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NBA Global Academy provides glimpse into bright future of Australian basketball
In June 2017, the NBA Global Academy was launched at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra. This elite training centre was set up to serve as a new hub for top prospects from outside the USA. The NBA Global Academy complements the existing program at the AIS, Basketball Australia's Centre of Excellence (CoE). Given the CoE's track record of producing world class players, Australia became a prime location for the new Global Academy.
Fast forward to today, and the NBA Global Academy has announced itself on the world stage. The Canberra-based prospects began the new year in Barcelona, taking on some of Spain's best junior players. They capped off a brilliant campaign on January 7, by winning the 2020 Torneo Junior Ciutat de L'Hospitalet. In the final, the NBA Global Academy defeated the junior team of FC Barcelona Bàsquet, by a score of 93-74. This is no mean feat, considering that Barcelona are a heavyweight club in European basketball.
During their championship run, the NBA Global Academy boys were in trouble on a couple of occasions. They narrowly defeated Club Joventut Badalona 80-79 in the group stages, thanks to a buzzer beater three-pointer from Blake Jones. The AIS residents also faced a stern challenge from Saski Baskonia in the semi-finals, winning by a score of 103-99. However, ultimately the NBA Global Academy cruised to victory in the final, beating Barcelona by the aforementioned 19 point margin.
The stars of tomorrow
Melbourne native Josh Giddey was named tournament MVP. Excluding an 87-55 blowout win in the group stages, where he was required to play just six minutes, Giddey was a standout. He averaged 14.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists across the four games where he logged significant minutes. The 6'7 PG was also efficient, shooting 56% from the field. His play caught the attention of ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony, who was in the audience.
Although he has a knack for scoring in the paint, Giddey's best attribute is his passing. The 17 year old makes players around him better, and statistics don't do him justice. Per-game averages of 5.5 assists and 3.25 turnovers may not jump off the page, but Giddey's vision is evident on the highlight reel.
Another Australian standout in Spain was Mojave King. There's one catch however - it might be too early to call him Australian. The 6'4 guard was born in New Zealand to an American father and a Kiwi mother. King currently holds dual citizenship between New Zealand and the United States, even though he has spent most of his life in Australia. Fortunately for Aussie basketball fans however, the 17 year old has expressed his desire to represent Australia, and is working towards Australian citizenship.
Across his five games in Spain, King averaged 13 points while shooting 48% from beyond the arc. He is a marksman from three-point land, and will punish any defender that sags off. King also showed flashes of athleticism in transition, putting his impressive speed and vertical leap on display.
Mexican-Canadian prospect Bennedict Mathurin also deserves a special mention. The 6'6 swingman put the NBA Global Academy on his back in the semi-finals. He inspired a hard-fought 103-99 victory against Saski Baskonia, finishing with 30 points and 6 rebounds. Mathurin has committed to play for Arizona in college basketball, and will be a quality addition for Wildcats coach Sean Miller.
As for Giddey and King, their futures remain undecided. Both players have verbally declared interest in playing college basketball, but may yet be tempted by professional opportunities. King was ranked 31st in ESPN's first mock draft for 2021, and Giddey may generate some draft buzz himself. The NBL's Next Stars program also looms as an option for both prospects.
No matter which direction Giddey and King take, the future looks bright.