Boasting three Australians on their roster, the Boise State Broncos did not live up to expectations during the 2013/14 season. The Mountain West conference was always going to be tough at the top, and to make it through to the NCAA Tournament the Broncos needed to be at their best. With injuries plaguing key players, including starters Anthony Drmic and Igor Hadziomerovic, the team was unable to build any momentum and gel together long enough to make a run to the NCAA tournament like many predicted they could.
Damian Arsenis recently caught up with Australian guards Anthony Drmic and Igor Hadziomerovic in their hometown of Melbourne to discuss the ups and downs off the past season, what they have been getting up to in the off-season, and more importantly their chances in their upcoming final year at college.
Drmic and Hadziomerovic at the Diamond Head Classic - Courtesy John Kelly via Boise State Athletics
Both Drmic and Hadziomerovic experienced frustration in enduring an injury interrupted season. Drmic sustained a stress fracture in his foot, while Hadziomerovic experienced a broken rib that resulted in them both playing hurt; battling through the pain as they tried to help their team to the top of the Mountain West. For Drmic, he was enjoying a career-year and was right on fellow Australian and Mountain West rival Cameron Bairstow's tail when it came to leading the conference scoring. However in sustaining the foot injury, his season began to slowly unravel to the point he was barely training at all.
Hadziomerovic was also injured; however at the time he unknowingly experienced a broken rib that he played through for three weeks! Finally diagnosed and the break confirmed by scans, after a few days off he was back on court playing through the pain alongside Drmic.
"We did everything we could to help the team," explained Hadziomerovic.
"Rest was the only thing that was going to help overcome our injuries. However mid-season, we did not have the luxury of time and we just had to play hurt."
Drmic was in total agreement, "Yeah it was a pretty difficult time for both of us. It was pretty crazy that he played with a broken rib for all that time. But we were not the only ones injured during the season either. And in missing practice, you kind of felt like you were cheating the team. At times I felt I did not deserve to be on court during games as I had not been able to put the work in at training. You build chemistry in practice during the season, and not training was just such a downfall."
Drmic with the flush versus South Carolina at the Diamond Head Classic - Courtesy John Kelly via Boise State Athletics
Playing through the pain for the sake of the team is testament to their character, resilience and desire to win. However Boise State were not able to earn the on court success they were after, falling short in making their way back to the NCAA Tournament. Drmic explained that it was not injuries alone that conspired against the Broncos.
"Injuries did hurt us badly. However even when everyone was available, at no stage did everyone really click together at the same time. The previous year we were all firing at the same time, but we just were not able to replicate that this season."
He also noted that a number of close games did not go their way.
"We had something like four games lost on buzzer-beaters - if those results go the other way suddenly things look a bit better. However the disappointment and hurt of not meeting out own expectations can only make us stronger and better for next season."
It has been a busy off-season for Drmic in particular, being invited to take part in the Australian Boomers camp ahead of the 2014 Australia-Sino Challenge. Drmic stated he thought he performed very well at camp despite the unfortunate recurrence of his foot injury.
"I thought I did alright. However my foot flared up and I ended up missing one and a half sessions, and that probably put me on the back foot! It had obviously not healed properly and needed more time and rest. The good thing was that I was given some positive feedback from Coach (Andrej Lemanis). He said I should continue to focus on improving my defense and also being more aggressive offensively."
While Drmic was disappointed that he was not selected for final Boomers team for the series against China, he stated it was probably a blessing in disguise.
"It's always tough to make the Boomers roster, even though some of the top guys were unavailable. It some ways it was probably a blessing in disguise as it meant that I had the last 5 weeks off, allowing my foot to fully recover. While I have kept up the work in the gym, I have only just been given the green light to resume running this week. Right now everything is on track and I'm feeling good."
Unlike Drmic's foot problems, Hadziomerovic's rib injury has thankfully well and truly healed. However he has been battling ongoing illness that prompted him to seek off-season surgery to remove his tonsils, something he explained did not really impact on his training regime.
"I only had a couple of days off from training to deal with my tonsils. Thankfully it has really not interrupted my training and now my mate (Drmic) is back fit and firing, we are both putting in all the hard yards in off-season training."
While last season was not as successful as they would have hoped, at least they have taken some positives out of it all. Highlights discussed included the experience of playing at Kentucky, Drmic's outstanding performances at the Diamond Head Classic, and the emergence of fellow Aussie, freshman forward Nick Duncan.
"Nick showed what he can do," stated Hadziomerovic.
"He has earned respect for his perimeter shooting, however I'm sure he would agree that he was a little inconsistent and could play with some more fire in his belly. He has already put in a tremendous amount of work in the off-season, and if he continues to work hard he could be the next Bairstow."
That's high praise for the 6'8" forward with the sweet stroke.
On Bairstow, they spoke very highly of their once AIS team-mate and Mountain West rival, glowing in their praise for the 6'9" NBA draftee with the Chicago Bulls.
"If we could one day emulate his success that would be fantastic," stated Drmic. He further described Bairstow as being someone who worked very hard to get where he is now.
"Back at the AIS, we used to play pick-up games. In those days, Cam was always the last one picked. He has come a long way since then. He was always one of the hardest workers, so hats off to him."
Hadziomerovic also felt the same way about Bairstow.
"Cam just worked harder than everyone and look where he is now. While it may be tough for him to make the Bulls roster, you can't discount him because of his work ethic. I hope he does well."
In chatting with Drmic and Hadziomerovic, it was clearly evident that these two young men were really good friends, something Drmic was quick to confirm, stating their friendship grew in playing against each other as juniors.
"We have been rivals all the way back to juniors when he was playing for the Melbourne Tigers and I was representing the Dandenong Rangers. Most of the games we played against each other were brutal and we would always go head-to-head and it would often get nasty. However over time we then became good mates through playing for Victoria at the Australian Junior Championships, but we remain very competitive on the court. When he is on his game, Iggy is one of the best shooters going around. To this day he continues to challenge me personally, and that makes us both better players."
Hadziomerovic with the tough shot against Saint Mary's - Courtesy Boise State Athletics
With Drmic focused on improving his defense and all-round offensive game, Hadziomerovic explained that he is looking forward to moving back across to the off-guard position, a role he played throughout his junior career.
"I've been working on my ball-handling and shooting and am really looking forward to playing what I consider to be my natural position. We really think we are going to have a big year this coming season and I am doing everything I can to make that happen."
Drmic chimed in to advise that, "We are going to learn a lot from last season's disappointment. We will be better, and as long as we can all stay healthy, our goal is to go dancing. While it is far too early to make any wild predictions on where we will finish, I really do believe that with the team we have, we should be right up there."
For Drmic and Hadziomerovic, next season is their last chance to impress ahead of embarking on likely professional careers. With family heritage of European origin, both possess dual passports which enables them to play as locals in Europe, something they are prepared to use in seeking to make the most of their basketball talents.
"While the NBA would be the ultimate aim, it all depends on my senior year and how I perform," stated Drmic.
"If I do well enough - who knows? However if that does not work out, I will definitely be looking at Europe." If Drmic does in fact head to Europe, one of his best mates in Hadziomerovic is likely to join him over there too.
One thing is for sure, best mates Drmic and Hadziomerovic are leaving no stone unturned in their quest to turn disappointment into success.