The future of Australian men's basketball looks brighter than ever, with an almost unprecedented amount of talent coming through the junior ranks. Australia’s elite women have been a dominant force of the world stage for in excess of a decade, and it looks like the Boomers might be about to join them.
Let's start at the top and look at the best league in the world. It is great to see an influx of Australians in the NBA this season. Upon reflection, it is pretty amazing that a country with a population of less than 24 million can field seven players in the NBA. Mind-boggling, when you consider the fact that just five years earlier, we only had Andrew Bogut in the big league - albeit a #1 draft pick and 2003 Junior World Championship gold medalist (yep - that's a throw back to Bogut and coach Rob Beveridge below from 2003).
Bogut has since been joined by a bevy of Australian Boomers in the NBA. Aron Baynes (Washington State), Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary's), Joe Ingles and #5 draft pick Dante Exum are logging genuine minutes this season and making an impact in their own unique ways. When you throw in Chicago Bull rookie Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico) and Patty Mills (Saint Mary's) -- who has not even stepped onto the court this season due to injury -- you quickly realise how far Australian basketball has progressed in such a short space of time. Amazingly, the Aussie pipeline to the NBA is unlikely to end any time soon either.
After an encouraging performance at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, Washington State alumni Brock Motum just missed a place with the Utah Jazz (now with Adelaide).
Over in Europe, fellow Boomer Chris Goulding is showing that he may yet also make the grade, starring with CAI Zaragoza in Spain and Eurocup after gaining some NBA experience in this year’s Summer League. Veteran David Andersen who is now playing in France with ASVEL Lyon Villeurbanne has NBA experience already, as does Nathan Jawai who has recently signed Spanish ACB club Andorra. Even considering the promise and experience of these European-based Aussies, I would argue that the best is still yet to come.
The level of talent coming through the junior level in Australia is arguably at an all-time high. I don’t think for one second that the rise of Aussie hoops at the highest level is about to plateau.
Anthony Drmic - Courtesy Boise State Athletics
Over in the US, there are a growing number of young Aussies already making an impact both in college but also in the US high school system – a relatively new pathway now becoming increasingly popular for young Australians. In the NCAA, the likes of former Australian junior representatives Anthony Drmic at Boise State and Hugh Greenwood at New Mexico are shining. Add the fast emerging Venky Jois at Eastern Washington who has been outstanding in his junior year as someone else to keep an eye out for too. However it is likely the guys in the US high school system who are fast making a name for themselves that are generating a huge amount of excitement within the Australian basketball community.
Thon Maker at 2014 adidas Nations - Courtesy adidas
Two Aussie high school students that are fast becoming household names in North America are Ben Simmons (Montverde/LSU) and Thon Maker (Athlete Institute/uncommitted.) Both have been rated the number 1 player across the US for their year level, and both are being touted as future NBA lottery picks – potentially even number 1 selections. When you look at their mix tapes on YouTube (Ben Simmons and Thon Maker) and read about their dominance at high school level, it is easy to get carried away! If they can translate their tantalising talents from high school to college, NBA stardom all but assured - if they can remain focused on putting the hard work in to go with their undeniable athletic gifts.
— AUS BBALL PROSPECTS (@australianbball) December 21, 2014
As young Australians on the rise playing overseas, is also worth noting that Simmons and Maker are not alone. Deng Adel (Victory Rock/Louisville) has already committed to the famed Louisville college hoops program, and is rated inside the top 30 prospects in the US for his age group. Then there are also other tantalising prospects in Thon Maker’s brother Matur Maker (Athlete Institute/uncommitted) and another rising prospect in Daniel Mading (The Rock School/uncommitted). Almost forgotten is Jonah Bolden (Brewster/UCLA) too – another player with amazing potential who due to eligibility issues is biding his time on the sidelines at the storied UCLA. If you have also not yet heard of 2014 U17 FIBA World Championships star Isaac Humphries (La Lumiere/uncommitted) yet, stay tuned! The genuine 7-footer is set to star with La Lumiere this coming season.
Deng Adel - Courtesy adidas
The guys I have mentioned are just the tip of an extremely talented pool of Aussie players taking their talents overseas with NBA ambitions. With all this talent rising from down under, how can we expect this to translate to the international stage?
Recently, the U19 Australian team (Emus) narrowly qualified for the 2015 FIBA U19 World championships. This was accomplished by a buzzer-beating triple from another rising star from the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championships in Dejan Vasiljevic (AIS/uncommitted). The team that qualified did not feature any of the aforementioned talents that were all eligible to play. Imagine if Basketball Australia could assemble the majority – if not all – of the talent that Australia has available to call upon? A World Championship medal - possibly even gold - could well be on the cards and a chance to revisit the gold won in 2003. The front court alone would be arguably considered the best in the world.
It is a tantalising opportunity that Basketball Australia needs to take advantage of. Despite the challenges faced by the majority of a potential Emus team being based in North America, Basketball Australia should make every effort to assemble what could well be Australia's own unique version of a dream junior team - one that could well shape the Boomers, not to mention the hearts and minds of many much younger players, for many more years to come.