bolden has previously noted how each stop helped with his adjustment into the NBA, and he is adopting a similar growth mindset ahead of his national team debut.
“I try to use every chance I can to better myself,” Bolden said when arriving in Perth on Monday. “Whether that is two years [in Europe] that transitioned me for the Sixers, and then the Sixers transitioning me for this. Then I am going to use this experience to transition back to the Sixers for the upcoming season. I am always using every chance I get to better myself.”
Those experiences culminated in 44 appearances for the Sixers over his debut season. Bolden is now placed inside the Boomers World Cup squad for China, having excelled at last week’s training camp in Melbourne. The opportunity to learn from and work out alongside Boomers veterans was yet another new experience for Bolden.
“I came in with an open mind, knowing that there is a core foundation of the team that has been here for years,” Bolden said. “My thing was coming in with an open mind and picking their brains. Knowing they are paving the way for us.”
Joe Ingles is an integral member of the core foundation Bolden references, and the Utah Jazz veteran admits to being impressed with the 23-year-old.
“He burst onto the scene a few years ago and he played well last year in the time and minutes that he got,” Ingles said of Bolden. “When he went to the G League, he played well down there and earned his time to come back up to Brett Brown’s team. I really like him.
“He’s long, he’s athletic and he can shoot it. Defensively he can really disrupt and he can switch. He is pretty versatile. It has been fun playing with him, not only him, there are a lot of guys that a lot of us haven’t played with, so it has been to get to know the guys.”
Ingles’ confidence was echoed by head coach Andrej Lemanis, who, in a serendipitous twist, has been jolted back to his playing days over the past two weeks. The Boomers leading man played professionally with Bolden’s father, Bruce, and admits to seeing the father’s mannerisms reflected in the younger Bolden.
While a case of deja vu offers a peripheral benefit from a lifetime in basketball, Lemanis is just as excited for how Bolden can help his team over the next month.
“He is fantastic athletically,” Lemanis remarked of Bolden. “It is one of the things we noticed with watching him in the NBA. He can play the four or the five. He is fine guarding bigs. He can defend in the post; he can hold his own and doesn’t need help with the double team.
“He is great in disrupting defensive things. In schemes, you can switch him onto smaller guards. He deals well with that no problems. If you want him up the floor he can get up the floor. He has really good versatility defensively and is a great rim protector. He is someone that can rebound and run and he can stick threes, which at his size is pretty useful.”
Bolden will get a chance to show off these talents in a Boomers single for the first time on Friday against Team Canada. He will join the likes of Nicholas Kay, Xavier Cooks and Jock Landale as additions to the core group that came so close to an elusive Olympic medal in 2016.
Lemanis spoke of his desire to use this weekend as an opportunity to build cohesion across his new squad and test out the potential roles for his players. It’s a chance for Bolden to show how he can aid in the Boomers medal quest.
“It will be our first time playing together against someone else, so that will give the coaching staff and the other players a feel of how I will be able to integrate myself within the team and my role,” Bolden said.
Regardless of what role he serves in China, Bolden is firmly aware of what the team is trying to achieve. An influx of NBA players into the program naturally rises the profile of the Boomers and an uptick in expectations has ensued. It’s a sentiment Bolden firmly understands, although a changing landscape is a means for greater opportunity, not added pressure.
“I always put pressure on myself and I’m sure other guys put pressure on themselves, hold themselves accountable and keep themselves up to their own personal standards and obviously the standard of the Boomers,” Bolden said.
“But the goal has never been anything less than a gold for me and I’m sure that is the same for the other members of the squad.”