2014 U18 Australian Junior Championships: Tournament Recap

Once again Victoria has shown to be the most dominant state in Australian basketball. Not only did they sweep the U20’s and Ivor Burge Australian Junior Championships back in February, but now Victoria Metro has taken both the Men’s and Women’s U18’s Junior Championships as well. Some of the best junior talent in the country was on show in Canberra this past week and we were provided with some amazing basketball. Here’s how it all panned out.

Men’s Basketball

The men’s Championship game was always going to be a thriller with VIC Metro having been the highest scoring team in the tournament while NSW Country was the most intense defensive team. Another reason why the hype behind the game was warranted was the fact that the majority of this VIC Metro squad won this same Championship a year ago, while a portion of the NSW Country squad was a part of the U16’s Championship team last year.

Credit: Kangaroo Photography and Basketball Australia

The game was as exciting as predicted. High intensity, bodies on the floor, full-court pressure – everything you could ask for in a Championship game. NSW Country did a great job stifling the VIC Metro offense, applying full-court pressure to disrupt their flow and causing some unforced turnovers.

VIC Metro enjoyed the last laugh however. Their size inside proved to be too much for NSW Country – who would play 5 guards during some stretches of the game. Matt Owies was the most impressive player of the game in controlling the pace extremely well, while Abi Akintola made some key defensive plays. VIC Metro would go on to win the U18’s National Junior Championship with an 87-72 victory. Tom Wilson was the leading scorer in the game with 27 points for VIC Metro; Dejan Vasiljevic added an impressive 21 p points and 7 rebounds. Sean Cranney led NSW Country with 20 points and 4 assists.

VIC Metro finished the tournament undefeated – winning by an average of 47 ppg.

A pleasantly surprising team this week was the SA Metro squad. No one had any real expectations for the squad simply because of the glamour that usually surrounds the Victorian and NSW squads. However SA Metro surprised everyone by winning their first 4 games, and advancing to the semi finals where they were eliminated by the eventual winners in VIC Metro. Their great play can be attributed to the leadership of Nick Fassos, who was a standout earlier this year at the East Coast Challenge in Sydney. SA Metro also received solid contributions from Will Gleeson and Daniel Madit, both of whom were extremely productive off the bench.

Credit also has to go to this year’s New Zealand (NZ) squad. It’s not often we see a NZ side in this tournament that’s able to match up with the best of them but this year’s squad is potentially the most talented we’ve ever seen in this tournament. The big-man combo of Matthew Freeman and Sioeli Vaiangina was very impressive. Both had no trouble matching up against some of the Australian big men. Their success can also be attributed to the point guard play of Nikau Mccullough, who led the tournament in assists with 4 assists per game. They’re an extremely well rounded team who have steadily improved since their appearance at the FIBA Oceania series late last year.

All-Tournament Men’s Team

Tom Wilson (VICM) - 16.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.6 apg, 48% FG, 39% 3pt – Wilson was the most consistent backcourt player for the Championship winning VIC Metro side. He showed some improved point guard skills this tournament, leading his team to an 8-0 record.

Jack White (VICC) - 22.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.3 apg, 57% FG, 42% 3pt – White started the tournament on a tear, leading his team all the way to the semi finals. He was the most efficient perimeter player this tournament – shooting 57% from the field and 42% from downtown.

Kouat Noi (NSWC) - 20 ppg, 6 rpg, 0.7 apg, 60% FG – One of the most improved players in the tournament, Noi had big games against some of the premier junior big-men in the country. He may have just locked himself a place in the Australian U17 Squad with his performance this week.

Abi Akintola (VICM) - 17.8 ppg, 6 rpg, 1.5 apg, 73% FG, 83% FT – He’s not flashy at all but Akintola was one of the most productive and efficient players all tournament. He was outstanding defensively, and shot the ball extremely well offensively. As the most consistent performer for the Championship winning team, as well as putting up impressive numbers, he’s my pick for Tournament MVP.

Harry Froling (QLDN) - 25.3 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 2.2 apg, 44% FG – Harry Froling finished the tournament as the leading scorer and leading rebounder. He scored the ball extremely well all week, albeit inefficiently. He’s a lot more confident shooting 3-pointers than in previous years – at 6’10, he continues to add to his repertoire.

Isaac Humphries (NSWM) - 16.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 1 apg, 67% FG, 3.4 bpg, 2.8 spg – Humphries showed this tournament why he’s the premier big man in the country. Although his teammates had trouble finding him at times, when he got touches he shot the ball extremely well at 67%. Humphries also showed an improved defensive side to his game, something that will help his game progress to the next level.

