At the start of the 2008/09 Victorian Junior Basketball League season, the under 12 Venom first team was training one Tuesday night ahead of grading at the Warrandyte Sports Complex. An energetic younger brother was sitting on the sidelines with his mum, barely able to sit still. The cheeky youngster was bursting for the chance to get onto the court, and was almost begging to be invited to train with the older boys. Given the chance to join in, Tyler Robertson grasped the opportunity with both hands, and since that day has never looked back.
Sport runs through the veins of everyone in the Robertson household. Older twin brothers Daniel and Josh started out in that Venom under 12 team together, begrudgingly accepting that their younger brother was allowed to train with them at the time. While Josh would eventually choose Australian Rules football over basketball, Daniel would go on to represent Victoria on the national stage. Younger sister Mia almost had no choice but to play basketball too. While Mia’s time may yet come, Tyler has been able to harness the competitive family streak. Coupled with some old-fashioned hard work, he is setting out to make the most of his natural athletic ability and talent.
When I caught up recently with Tyler, whom I gave that first opportunity almost a decade earlier with the Venom, it was interesting to learn more about his pathway to earning the chance to represent Australia at the 2017 FIBA Oceania U17 Championship in Guam.
“Yeah, many people are surprised when they find out I started out at Warrandyte,” explained Robertson. “I really enjoyed playing with the Venom. However by under 16s, I made the decision to leave and ended up choosing to play at Dandenong.
“Dandenong was the best place for me at the time. I was at school in Rowville, and many of my good mates were playing there so in the end it was an easy decision. Plus the coaches there are great, and I have always wanted to go to college, so with Darren [Perry] and Tim [Rapp] there, they have a lot of contacts.”
Like his older brothers, Tyler had another tough decision to make like many others before him; basketball or football.
“Watching my brother [Daniel] play for Victoria at nationals, I thought that was something I could do too,” added Robertson. “If he could make the state team, so could I. So at under 16s I also chose to give up footy and concentrate on basketball.”
Daniel had a greater influence on his younger brother than he probably realised at the time. Seeing his brother play for Victoria proved to be an inspiration for Tyler to take his game to a higher level.
“Watching Daniel play state-level basketball was pretty cool,” said Robertson. “I especially recall watching him at the under 18s in Ballarat. The atmosphere was amazing and the quality of competition was awesome. I wanted to experience that for myself.”
While Daniel was making a name for himself, Tyler was making people sit up and take notice too. It was not long before he was selected to the under 16 state team, and from there he has never looked back.
“Playing for Victoria was just awesome,” Robertson explained. “In top-age under 16s, we lost to Queensland North in the final. We were down 13 with about 6 minutes to go, but we just could not get back. They had guys like Samson Froling and Kody Stattmann and that made it tough.”
That loss to a talent-laden Queensland North team would be the last time Robertson lost an Australian Junior Championship, and in the process developed a rivalry with their northern counterparts.
“We played them [Queensland North] in the final again this year,” further added Robertson. “Both sides had 4 or 5 players returning from under 16s. We were down again by 6 or 8 with 2 minutes to go. I made some big plays, as did the team, and we managed to get up! It was a great win.
“There had been a bit of stirring from Queensland North as we had lost two pool games leading up to the finals. We had the last laugh though.
“The game against New South Wales Country though was probably our best game of the tournament. We just clicked in that game and were unstoppable. Apparently we were the first Vic Metro team to have lost two games but still go on to win the title!”
Robertson would end the tournament with averages of 10.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He also shot an impressive 42.4% from beyond the three-point arc, and was an integral cog in their championship run that included a haul of 16 points in the championship game. His ability to play team-oriented basketball and make big plays would see him attract some additional interest, this time from Australian team selectors.
Having moved from Rowville to Box Hill to study to take up the chance to play under Kevin Goorjian, when talking about his selection to the Australian team for the 2017 FIBA U17 Oceania Championships played in Guam this year, it was hard to wipe the grin off his face.
“I found out that I had been selected after reading an email in class at Box Hill,” laughed Robertson. “My phone vibrated, so I checked my phone and there was an email from Basketball Australia. I had to excuse myself and stepped out of class. I was shocked, excited and was shaking!
