Australian Boomers v Canada Basketball
When: 5.30pm (WAST) / 7.30pm (AEST), Friday 16 August and Saturday 17 August
Where: RAC Arena, Perth
Broadcast: SBS VICELAND; SBS On Demand
The Boomers FIBA World Cup campaign starts in Perth on Friday night. We’ll finally get a look at the roster that hopes to make history and claim Australian Men’s Basketball’s first ever major FIBA medal.
Ask anyone who was on or around the team in Rio in 2016 and they’ll tell you they have unfinished business. Ask anyone on the team now and they’ll be steadfast in their belief that they’ll not only get on the podium, but that they can bring home the Naismith Trophy.
The Boomers have selected a different roster to what some expected and Andrej Lemanis was very clear on the reasons why that was including the ability to make shots and also the desire to play extended defence; both hallmarks of Boomers teams during the Lemanis era.
While there has been one late change with Mitch Creek added following the recent news that would-be Boomers debutant Xavier Cooks suffered a knee injury, the team presents a great mix of experience and youthful upside.
From Bogut to Bolden, from Joe to Jock; this is a team with myriad of skillsets that will hopefully blend together to achieve a common goal.
“It’s the goal,” Lemanis told media on Tuesday of medalling in China.
“But as most people in sport would say, that’s an outcome of process, right? And so I think having that as the goal can drive some of the other behaviours that you see.
“You see what it means to the guys, not just to play for their country but to play for one another and I think that behaviour is driven by a desire to come out with a medal.”
Standing in the Boomers way when they get to China in just over two weeks’ time will be Canada; a nation the Boomers haven’t met since the 2000 Olympics when Canada defeated Australia 101-90 in the group phase.
The Boomers and Canada will face off in the opening game of the first round for Group H in Dongguan. So having a chance to play each other twice this weekend will give both teams a sense of where they are at in the lead up.
There’s been much made of all of the NBA names that won’t be in China, be they from Team USA, Australia or Spain, but the Canadians have not been immune to that problem either.
Having initially announced a squad that included 17 NBA names, they are now down to just two and it seems only one, Khem Birch (Orlando Magic) will be playing at RAC Arena this weekend.
Cory Joseph (Sacramento Kings) is yet to make the trip to Australia as reported by Olgun Uluc of Fox Sports Australia. It is unclear whether his status for China is in doubt.
And just two days ago, Kelly Olynyk (Miami Heat) was ruled out after the knee injury he suffered in a warm up game versus Nigeria last week turned out to be worse than initially thought.
“In the ideal world, you’ll love to have your team on paper six months ago and just dream about them, but that just isn’t reality,” Canadian Head Coach Nick Nurse said on Tuesday.
Cory Joseph did not travel to Perth with Canada Basketball, a team official told me. He’s expected to join the group at some point, but there’s no timeline on it.
— Olgun Uluc (@OlgunUluc) August 14, 2019
What Nurse is left with is a roster of players who may not be household names, but are battle tested via the FIBA qualifying process. Seven of the players who will suit up this weekend played for Canada in the sixth and final qualifying window, with many of them veterans of their national team program.
Nurse was only appointed to the Head Coach role in late June – shortly after winning the NBA title with the Toronto Raptors – so he hasn’t had long to prepare his troops for their first major FIBA tournament since the 2010 World Championships, but he has enjoyed the process so far.
“I’m extremely proud of the guys that are here,” said Nurse.
“Then you start going to work and see what it looks like; get to know them as best as you can as players first, cos that’s mostly what I have to decide on, is how to use them on court.”
Clearly these games are important for Canada’s World Cup preparation given their limited time together under Nurse.
He is still trying to figure out who will make the final twelve-man roster and indicated that may go right down to the wire. How to replace Olynyk will be a challenge as one thing they lack is size.
Without Olynyk, their tallest players are Birch and former Houston Rockets forward Kyle Wiltjer, both at 6’9”, which makes the withdrawals of Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Dwight Powell (Dallas Mavericks) even tougher for Nurse and his staff.
Nurse is still adapting to the squad he does have and is implementing a style that he is comfortable with, whilst also recognising it needs to adapt to the personnel he has.
“There’s an ideal style that would suit me as a coach, that I’ve kinda tried to develop over my 30 years as a coach,” he explained.
“But, I think you’re always shaping that as well, depending on who’s out on the floor for you. I say this simply a lot of times, and it doesn’t sound great. We wanna play defence, and we wanna hit the open man on offence.
“I know that sounds like summing it up too simply, but we’ve worked hard on developing a foundational defence. We’ve certainly got some challenges, maybe at size or depth or whatever, but that’s my job to try to minimise those or cover those up, and put our guys in better positions on those things.
“And then offensively, we wanna run hard, we wanna cut hard, we wanna pass the ball, and we’ll shoot our fair bit of threes, and go from there.”
