[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t has been a long journey for Andrew Bogut. After seven years of absence from the green and gold, the 31 year old center is finally back in a Boomers uniform, ready to do whatever it takes to bring the team onwards towards the Rio Olympics.
Could this year's campaign, also be his last? The significance of the upcoming FIBA Oceania Championships, especially at home in Melbourne, is not lost on Bogut. The stage is set, and being able to play in front of an Australian crowd for the highest stakes, holds its own special meaning for the Golden State veteran, who plies his trade on the foreign shores of the United States.
"For me, I don’t get many opportunities to play in my home city," Bogut mused.
"I get very jealous of these NBA teammates of mine from Chicago and New York, where we go back there and they get 30-40 tickets. I never had that [chance]. I'm in one of those opportunities [now], so I’ll cherish it."
The big man recalls the last time he played in front of a big local crowd, and remembers the atmosphere fondly. This Saturday, he believes, could be a night to remember for many Australian fans.
"It's sensational, a long time coming for us," Bogut stated. "With the support of basketball, it’s the best crowd very often. It goes to show the following that [the Boomers] have. We have a lot of NBA guys on the roster right now, which obviously brings a lot of appeal; I think everyone’s genuinely excited. It's been a number of years since we’ve had that kind of crowd, let's just hope we can build that momentum and keep doing it every year."
Despite the toll of injury and age on his body, the man is feeling good right now, if a little fatigued from travel. He knows to keep himself in check, and tread the fine line between conditioning and excessive play.
"You just [have to] be smart, there is no point being a hero right now on a Wednesday or a Thursday, the end goal is Saturday [Game 1] and Tuesday [Game 2 in New Zealand]." Bogut explained the situation realistically, and pointed out prudence as a prime reason behind longevity in his NBA career.
"Being in the NBA for 10 years isn't an accident. Coaches understand that and let you, not so much pick and choose, but listen to your body. When you need a recovery day or an off day, you let the guys know, you got to work around it. You can still get your work in, do some non-impact condition and some core and stuff, but some days you just need to put your hand up and say, I might sit this one out and get the ice on."
Boomers coach Andrej Lemanis chuckled, when asked about Bogut's health earlier. "It's a management situation here. [Given] how old he is now, I'm not even going to guess in case I offend him." View image | gettyimages.com He went on to offer reassurance on the center's performance during today's practice session at MSAC. "We've managed him really intelligently, I think he had a great day today at practice. I think he's exactly where he needs to be."
There are obviously days when he feels the ache from old injuries, but puts it down to a part of life and growth, and coming out of each episode a more resilient individual.
"[They affect me] a little bit. It's just a part of it. I think I’ve adjusted. My body feels great, it’s just I had some high impact injuries that I suffered, that kind of changed things in term of progress of my career, but that’s something you got to live with. I think it's made me a stronger person and a stronger player."
Bogut turns his thoughts towards the coming Oceania series, with no trace of complacency. Despite his confidence in the roster's level of talent, he knows the Tall Blacks will present a tough challenge.
"That's why I'm here, a lot could happen. And we want to make sure that we get there, first and foremost, because New Zealand? You can’t write them off. They're very physical and have been playing very well, so we know how important this series is for us; for me and some other guys to have a chance to play in Brazil, along with this series."
Should the Boomers cross this hurdle and be in place for the Rio Olympics, a new roster will be assembled. Bogut does not comment on how the squad selection process could be conducted, but instead points out the constraints his fellow NBA athletes could face, should the topic of training camps come up.
"The NBA guys can only start looking at those camps a month before the event, so you don’t have a lot of deliberation time," Bogut commented, and noted the faint possibility of the NBA players, even himself being excluded from the Rio campaign. "It is a lot of pressure on that coach and on our CEO to select a team, just [from] watching [game footage] and who matches with who best, so there are obviously going to be some disappointments with guys left out, but that’s just the way it goes."
Despite it all, one can only look ahead to the immediate future. Andrew Bogut is back with the Boomers, rested and ready to put his best foot forward in the coming two-game series. Should this be the final hurrah, let us not miss a single moment of his brilliance on the court.