Despite funding struggles, Australian Goannas focused on gold in Asia Pacific Deaf Games once more
The Australian men's deaf basketball team, or the Goannas, aren't necessarily a familiar name to every Aussie hoops fan. But like all national programs, the Goannas deserve our support, and have achieved notable success on the international stage.
Championship comes in numerous physical forms. Be it a gold medal, a trophy, or however else it might look like, a top finish is always the ultimate sporting goal, and it's no different for the Goannas. The team achieved that mark four years ago in the 2015 Asia Pacific Games --with a 59-36 gold medal game against Taipei-- but all of this would have happened without the presence of Goannas head coach, Brent Reid.
Like many other basketball fans, Reid is a self-professed sneakerhead. His insured collection began with Air Jordans, and his favourite pair unsurprisingly, is the Air Jordan 3, of which he has 18 pairs, including three of the four original colourways. That final missing pair, the OG Jordan 3 Fire Red, continues to elude him, for now.
Reid's satisfaction from the Goannas' success likely outweighs the potential thrill of completing that prized Air Jordan 3 collection. He took the coaching reins over in 2014, and has been instrumental in the Goannas' resurgence as a national program, retooling the team with an emphasis on fundamentals and professionalism.
“It was about being involved rather than about being successful,” the former Kilsyth coach said, in an earlier interview with The Pick and Roll's Warren Yiu. “If we’re going to turn up, we’re going to do it properly. We’re going to be as professional as we can be.”
The Goannas became the most improved deaf basketball team in the world, going from 13th to 5th in 2015. That same year, they emerged champions in the Asia Pacific Deaf Games without losing a single game, and with a consistent defensive mindset, never allowed more than 50 points in a single game. That same commitment to defence has carried itself three years on, and remains a cornerstone.
"We are a strong defensive unit and have been since I joined the coaching staff," assistant coach Gerard Leonard affirmed. Leonard is a relatively new addition to the Goannas, having joined the team as an assistant coach late last year. Having known Reid from their time at Kilsyth, he firmly believes in Reid's vision for the team, and the way it aligns with his coaching philosophy.
"The team has worked tirelessly on skill development the past twelve months and we’ve tried to allow the guys to play with freedom on offence," Leonard explained, on the team's growth on offensive principles. "Pushing the ball in transition is going to be a key with us and we believe [our] style of offence in the half court is going to make us hard to defend. We have a versatile team with some strong guards that can shoot and take players off the bounce, and also have some good size to get some easy baskets inside."
For Reid, it goes beyond philosophies and begins with communication.
"My favourite thing about this team, is their coachability," Reid shares. "We obviously have a communication barrier we have to work with every time we step on the court. However, it rarely seems to be as big a problem as what people from outside the team would think. We all know it's there and we work around it together. When the coaching staff show something or instruct how to do something the guys will try it.
"It often takes time to refine these new skills like any player being shown something for the first time. The guys go away and work on these things and improve. To then see these skills turn up in a game, is so rewarding."
The coachability and comradery stems from the team's tight-knit relationship with one another, and what they've experienced together. Jordan Woolmer, who enters his first tournament as team captain this year, calls the team family.
"We've been through some major ups and downs together over the last seven years, and the boys relish any opportunity we get to put on the green and gold together and go out and play the game we love."
Despite the gold medal, the success and improvement, there still remains a major obstacle in the program's continuation: funding.
“The boys raise money. The boys pay their own way,” Reid shared, back in 2016. “We’re trying to put together a product that is worth the money for someone to be involved with.”
According to Reid, the Goannas appear to be stuck in funding purgatory, in a space between Basketball Australia and Deaf Sports Australia, an unfortunate outcome that has resulted in the team paying for its own expenses.
“It’s sacrifices like this that truly show how deep our commitment runs,” said Goannas vice-captain, Sam Cartledge three years ago. “It’s just sad that we have had to financially back it all ourselves with no assistance from sponsors. We have a gold medal to show for it, to prove that we did it on our own, but very soon it won’t be feasible as we need provide for ourselves, our future and families.”
Despite the gold medal, three years later, the situation has not changed.
"We all hate asking for help but this team is completely self-funded," Reid says. "We just seem to fall through the cracks in the funding debate."
The team is currently running a crowdfunding campaign for their uniforms and off-court apparel, an expense that's projected to cost nearly $4,000 - a target that's a quarter of the way in, with less than two months to go.
"It's unfortunate, but it is how the ball currently bounces for us. We hope one day, our basketball will speak for itself and may be worth some funding from somewhere. Until then we will just continue to work towards being the best deaf basketball team we possibly can be, and continue to chase that elusive Deaflympic medal."
The significance of this year's tournament isn't lost on the team, and comes down to one single word - opportunity.
"This tourney is an opportunity to play the game that we love whilst solidifying more Australian Deaf sporting history with the best group of athletes that I’ve ever played basketball with," Cartledge says. "The team that has been assembled is also the best Australian Deaf team that I have ever played with."
Woolmer echoes the sentiment - it comes back to being in the moment, seizing the opportunity and making history.
"[The] 2019 Asia Pacific Deaf Games is all about opportunity for us. Opportunity for the Goannas to have a crack at being the first Australian Deaf team to win multiple gold medals. Opportunity for some of our newer guys to get to experience this for the first time. Most importantly, opportunity for the Goannas to make a statement ahead of the 2021 Deaflympics."
Opportunity is a fleeting, fickle mistress on the best of days. The Goannas have a team of passionate athletes who have shown success, discipline, and are driven to represent Australia and do their very best. Repeating the feat in this year's Asia Pacific Deaf Games would allow them to be the first Australian deaf team to win two gold medals on the international stage, and obtain automatic qualification for the 2021 Deaflympics.
All that remains for this group of quiet achievers, is your help.
The 9th Asia Pacific Deaf Games runs from 1-11 November 2019, and the Australian Goannas will be competing from 1-6 November 2019, at the Tsuen Wan Sports Centre in Hong Kong.
Support the Goannas by donating to their GoFundMe campaign.