WASHINGTON - The Australian Boomers' path to a breakthrough gold medal at this year’s World Cup in China has been laid out.
Being drawn alongside Canada, Lithuania and Senegal in the tournament’s ‘group of death’ offers significant challenges, but it also provides certainty. Everyone within the Boomers program now knows the opponents who stand in their way. Excitement is growing as a tangible pathway towards history has replaced the hypothetical.
Speaking in Washington last week, Patty Mills gave voice to the enthusiasm that is permeating the playing group.
“I am excited to get the green and gold on and get everyone back into camp,” Mills told The Pick and Roll. “We can refocus on what we are trying to do, which is create history so that part is exciting.”
In addition to the World Cup schedule, the Boomers’ preparations for the tournament have crystallised over the past month. High profile games against Team USA have dominated the discourse over the past 12 months and they will be preceded with two games against Canada in Perth.
The Boomers will also conduct part of their training camp in Western Australian, meaning Australia’s NBA stars will spend time out west for the first time since Brett Brown was national team coach.
Four games against rosters laden with NBA players provide the perfect preparation for a major international tournament.
“We have four great quality games leading into the World Cup and we have probably never had this level of quality of practice games so that is going to be great,” says Mills.
“The time in Australia is going to be great. Getting everyone back together and back into camp will be exciting. In a way it’s going to be a new group, with guys who have never played together before in addition to the core group that is there.”
In addition to Mills, the likes of Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Ingles, Aron Baynes, Ryan Broekhoff and Andrew Bogut have all publicly committed to the World Cup campaign.
Ben Simmons’ availability remains unlikely (we went deep on the factors at play with Simmons back in February), while his NBA teammate, Jonah Bolden, remains undecided on whether he will participate in the World Cup.
“It is something I have been speaking to [the Boomers] about,” Bolden told The Pick and Roll in Philadelphia. “I haven’t made a final decision but it is something that I will very significantly look at.
“Obviously I am going to be working out and getting ready for the summer and for the next NBA season. But of course, playing in the World Cup and playing for the Boomers is something that is there for me.”
Mitch Creek, who just like Bolden made his NBA debut this season, is committed to the World Cup campaign.
While Creek led his nation to the Asian Cup in 2017, he has never played in a Boomers uniform alongside the core group of NBA stars who finished fourth at the Rio Games. That will almost certainly change in August, as Creek appears a likely inclusion for the World Cup squad.
The Horsham native is excited at knowing the three teams who share the Boomers group, although he is focused primarily on what the playing group can control.
“Yeah it is a little bit exciting,” said Creek. “Every time you go into the international stage with FIBA tournaments, you always try to figure out who you are playing.”
“But at the end of the day it is a basketball court, it has a ring, there is a basketball and there are 10 guys on the court. You just have to outwork them and be a little more precise with your preparation. It is a one game thing. You have to win to advance through.
“To know who we play and who we cross over with is great, but realistically, we have to get healthy beforehand and put a great team on the court that wants success, which we will. And we just have to play the right way and play the way Australians do and I think we will do that in spades.”
The Boomers will play all three World Cup group games in Dongguan, before moving on to Nanjing should they make the second round.
Playing in China will be a new experience for the majority of the squad and according to Donatas Motiejunas, Mills’ new teammate in San Antonio, it will be a memorable one.
“The Chinese fans are crazy,” Motiejunas told The Pick and Roll. “They love basketball and you guys have no idea how much they love basketball.”
Motiejunas spent the last two years playing professionally in China before signing with the Spurs last week. Motiejunas speaks effusively of the Chinese basketball community and offers a glimpse into what he believes will be the best FIBA World Cup of all time.
“For me, I was blown away. I found out how much China loves basketball. When I was in China I couldn’t pass in the street without taking photos nonstop. People would call out to me constantly. People would stop in the middle of the street to wait for me. They really love basketball and they know all the players, especially here in the NBA.
“With the top teams, the Chinese people know all the players. As crazy as it is, the basketball in China is big and for me, and my experience, I had really good people around me. I really enjoyed it.”