The past decade has been quite eventful for Australian basketball. On two occasions, the Boomers just narrowly missed out on a major tournament medal. If you could change one referee call in 2016 and one Patty Mills free throw in 2019, the results could be very different. Looking back on the past ten years, here are our top five Boomers squads to have graced the court.
5. 2011 FIBA Oceania Championships
Going right back to the start of the decade, Australia comprehensively defeated New Zealand in the 2011 FIBA Oceania Championships. The Tall Blacks were never really in it, losing the series 3-0. Game 1 was the closest of the three, with the Boomers winning by 13 points. The second contest was a 17-point Australian victory, while the final dead rubber match was a 24-point blowout.
Aleks Marić was the standout among the Aussies, averaging 15.7 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. A young Patty Mills chipped in with 14 points per game, while Brad Newley spent the most time on the court, averaging 27 minutes per contest. Joe Ingles, Matt Nielsen and Aron Baynes also played important minutes for this team, rounding out a very strong roster. Even Matthew Dellavedova featured, playing as a member of the second unit.
4. 2011 London Invitational Tournament
Australia finished second at the 2011 London Invitational, a round robin tournament where six nations played each other once. Finishing with a 4-1 record, the Boomers' only defeat came against a France squad led by Tony Parker and Joakim Noah. The French had to earn the victory, winning by a narrow margin of 71-67. Tony Parker torched the boys in green and gold, finishing with 27 points and eight assists.
Australia recorded impressive wins against Croatia (78-66) and Serbia (78-69), as well as a 91-90 overtime victory over a Luol Deng-led British outfit. Patty Mills led the way with 17 points per game, while Brad Newly averaged 14.5. Joe Ingles also contributed double digit points on average. Other notable squad members include Matthew Dellavedova, Matt Nielsen, Aleks Marić and Aron Baynes.
3. 2012 Summer Olympics
A Brett Brown-coached Australian side reached the quarter-finals of the 2012 Olympics in London. The Boomers got off to a slow start, losing their opening two matches against Brazil and Spain. Leandro Barbosa and Marcelo Huertas inspired a narrow 75-71 Brazilian victory, while the eventual silver medallists in Spain were simply too much for the Aussies. Pau Gasol led the way for the Spaniards, scoring 20 points.
The Boomers regrouped to win their next two matches over China and Great Britain, but now faced a heavyweight opponent in Russia. This David Blatt-coached Russian team was led by Andrei Kirilenko, and would eventually win the Bronze medal. Joe Ingles poured in 20 points, but it was Patty Mills who hit an iconic buzzer beater to seal an 82-80 Australian victory. Mills led the Olympics in scoring with 21.2 points per game, ahead of 2nd-placed Kevin Durant (19.5) and 3rd-placed Manu Ginobili (19.4).
Entering the quarter-finals with a mediocre 3-2 group stage record, the Boomers faced an unenviable opponent: The United States of America. The Aussies were no match for the "Redeem Team", who ran out 119-86 winners. In spite of an early exit, the competition had many positives for Australia. Joe Ingles for instance had a breakout tournament, averaging 15.0 points and 4.2 assists per game. David Andersen was another standout, with per-game averages of 12.0 points and 6.0 rebounds.
Brett Brown will be returning to coach Australian at this year's Tokyo Olympics. Fortunately, he knows the system and many longstanding Boomers players. Hopefully the team can go further on this occasion.
2. 2019 FIBA World Cup
Coming in at second is the recent 2019 FIBA World Cup team. The Boomers came within reach of a major international medal yet again, but it wasn't to be. Opening with comfortable wins over Canada and Senegal, the Aussies faced their first test against Lithuania. The match came down to the wire, but Patty Mills ensured an 87-82 Australian victory with a nasty stepback three-pointer in the final minute.
Moving onto the second round, the Boomers fought off a resilient Dominican Republic side by a score of 82-76. Their next match would be an absolute epic, where Australia came up against a French team featuring Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert. Patty Mills and Joe Ingles combined for 53 points, securing a narrow 100-98 win for the Boomers.
Thanks to a 5-0 record in the group stages, Australia drew the Czech Republic in the quarter-finals. More fancied opponents such as the USA, France, Spain, Serbia and Argentina were all avoided for now. The Boomers lived up to their favourites tag, beating the Czech Republic 82-70.
Up next in the semi-finals, Australia ran into a strong Spanish outfit led by Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio. The result was heartbreaking, as the Boomers were one Patty Mills free throw away from victory. Without the sharpshooting point guard however, who scored 34 points, the Aussies wouldn't have been in the match. As the Spaniards moved on to the gold medal match following their 95-88 double overtime victory over Australia, the Boomers had to regroup.
A medal was still up for grabs, but France stood in the way. Although the Boomers led by 14 points at one stage in the fourth quarter, the French clawed their way back to win 67-59. It was a bitter end to a campaign where Australia came so close to winning that elusive medal.
Patty Mills was in the discussion for tournament MVP after averaging 22.8 points per game and shooting over 40% from three-point range. Ultimately he didn't even make the All-Star Five, which came as a shock to many. Joe Ingles and Aron Baynes also averaged double digit points for the Boomers.
The 2019 World Cup proved that the Boomers are capable of medalling at a major international tournament. With the 2020 Olympics on the horizon, harsh lessons from the World Cup in China will provide added motivation.
1. 2016 Summer Olympics
Ranking first is another Boomers squad that narrowly missed out on a medal. The 2016 Olympic team was arguably deeper than the 2019 World Cup squad. Veterans such as David Andersen, Brock Motum, Cameron Bairstow and Ryan Broekhoff did not appear for Australia in 2019.
The Boomers opened their Olympic campaign with wins over France (87-66) and Serbia (95-80). Not only did were the Aussies winning, but the margin of victory was impressive on both occasions. Next up, Australia faced the eventual gold medallists, the United States of America. The Boomers shocked the fancied USA side, leading at half time by a score of 54-49. Ultimately however, Carmelo Anthony's 31 points inspired a comeback 98-88 American victory.
Although the Aussies were on the losing end, the match against America provided a major confidence boost. The Boomers showed that they were there to medal, and not just make up the numbers. In the quarter-finals, Australia kept on rolling, crushing Lithuania 90-64. Having avoided the USA in their side of the bracket, the Boomers were generating serious medal hype.
However, everything came crashing down in the semi-finals. In a rematch against Serbia, the Boomers couldn't replicate their group stage feats. The Serbian defence suffocated Australia, who fell by a convincing score of 61-87. However, there was no time to lament over what could have been, as the Aussies had to regroup for the Bronze medal match just two days later.
The bronze medal game was absolutely heartbreaking for Australia. Despite 30 points from Patty Mills, Pau Gasol spearheaded an 89-88 Spanish victory with 31 points and 11 rebounds. The match ended in controversy, with a contentious foul called on Patty Mills in the dying seconds. Sergio Rodriguez then stepped up to hit the game-winning free throws, while Australia couldn't find an answer on the next possession.
It's a shame that such a quality group of players didn't receive a medal for their efforts. Patty Mills unsurprisingly led the team in scoring with 21.3 points per game - good enough for second place on the scoring leaderboard behind Bojan Bogdanović. Other notable Boomers include Aron Baynes, Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Ingles, Andrew Bogut and David Andersen. Lessons from the Rio Olympics and China World Cup will serve the Boomers well heading into the Tokyo Olympics. Much of the core squad from Rio will be there again this year, barring injury.