Written for NBL.com.au by Chris Pike
An unfortunate knee injury to Xavier Cooks has meant preparations haven’t been ideal for the Australian Boomers leading into this weekend’s exhibition matches with Canada.
The Boomers arrived in Perth on Monday to gear up for the two games against Canada at RAC Arena this Friday and Saturday night as preparations ramp up for the FIBA World Cup in China starting at the end of this month.
With just three weeks remaining until that first game against Canada at the World Cup, this week has been all about getting those 12 players named in the final squad for the Boomers on the court together and beginning to bed things down.
But then on Tuesday there was a big blow when 23-year-old forward Cooks went down with a knee injury meaning that the Boomers are going to be forced to replace him in the squad, with that announcement likely to come on Thursday with Mitch Creek the most likely to be added to the 12.
While the loss of Cooks is a blow to the Boomers plans, it’s not as if there isn’t quality replacements waiting in the wings given how challenging it was for Andrej Lemanis and his coaching staff to settle on that final 12 in the first place with the depth in Australian basketball.
Now that the preparations heat up this weekend with the games against Canada and then ahead of the matches against the USA in Melbourne, everything the Boomers will be doing according to Lemanis will be with the first game of the World Cup against Canada in mind.
So while it’s not ideal to have already have to make a change to the 12-man squad, Lemanis will just get on with the job at hand now of getting everything ready to be in top gear by that first game at the World Cup also against the Canadians.
“Of course you have to take the global view and the most important thing for us is September 1 so that’s where you start and you reverse engineer it from there,” he said.
“There’ll be some things around managing loads and some guys right now we don’t want them playing back-to-backs.
“We’ll be smart with all of that and obviously as guys step out that gives more opportunity for others to carry some minutes and some other guys will have to carry more of the load. That will play out over the course of the two games.”
Now that the World Cup is only three weeks away, the talk about Australia’s mission to win a medal is taking centre stage too.
Lemanis without question feels that from within the playing group too whether it’s the Olympic veterans like Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova or Joe Ingles, or the youngsters like Jonah Bolden and Jock Landale, or the NBL players like Nick Kay, Nathan Sobey, Cameron Gliddon and Chris Goulding.
But Lemanis knows as well as anyone that the best way to end up with the success you ultimately desire is to focus on the job immediately in front of you.
“Winning a medal is obviously the goal but as most people in sport will tell you, that’s an outcome of process,” Lemanis said.
“Having that as the goal can drive some of the other behaviours that you see and obviously before the Rio Olympics that was well highlighted with the guys and the time they spent time together to reconnect.
“You see that sort of care and connectiveness throwing through the group, and there’s already been some stuff as part of this campaign that has been pretty special when you see what it means for the guys not just to play for their country, but to play with one another.
“That behaviour is driven by that desire to come out with a medal and there’s a lot of players doing a lot of great stuff on the international stage. For all of them, they are just determined and want to tick that box to say that they’ve delivered a medal for the country.”
Joe Ingles is now well versed on representing Australia having played with the Boomers at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games along with FIBA World Cups in 2010 and 2014.
The Utah Jazz veteran now of 351 games who has shot the lights out from downtown in that time going at 41.6 per cent from three-point territory remains committed as ever to playing with the Boomers even if he’s now a tried and true star in the NBA.
Ingles is enjoying the chance to be back in Australia having had the camp in Melbourne last week and now to be in Perth ahead of the games in Canada and then the Marvel Stadium clashes with the USA next weekend before departing for China.
“These are just as big as any other game, probably even more so because of it being at home. We don’t get that many opportunities to play in Australia and obviously against the quality sides that we’ve got out here,” Ingles said.
“As players, it’s obviously exciting to compete against these teams but also just to play in front of family and friends, and the fans and people who have wanted it for so long. We’re glad it’s happening and we are excited to now play, and hopefully put on a good show here in Perth.”
As for his national teammates, whether it’s reconnecting with old mates like Bogut, Mills, Dellavedova and Baynes or younger teammates he’s spending real time with for the first time like Bolden or Landale, Ingles is embracing everything about this build up to the World Cup.
“I’m excited just to be part of a team with everyone that’s on our squad. Just coming out and playing with Bogues again, and playing with Patty again, a lot of us haven’t played together since Rio,” Ingles said.
“So that’s been three years coming up now so it’s just fun to get out there and play again. It’s fun to play with NBL guys who I’ve never played with before and we are learning a lot about each other, and we get better each day. It’s been a really good group to be around.”
Having been part of the Boomers team that fell heartbreakingly short of a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Ingles isn’t shy in putting it out there that bringing home a medal from China is the goal next month.
“I think once you digested after Rio and we all went back to our own teams, and lives, you don’t forget about it obviously but you are so focused on other things,” Ingles said.
“But then every time you come home it gets brought up and now we are off to a major tournament where we can try and finish that business. It’s been a goal of ours since the last Worlds and we obviously haven’t achieved that medal yet, so it’s the same goal now.
“We think we’ve got a team that Drej and the coaches have put together that we think can compete, and come home with a medal and be that team.”
Meanwhile, the treatment Ben Simmons has received back home is a concern to Lemanis.
It’s unfortunate that much of the focus from the mainstream media surrounding the Boomers preparations for the World Cup have been overshadowed with focus on Simmons.
First of all it was surrounding Simmons’ decision not to play for Australia at the World Cup after the Philadelphia 76ers requested him to continue his NBA season preparations with the club, but then what should have been a positive trip home from the superstar turned sour.
Simmons did a lot of great things while visiting back home in Melbourne and Sydney, including running clinics that for many of those attending were once in a lifetime opportunity, but for whatever reason, sections of the media wanted to drag him down.
Lemanis has his full attention on getting the Boomers ready for the World Cup starting with the exhibition matches against Canada in Perth this Friday and Saturday nights, but he couldn’t help but be frustrated with the way Simmons has been treated.
“That sort of stuff, I think it bothers me and Ben is obviously at the high end of that just because of the superstar status that he carries, but I saw it when Bogut was coming through and people used to get on him,” Lemanis said.
“These guys are passionate about playing for their country and they just want to play. There are a lot of other forces pulling at them and they are men who are managing careers and have decisions to make, and we support them with all of that.
“We all do what’s right for ourselves in the end and we support him 100 per cent. It frustrates you at times with the negativity that surrounds that and even in this campaign, because of Ben’s superstar status it gets the attention but Ryan Broekhoff is a key piece too and he’s having a baby and chosen to be with his family.
“We support that 100 per cent as we should. Thon Maker wanted to work on his game and if that’s what is best for you, then no problems. Any of those sort of criticisms frustrate me.
“But in the case of Ben, he has plenty of people around him to support him and as the national team organisation and as the coach, you want to ensure a young man who is copping a lot is getting the support that he requires for sure.”