On the outside looking in: Samuel Stafford, Matthew Freeman, Kyle Clark, Robert Colton

Credit: Kangaroo Photography and Basketball Australia

Tournament MVP: Abi Akintola (VICM)

Women’s Basketball

It seemed inevitable that VIC Metro would meet VIC Country in the women’s Championship game. Both teams boast a number of Australian representative players, as well as depth. The game was always going to be about which frontcourt combo performs best on the day – VIC Metro’s Anneli Maley, Georgia Pineau and Alexandra Sharp or VIC Country’s Chloe Bibby, Ella Hellessey and Chantel Horvat.

Credit: Kangaroo Photography and Basketball Australia

It was tight for most of the game but it all came down to VIC Metro’s hustle on both ends on the floor. Anneli Maley had her biggest game on the tournament with 18 pts and 21 rbs, including some huge defensive plays. Maley also did a great job pushing the ball up the floor, attacking the basket before the VIC Country bigs could get under the basket. VIC Metro’s athleticism proved to be too much for VIC Country, with Maley and Maddison Rocci causing problems all game.

A well-deserved victory for VIC Metro as they finish the tournament with an 8-0 record. Overall both the men’s and women’s VIC Metro finish the tournament undefeated in an unheard of display of dominance in this junior tournament.

Both South Australia teams have to be commended on their impressive tournaments. It was expected that the women’s division would be all about the Victoria and NSW teams, but both SA teams proved that they should’ve been in the conversation as well. An amazing display of perimeter shooting from both SA teams, in particular SA Metro, led them to the semifinals where they both came up short against the 2 Victorian teams. SA Country managed to beat out their Metro counterparts in the bronze medal game.

A mention also has to go to WA Metro, in particular the amazing play of Megan McKay. I mentioned McKay as a key player in my tournament preview but I didn’t expect her to play at the level she did all week. She’s shown to be one of the best frontcourt players in the country and, after being snubbed from Australian U17 squad that will tour China next week, has made an impressive case for herself to be a part of the U17 team come World Championships in Slovakia in June.

All-Tournament Women’s Team

Jasmine Forcadilla (NSWC) - 24.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.3 apg, 40% FG, 36% 3pt – Forcadilla can flat out score the ball, leading the tournament in points with 24.3 ppg. She proved to be an elite shooter at this level and also did a great job distributing the ball. Her backcourt partnership with Elizabeth Tonks was a joy to watch.

Tahlia Tupaea (NSWM) - 12.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.4 apg, 41% FG, 96% FT – Tupaea was one of the best all-round backcourt players in this tournament. Her NSW Metro team was expected to go all the way but they came up short in their quarterfinals matchup. Tupaea, however, was spectacular – hitting some huge shots in this tournament and showing why she’s one of the premier junior guards in the country.

Demi Skinner (SAC) - 19.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.6 apg, 41% FG, 39% 3pt – SA Country had a surprise run in this tournament, ultimately finishing in 3rd place. Demi Skinner consistently had great performances, including some terrific outside shooting.

Chloe Bibby (VICC) - 17.6 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 1.7 apg, 51% FG – Bibby led VIC Country to the Championship game where they came up short against their Metro counterparts. She was outstanding all tournament, dominating the paint on both ends of the floor. Her frontcourt partnership with Ella Hellessey was key to VIC Country’s run to the silver medal.

Anneli Maley (VICM) - 15.6 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 1.4 apg, 51% FG – Maley proved to be one of the most versatile players in the tournament. She was the most consistent performer for the Championship winning VIC Metro squad, grabbing every rebound in sight and finishing well around the rim. She did a great job grabbing loose balls and pushing the break, creating easy points for her team. Her effort and consistency throughout the tournament, and in the Championship game, give her the nod for Tournament MVP.

Megan McKay (WAM) - 20.8 ppg, 15 rpg, 1.8 apg, 65% FG, 1.4 bpg – Megan McKay was the most productive player this tournament. She was 2nd in scoring (20.8 ppg), 1st in FG % (65%) and 1st in rebounding (15 rpg). More importantly, she had big games against some of the better 'bigs' in the tournament – an amazing tournament for McKay.

On the outside looking in: Courtney Woods, Mackenzie Hoycard, Ella Hellessey, Taylor Ortlepp

Credit: Kangaroo Photography and Basketball Australia

Tournament MVP: Anneli Maley (VICM)

It truly was a great tournament. Not only did we see some great basketball, but also the atmosphere was extremely positive. During the games, the players were extremely competitive and looked to give 100% of their effort – while off the court it seemed as though players from different states got along with each other really well.

Credit: Kangaroo Photography and Basketball Australia

One moment that was especially telling of the vibe of the week was on the last day of tournament play – I witnessed a Northern Territory men’s player approach NSW Metro’s Isaac Humphries, admitting he was a fan of the Australian representative big man. The NT player asked if he could have Humphries’ jersey but, unfortunately, he didn’t have it on him at the time. Instead, they exchanged kind words and wished each other well. It’s this kind of sportsmanship and camaraderie that make’s these tournaments such a joy for players, coaches and officials to be a part of.

The future looks bright for Australian basketball.