The official ticket launch for the USA vs. Australia Men’s exhibition games was held yesterday at Etihad Stadium. The historic friendly series between the two countries will be held on August 22 and 24 next year. Amongst those in attendance for the launch were Basketball Australia CEO Anthony Moore, Boomers assistant coach Luc Longley, Boomer and prospective Brooklyn Net Mitch Creek, retired NBA All-Star Allan Houston, and USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley.
For American guests Jim Tooley and Allan Houston, the event was a chance to explore Etihad Stadium and see the location of the two games, before it is packed with thousands of passionate basketball fans. “It’s exciting to visit Melbourne again and it is a fantastic city. The trip in 2000 still remains one of the memorable playing experiences of my life. You can just see how this stadium is going to come to life for the series next year,” Houston said.
Houston was a member of the USA’s Sydney Olympic team, which won the gold medal in a final against France. From his experience playing at the international level, Houston has gained a unique outsider’s perspective on the growth of basketball in Australia. “Australia has a long history of developing talented basketball players and there is no question this will be an entertaining and competitive series come August next year.
“It’s become an intense rivalry. I have a lot of respect for Australian basketball. The way they approach the game, the way they are physical, they are tough-minded. We knew that coming in and I think this team is going to know the same thing coming in next year. [Australian] players are more talented, got more exposure, more coaching, more skilled than when we were playing. So it’s going to be an exciting time and an exciting matchup,” Houston said.
Longley, who has been the Boomers assistant coach since 2013, sees the games as a result of the passion of Australian basketball fan community. “This series is a great reward for all the fans in Australia that have pushed long and hard for NBA players and teams to play games over here.
“Australian fans have become more educated on basketball over the years as the NBL continues to grow. There won’t just be more fans, there will be fans that care more and will be louder and more educated on the game. It will be a difficult crowd for Basketball USA,” Longley said.
USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley knows that Team USA will be approaching the games with the utmost respect, but will also be confident in getting the job done in front of a hostile audience. “I think our guys are used to being on a big stage, and I think they’ll handle it appropriately. You know over the last twelve years, building our program and our culture, we talk a lot about respect. Coach [Gregg] Popovich uses a term ‘appropriate fear’. Respect your opponents; go into the situations knowing and not taking things for granted. So I think they’ll be prepared and appreciate this, because this is awesome.”
With the potency of the Australian talent pool growing year by year, Basketball Australia have golden ambitions for next year’s FIBA World Cup in China. For the USA Basketball CEO, Australia’s ambition and hunger to reach the top is something he –and likely USA Basketball as well– relishes. “It’s more meaningful when you have competitive games. The focus level increases. Competition is what it’s all about and whether we have been on the top or anywhere else on the ladder, you want to be the best, you want to play against the best to be the best. So we’re excited about having the opportunity to get challenged.
“We know that we’ve been fortunate to have great success, but we don’t say ‘hey, we’ve had great success, we’re just automatically going to get it’. We need to train and prepare and be serious to make sure we are on the podium in China, and having these friendlies, that are going to be intense competition, shows a commitment to keeping that standard high,” Tooley said.
The countdown to tip-off now officially begins. Tickets for both games go on sale to the general public August 29 at 1pm.