It might have come through the unfortunate knee injury to Xavier Cooks but the hardest decision Andrej Lemanis, Luc Longley and the Boomers’ coaching staff had to make ahead of the FIBA World Cup has now been reversed with Mitch Creek back as part of the 12-man Australian squad.
It was a shock to many when Creek wasn’t named in Australia’s squad for the FIBA World Cup in China starting at the end of this month and afterwards Lemanis was emotional when discussing how tough of a discussion it was to have with Creek that he had missed out.
It has been quite the last 12 months for Creek who decided to back himself in to make the NBA after he led the Adelaide 36ers to the Grand Final against Melbourne United at the end of the 2017/18 NBL season.
He just banged down the door with his performances at the Long Island Nets in the G-League and he got his chance in the NBA earning three different 10-day contracts this past season, two with the Brooklyn Nets and another with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He certainly didn’t look out of place on an NBA floor either but he decided to commit to the South East Melbourne Phoenix for this upcoming 2019/20 NBL season, but to many he was seen as a lock to be part of the Boomers team heading to China for the World Cup.
However, as assistant coach Luc Longley discussed after a training session in Perth on Thursday ahead of the exhibition matches against Canada this weekend at RAC Arena, Cooks just simply outplayed Creek last week at the selection camp in Melbourne to demand a spot.
Really it just came down to Cooks and Creek fighting for that spot in the 12-man squad and Cooks got the nod, but it was a line ball decision and now as disappointing as it is for Cooks to be out injured, the fact there’s such a readymade replacement in Creek softens the blow.
Cooks suffered his knee injury on the first day of the Boomers practicing in Perth on Tuesday, believing to be a meniscus tear, and now after training with the Phoenix on Thursday morning in Melbourne, Creek is expected to arrive in Perth on Thursday evening.
Longley wasn’t too sure of the extent of the injury to Cooks when speaking on Thursday in Perth, but was disappointed his World Cup hopes are over.
“It’s just a really sad thing for Xavier,” Longley said.
“He’s played so well in our camp, he’s prepared himself well and it didn’t look like anything much when it happened. But I’m not a doctor and I don’t know what the injury is, but I know it’s going to prevent him from playing with us, which is sad.”
While disappointed for Cooks, Longley is equally happy for Creek to now get the chance to wear the green and gold in China at the World Cup.
“The good news is that we’ve got a guy to come in who knows our system and has been part of the Boomers before in Mitch Creek,” he said.
“He was probably the unlucky omission from camp so that’s the great thing about having guys playing with all-year round because they know what we do, and they can come in readymade.
“He’ll be here this afternoon and he’ll be with us tomorrow night, and he’s available to play but whether we roll him out or not we don’t have that planned yet.”
What is most pleasing for Longley to have Creek now rejoining the Boomers squad is the fact that he can’t ever remember a tougher decision than leaving him out in the first place.
“He was really unlucky especially with all the work he’s done with us, but Xavier just played him out of the spot unfortunately for him in the initial selection camp,” Longley said.
“It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a coach, and you saw it in Andrej’s press conference, was to tell Mitch he wasn’t in the team.
“That’s the worst part of the job to sit with 18 guys and give six of them bad news, but telling Mitch was the hardest ones for me to have to deliver. I didn’t make this call to him to tell him he was in, but I’m sure he would have been equally as happy when he got the news.”
Aron Baynes is a player who is going to be a focal point on everything the Boomers do over the next month starting with the exhibition matches against Canada in Perth, the USA in Melbourne and then at the World Cup.
He does look like being the likely starting centre in the team but he too can’t help but feel for Cooks while also knowing that they are well equipped to cover for his absence by bringing in Creek as his replacement.
“It was definitely disappointing and it’s heartbreaking for Xavier who had a great run with us,” Baynes said.
“He’s still going to be part of this team moving forward and we’ll keep him involved and I’m sure he’s going to keep following us as well. We’re all wishing him a speedy recovery and he’ll be back better than ever.
“It was one of those tough decisions for the coaches to leave Mitch out in the first place but the best thing about it during the selection camp was that there were no easy decisions to pick the final 12.
“That’s great for us because it means that we have another great player coming in who is going to be able to contribute and be good for us.
“It’s fun playing basketball with all of these blokes, they play the Aussie way with their heart on sleeve and giving full effort all the time. Creeky is no different, he’s going to come in here and do what he does.”
Speaking on Baynes, he is coming off another strong NBA season with the Boston Celtics, playing 60 games and averaged 5.1 points and 4.4 rebounds before ending up being traded this off-season to the Phoenix Suns.
Longley didn’t know a lot about Baynes until he started working with the Boomers several years ago, but he instantly was drawn to his game on the court and his personality off the floor.
He is looking forward to seeing what he delivers for the Boomers now over the next month because he is sure going to be a key focus of what they are trying to do.
“I’ve always a big fan of Baynsey’s game since I first came across him in a Boomers environment. He’s a tireless worker and he’s just adapting to his environment,” Longley said.
“He’s a great adapter and he does a great job of that. I think he’s going to be a real force for us at the World Cup and we’re counting on him to be that inside presence that we need to collapse the D.
“I’ve seen him start to take more threes too during the season and he was hitting a few in Boston. But working him out in the gym here, the number of shots that he hits is what is surprising to me. he’s hitting them at a good clip at least in practice.”
Baynes looks like he will share the five spot with Andrew Bogut and with power forwards Nick Kay, Jock Landale and Jonah Bolden as well, the Boomers are well equipped in terms of bigs and Longley is looking forward to the versality that will provide.
“We have a lot of choices with our bigs and one of the strengths of our team is going to be our versatility. We can roll out a Nick Kay-Jonah Bolden type of line-up and switch everything, and be up the floor,” he said.
“Or we can go big with Baynesy and Bogut and match up with some of the bigger teams like Serbia who have been going with 14-feet of muscle at the one time playing (Nikola) Jokic and (Miroslav) Raduljica. We are very flexible and I think that helps us.”
In terms of what has stood out to Longley in the Boomers camps over the past couple of weeks, if he had to pick out one thing it would be how well they are shooting the ball.
With Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Cameron Gliddon, Chris Goulding and Nathan Sobey all outstanding three-point shooters, Longley is looking for the Boomers to take full advantage of that by being a good shooting team and playing to their strengths.
“The biggest surprise has been how well everyone is shooting. I’ve never been to a camp where everyone has shot so well,” Longley said.
“In the 80s and 90s we made a lot of noise about Andrew Gaze and Shane Heal being great shooters, but we have five guys on this team who shoot as well or better than those guys. It is incredible how well the guys have been shooting the ball in camp, that has surprised even themselves I think.
“We want to spread the floor and space the floor because basketball is going that way. We’re no different. We want to create space on the floor and Joey and Patty have both been doing such a good job of breaking the defence down of what we are going to have to put shooters around them. I’d always like three of those shooters out there.”
And as for Baynes and his thoughts on what the Boomers are capable of and are aiming for, he sees no reason why they shouldn’t be aiming to come home with gold from China, not just a medal of any colour.
“We have more experience the more time we spend together and we know what we need to do, and the things that help us out there. It’s one of those things where the more experience we have the better, but we also have that youth to go with the experience,” Baynes said.
“It’s going to be a good thing if we can mesh it all together. My expectations are the same as everyone else’s, everyone knows that we are chasing a gold medal and that’s not going to change no matter who you talk to on this team. We’re all focused on the same thing.”