Aleks Maric is excited.
He is back home in Australia, signed to play with his hometown Sydney Kings for the next two years, and even more excited about the Australian Boomers medal chances in Rio and the potential positive impact it could have on the sport in Australia.
"It's awesome," expressed Maric in speaking with The Pick and Roll. "It is so good to be back. The last time I played on a club team here in Australia was when I was attending the AIS. It's really exciting and I am looking forward to playing for the Kings for the next two years."
The Boomers' hunger
Having represented the Boomers on the world stage at the 2010 FIBA World Championships and again at the 2012 London Olympics, Maric was disappointed to miss out on playing in Rio. His place on the team was taken by Andrew Bogut, his teammate on the 2003 Australian U19 team. That was the last time Australia's men at any level won a gold medal at the world championship level. Some 13 years later, our men are holding a realistic chance of earning their first gold medal at senior level.
"It's an exciting time for basketball in this country," Maric shared.
"I'm disappointed I missed out on a spot on the team. But Bogut is the best center in this country by far. He worked so hard to get back - the rehab, the hours - and he is now healthy. He deserves his place and I can't be selfish."
Maric was part of the Boomers squad right until the week before the Olympics, traveling to South America and playing in Bogut's place as he aimed to prove his fitness. In essence, Maric was the Boomers' insurance if Bogut could not recover in time for Rio. However the team mentality of the Boomers, and their selflessness, has rubbed off on everyone - Maric included. It is that kind of attitude towards the Boomers that has helped them qualify for the semifinals in Rio.
Having been part of the Australian inner sanctum right up to the Games, Maric is in a better position than anyone to understand the mindset of the Boomers.
"Honestly, it was like being part of a pack of wolves," outlined Maric. The desire and the hunger within the group is insatiable. Everyone knows their role, their place within the team, and to win a gold medal, it has to be a complete team effort. As a group, we have been together for a long time, and what we are now seeing is something special."
The Boomers appear to have finally found their identity and their place within the world of basketball. Maric was quick to provide a lot of that credit to head coach Andrej Lemanis.
"Andrej has done a great job, an amazing job. His collaboration with the players and the staff has been sensational. We have all been engaged and included to help create something special. There is a hunger for success, with everyone pushing each other every single day. Their success does not surprise me at all."
That hunger, collaboration and undeniable focus has the Boomers on the cusp of something no other Australian senior team has done before; win a medal at either an Olympic Games or World Cup. The Boomers' level of execution on the court in Rio has Maric believing that the Boomers could in fact win the elusive medal.
"They are hungry, playing well and have a sense of belief. I think they can win gold. Once you have that confidence, it is so powerful. What the Boomers are doing in Rio could well do for basketball what the Socceroos did for the A-League in Australia. This is big."
With Maric and a host of other current, former and future Boomers arriving back in Australia for the 2016/17 NBL season, Maric will have a chance to gauge just how big the Boomers performance in Rio has translated to boosting the game back home.
From Cornhusker to King
Maric has been one of Australia's international journeymen after departing the now Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence (CoE), landing in the US in 2003. After a stellar four years at the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, the 6'11 center plied his trade in Europe throughout his entire career, including stops with European powerhouses such as Panathanaikos and Maccabi Tel Aviv.
During the 2015/16 season, Maric joined Eurocup side KK Buducnost Voli Podgorica in Montenegro where he reinvigorated his career, before joining Spanish ACB side Rio Natura Monbus Obradoiro CAB. Having experienced the highs and lows of college and professional basketball overseas, he is looking forward to being a King.
"I am excited to be playing for Sydney," explained Maric. "The NBL is on the rise, with a huge amount of talent coming into the league. We have guys like myself, Brad Newley and David Andersen returning from Europe, some great guys from college, and amazing imports. The league is heading in the right direction."
Originally from Sydney, Maric is once again looking forward to being able to play club basketball in front of his family and friends.
"I can't wait to play for the Kings for the next couple of years and a chance to play at home. Brad [Newley] and I are good mates going back to the U19's when we won gold. We also managed to play briefly together at Gran Canaria for 3-4 weeks in the Spanish playoffs. It will be great to play with him again."
The Kings have assembled an impressive roster, with Maric joining Newley and current Boomer, reigning MVP Kevin Lisch as new additions to the team under the guidance of first year head coach and Australian basketball icon Andrew Gaze. Maric however played down the Kings' chance at earning a title in Gaze's first year as coach.
"With new coaches and new players, our goal is to establish a strong, healthy foundation and build on it. We have professional, experienced players, and hopefully we can piggy back the success of the Boomers."
While Maric is looking forward to the NBL season, he still also has his eyes set on pulling on the Boomers jersey again in the future, especially with the revised FIBA World Cup qualification system commencing in 2017.
"My sole focus right now is with the Kings. However after that, I would love the chance to play for the Boomers again and help qualify for the 2019 [FIBA] World Cup."
The 2019 World Cup qualifiers are set to clash with NBA and European dates, and the likelihood of the Boomers featuring their NBA and European stars is minimal. Therefore, the strength of the NBL and the Australian-based players will be of paramount importance to qualifying.
Maric is sure to be ready and willing, should he be required. You can count on it.