Olympics: The Rio roller-coaster ride for the Opals and Boomers
Rio did not deliver any medals for Australian basketball, however both campaigns did capture the hearts of many across the great southern land as the Opals and Boomers took us all on a roller-coaster ride.
Opals | A perfect start and shock exit
The Opals went into the 2016 Rio Olympics without Lauren Jackson for the first time since 1996. However, their medal hopes and chances were still strong.
They swept through the group stage off the back of some fantastic performances from the likes of Elizabeth Cambage and Penny Taylor, albeit leaving it late to secure comeback wins against Japan and Belarus in particular.
When it came to the knockout phase, the Opals suffered a shock loss in the quarterfinals to Serbia. To many, this was not entirely a surprise, as the Opals' performances in the group games were not all convincing. That did not make it any easier to swallow; the images of the Opals just moments after the final buzzer will be etched into the memories of basketball fans for years to come.
It was an especially tough way to send off Australian sporting legend Taylor, who just last month announced her retirement from professional basketball effective at the end of the current WNBA season. Taylor has done it all in basketball - she is a 3 time WNBA champion and WNBA All-Star, and has also claimed the WNBL MVP twice.
Arguably, Taylor;s greatest achievement was her MVP performance in guiding the Opals to gold at the 2006 FIBA World Championships. She will be remembered as one of the greatest Australian players of all time, and will be sorely missed on court.
In Rio, she was yet again one of the Opals best players, averaging 13.2 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 2 steals per game. Her best performance was against world number 4 France, in which she recorded 31 points and 9 assists.
One major positive coming out of what was a tough tournament for the Opals was the true emergence of Cambage as a star on the world stage. Many are aware of her talent, however in Rio, Cambage staked her claim as being on the best players in the world. She finished the tournament as the leading scorer (23.5ppg) and the second leading rebounder (10.3rpg). Her game against Japan (37 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks) is one of the best individual performances by any Australian on the world stage.
Boomers | So close yet so far away
The Boomers' 2016 Olympic journey embodied the roller coaster ride of all of team Australia in Rio. Pre-tournament there had been a strong message sent by all players regarding their belief in achieving their goal of not only bring home the first Australian men’s Olympic medal ever, but a gold medal at that.
Early on they looked on track, beating France and Serbia convincingly, and pushing Team USA to the limit. They rounded out the group games with relatively easy wins against China and Venezuela and luxury of resting players in preparation for the quarterfinals.
Lithuania was standing in the way of the Boomers and the medal rounds. They had denied Australia before, beating the host nation in the 2000 Olympics to claim the bronze medal. However there would be no denying the Boomers this time around, with the Aussies playing their best game of the tournament and dismantling the Lithuanians.
After such a high came a devastating low. Topping Serbia in the Group stage, the Boomers went in full of confidence in their semi-final. However they were completely outplayed as they suffered a devastating 26 point loss in what proved to be a nightmare performance.
What followed could well be one of the most heartbreaking games experienced in Australian basketball history.
The Boomers and world number 2 Spain went head to head all game, before the Europeans stole an incredible 1-point win. Some dubious late game calls by the officials gifted the Spaniards two sets of free throws inside the last 30 seconds, making the result almost too difficult to swallow.
The devastation felt on court by the Boomers extended across all of Australia. Players and supporters alike were unable to control their emotions, with many losing sleep over what could have been.
Numerous Boomers stepped up to deliver incredible tournaments. Patty Mills (21.3ppg) was inspirational, Andrew Bogut (9.1ppg, 5.1rpg & 3.6apg) battled through injury to be crucial as the soul of the team. Veteran David Andersen (8.8ppg & 4.8rpg) made some key shots in what could be his last Olympics, and Matthew Dellavedova (8.9ppg & 7apg) again represented his country in fantastic fashion. The Boomers made their country proud, capturing the imagination of the Australian public.
The history books will depict a 2016 Olympics where Australia failed to medal. Yet it would be wrong to say that Australian basketball in Rio has failed to deliver.
For the Opals, not coming away with a medal for the first time since 1992 is devastating. However there are some positives to be gained.
There has been a passing of the torch in the program, with some of the younger players given the chance to perform on the big stage. The passion of some of the Australian women was questioned pre-tournament, however after seeing the way they played and what it meant to them, any of those whispers or ideas have been quashed.
The Boomers again finished 4th, however captured the emotion and hearts of many Australians. There is no doubt that a new generation of basketball players will be inspired by what the Aussies produced in Rio in 2016.
Andrew Bogut went against doctors orders to suit up for his country, while Patty Mills talking about what playing for his country means to him in a pre-Rio feature tugged at the heart-strings, truly illustrating the pride these players hold in donning the green and gold.
Sleep-deprived and gutted, Tokyo 2020 can’t come quick enough. Between now and then, a Commonwealth Games campaign awaits in 2018, with the FIBA World Cup being staged in 2019.201