Wiltjer was Canada’s leading scorer during the qualifying windows, averaging 19.3 points per game over 4 games and he was supported by shooting guard Phil Scrubb and wing Melvin Ejim. All of them can shoot the three-ball and will need to be respected.
As the lone NBA player, a lot will be expected of Birch. He is a big body now with two years of NBA experience under his belt and will be a good test for the likes of Bogut, Aron Baynes, Nick Kay and Landale.
Khem told me all season how excited he was to play this summer and followed through. I believe he’s going to take his experience at the World Cup and deliver something extra for the Magic. Lots of untapped potential: https://t.co/jTQOdobEXY
— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) August 12, 2019
In terms of what he plans to show against the Boomers this weekend, Nurse is focused on getting his guys ready first and foremost at this stage.
“I think you want to prioritise on getting your house in order, but I think as well when you know you’ve got to play them, I think any coach would probably hold a number of things back.”
Playing on home soil for the first time since the Homecoming series in 2015 will be NBA and Boomers veteran Joe Ingles and he is looking forward to the experience.
“We don’t get that many opportunities to play in Australia and obviously playing against the quality sides that we’ve got out here,” Ingles told media on Tuesday.
“I think obviously as players it’s exciting to compete against these teams, but also just to play in front of family and friends and fans and the people that have wanted it for so long. We’re excited to play and hopefully it’s a good show here in Perth.”
The Boomers have played regularly in Australia during FIBA World Cup qualifying but this squad is different. It boasts a number of NBA veterans who were not available during those qualifying games and also some intriguing young talent. It also carries with it the weight of expectations.
After the heartbreaking loss suffered in Rio and with the development of basketball in this nation to where we boasted a record number of NBA players last season, if this team does not medal in China, it will be a disappointment.
But Ingles and his teammates are not looking too far ahead. Instead, they are focused on what they need to do to come together before they take the floor in China next month.
“We’ve obviously played against each other a lot the last few weeks,” said Ingles of the Boomers squad.
“To play against someone different; obviously Canada are in our group as well so I don’t think you want to throw everything out there, but obviously play together. We want to try to gel together more against somebody else.
“At the end of the day we’re obviously trying to win games, but a lot of that as well is developing our team to be ready by the end of August.”
One of those who will need to develop some cohesion with the group is Jonah Bolden. Coming off his rookie season with the Philadelphia 76ers, Bolden will make his debut as a Boomer on Friday night at RAC Arena.
For Ingles, camp has been about getting to know guys like Bolden and other faces that were not in Rio to figure out how they can best work together in the green and gold.
“I’ve learned a lot about him,” Ingles admitted about Bolden. “I didn’t know him before this.”
On the court, Ingles has liked what he’s seen so far.
“I really like him. He’s long, he’s athletic, he can shoot it. Defensively he can really disrupt, he can switch. He’s pretty versatile so it’s been fun playing with him.
“I mean not only him. There’s a lot of guys that a lot of us haven’t played with so it’s been fun to get to know other guys and the way they play. Off the court is obviously something we have a fair bit of fun with as well.”
While Lemanis still needs to add one more player to replace Cooks, with Ingles, Bogut, Baynes, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova and Chris Goulding back together from the Rio team, there’s a level of continuity there already. When you add to that mix guys like Nathan Sobey, Cam Gliddon and Kay who played a number of the qualifying games together, this team certainly has a great head start in their preparations.
But anytime you put a roster together with several new pieces and even bringing back together familiar faces who haven’t played with each other in a while, the more time you can spend together on court, the better.
WATCH 7 games in 11 days from the International Basketball Series, starting Friday LIVE streamed via @SBSOnDemand, with the @BasketballAus #Boomers in action in four matches from August 16-26. Plus coverage LIVE, FREE & in HD on @SBSVICELAND ?? #SBSSport https://t.co/7Bp0Cppa8X
— SBS Sport (@SBSSport) August 14, 2019
“Just coming out and playing with Boges again and playing with Patty again; a lot of us haven’t played [with each other] since Rio,” Ingles explained.
“It’s just fun to get out there and play. It’s fun to play with NBL guys that I’ve never played with before. We’re learning a lot about each other, we get better each day and it’s been a really good group to be around.”
The Boomers qualified first out of the Asia region for the World Cup, but that means nothing now. That was a different group playing against a different level of competition.
It gets real from Friday night when the ball tips in front of a packed house at possibly the loudest basketball arena in the country. With over 13,000 people behind them, this Boomers team that we’ve been craving to see will finally start to give us a glimpse of what they can be.
It’s the start of five weeks of games with the chance to finish what they came so close to achieving in Rio. It’s a chance to make history and this team will be all business from here on out in trying to achieve that goal.
“Now we’re off to a major tournament where we can try to finish that business,” Ingles said.
“It’s been a goal of ours since the last Worlds  and we obviously haven’t achieved that medal yet and it’s the same goal now.
“We think Drej and the coaches have put a team together that can compete and think that we can come home with a medal and be that team.”