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Time to declare: Aussie hoops is finally ‘back’
It seems that over the last few years, around this time, a host of feel-good basketball stories appear about how well Australian basketball is tracking on its way back from the sporting abyss.
The growth of the sport has been undeniable at every level, with local talent flourishing overseas while the national league has gone from strength to strength after emerging from the so-called ‘dark ages’ as a shadow of its former self.
However, it feels as though the time has come to make a bold, yet not over-the-top statement – Australian basketball, a commodity which has been through its fair share of struggles in recent times, is back.
‘Back’ is a word that is often thrown around to describe a re-emergence, or in this case to signify that Aussie hoops, particularly the NBL, has re-claimed its rightful spot amongst the national sporting landscape.
Following a brilliant Olympic campaign by our men’s side, falling agonisingly short of that elusive Olympic medal in very, very controversial circumstances, the exposure of, and subsequent interest in, basketball in Australia was at a level not seen for 20 years.
Not since the 90’s, often referred to as the ‘golden age’ of Australian basketball, had the average sporting fan been so invested in the sport.
Perhaps it is time to understand that another ‘golden age’ is upon us in Australia.
The NBL, an often maligned national league in Australia, has been consistently building on a number of levels over the past five years.
In an undeniable sign of growth and improvement, each recent season has been touted as potentially being ‘the best ever’, and season 2016/17 is set to be no different.
Rule changes relating to the salary cap and the number of overseas imports allowed on each roster has been the main catalyst behind the improvement in on-court quality.
The teams have delivered on their end once again for the upcoming season, using these new concessions to recruit some massive names, both Australian-based and from overseas.
Olympians David Anderson (Melbourne) and Cameron Bairstow (Brisbane) are returning home in a sign of just how much the quality of our league has improved, while fellow Olympians Chris Goulding (Melbourne), Damian Martin (Perth) and Kevin Lisch (Sydney) will remain in the NBL, rather than chasing contracts overseas.
That’s five players out of the 12 that represented Australia at the Olympics.
Five out of the 12 that were five seconds and one shocking foul call away from an Olympic bronze medal, that competed and pushed all of the top countries and players in the world, will be plying their trade in the NBL this season.
It doesn’t stop there.
Former Boomers representatives Brad Newley (Sydney) and Aleks Maric (Sydney) have returned home, while more superstars who were once-based overseas like AJ Ogilvy (Illawarra), Mark Worthington (Cairns), Daniel Kickert (Brisbane), Daniel Johnson (Adelaide), Nathan Jawai (Cairns), and David Barlow (Melbourne), as well as Kiwi national quartet Kirk Penney, Corey Webster, Tom Abercrombie and Rob Loe (New Zealand), will all feature in season 2016/17.
But wait, there’s still more.
High quality imports are starting to flock, but also starting to stay once here, with pocket rocket Jerome Randle (Adelaide), Jermaine Beal and Torrey Craig (Brisbane), Cedric Jackson (Melbourne) and Casey Prather (Perth) have all signed on to go again in the NBL, while former league MVP Rotnei Clarke (Illawarra) has returned for another stint as well.
Add in what looks like another brilliant crop of new import signings, as well as a wealth of young talent and future Boomers, and the league is set to breach new heights – yet again.
To highlight the depth of talent, every single team has players who have been consistent starters in recent seasons that are projected to come off the bench in 2016/17 as more talent comes into the league.
It is unbelievable to think the likes of Anthony Petrie and Kirk Penney could be coming off the pine this season, but it is a very real prospect given Cameron Bairstow and Corey Webster/Tom Abercrombie, respectively, will be very stiff competition for the starting roles.
Exposure has grown significantly to go hand-in-hand with the improvement in quality, with Fox Sports set to show every single game live once again, while one game a week will also be broadcast on free-to-air channel SBS.
Without the exposure, the league would be a mere blip on the sporting radar, but suddenly basketball is gaining some very sizeable momentum again and people are taking notice.
Aussie hoops, but more specifically the NBL, have finally made it all the way back in Australia – there is no denying that anymore – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.