“I ended up missing about 15 minutes of class because I was just so shocked. My teacher made me stay back 15 minutes too to make up the lost time. I could not tell her or anyone else, as we could not tell anyone just yet. It was so hard!”
“I ended up making the team with two other class mates too which was awesome,” added Robertson. “Once the team was officially released, I went back and explained to my teacher what happened that day I had to leave class. She was very apologetic too!”
Extremely proud and excited at the prospect of representing his country, Robertson said it was also pretty amazing for Box Hill – the same program Ben Simmons attended – as it was set to boast three players in the national team. It was great recognition for Goorjian and the program, as Robertson would also explain it would also be his first trip overseas.
“Goorj was pretty stoked too!” Robertson explained. “It was my first time overseas and I had to get a passport! It was an amazing experience – one that I will never forget.”
Australia would dominate the competition en-route to winning the FIBA Oceania U17 title and earn a berth in the 2018 FIBA Asia U18 Championships. Through their five games, the Crocs averaged 142.6 points, 27 steals, and a winning margin of 104.2 points per game (team statistics) to blow everyone away. They held their opposition to single digit scoring in 11 of their 20 quarters played, while managing to score above 30 points in 14 of them. That is more than just outstanding, it was simply pure dominance.
Robertson started every game and was impressive in playing alongside Queensland North stars Froling and Stattman, but also his Victorian team-mates Sean MacDonald and Keli Leaupepe. Robertson delivered some impressive numbers too, adding 12.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5 assists per game. He would end the tournament equal with MacDonald for assist-turnover ratio (3.6) and second in assists (5.0)
While his side was a class above the competition, Robertson was quick to explain that there were some talented players at the event.
“Each team had 2 or 3 really good teams,” added Robertson. “Once we scouted them, we made their life very difficult, and without their contributions, they did not have enough depth to compete with us.
“Despite what people may think, we did not employ a full court press in each game. We actually just scouted the other teams and stuck to the game plan.”
With another Australian Junior Championship and a first FIBA Oceania title now against his name, Robertson has set his sights on trying out for the under 20 state team, the 2018 FIBA Asia U18 Championships, and heading off to US college.
“State tryouts start in the next holidays, just a couple of weeks away,” outlined Robertson. “While I also have my sights on making the team for the 2018 FIBA Asia [U18] Championships, I am now really assessing my college options.
“It has been my dream all along to go to college. As a 6 or 7-year-old when we first got Foxtel, I was able to watch the games and I have wanted to play there ever since. Arriving at Dandenong to play has only solidified my decision in my own mind.”
Robertson would further add that he is planning a trip to the US in January for some potential school visits.
“I have had some interest from some teams already,” further added Robertson. “At this stage I am planning on a visit to Eastern Washington, but may also visit others while there.
“It has been great to be able to talk to guys like Mason Peatling, Felix Von Hofe and others on their experience. I want to gain an experience, an education and play basketball at the same time, just like them.”
With fellow Australian team-mate Kody Stattmann recently committing to Virginia, it will not be long before Robertson and the rest of the Crocs team who have a desire to play NCAA basketball will be signed by college teams. It is a decision that Robertson is hoping to make before commencing his final year of high school to avoid any distractions to his studies.
“Ideally I would like to decide on a school before starting my final year, although I will delay my decision if needed to ensure I end up in the right situation,” shared Robertson. “So my trip to the US in January will be a crucial step towards making a decision so I can just focus on my studies.”
Currently standing at 6’6 and still growing, Robertson strength’s include an ability to see the floor and create plays for both himself and others. He has an uncanny ability to make big shots when they are most needed, and while he can swing through multiple positions, he is most suited to playing wing. Think Joe Ingles, but with a more explosive game. With that suggested comparison, Robertson laughed.
“If I can get anywhere near Ingles, that would be great,” he exclaimed. “If I could improve my consistency on my shot somewhere close to him, then I would be very happy.”
Judging by his rapid development and oozing with potential, the sky is the limit for Robertson.