Written for nbl.com.au by Tom Hersz
All the off-court noise about who will play and who won’t was put aside on Saturday morning as the Boomers came together for their first official day of practice in the lead up to the FIBA World Cup.
It was a chance for the 18-man squad to focus on the task at hand. It was a chance to get back on court as a group and assess how far the talent of Australian Basketball has really come.
And that was the key message out of the first day. The goal is a gold medal. Nothing less. And even though Ben Simmons is not available; even without Thon Maker, Ryan Broekhoff and Dante Exum, this group still only has that one goal in mind as they prepare for China.
Speaking with Media following practice, NBA and Boomers veteran was noticeably excited to be back in the green and gold.
“Pumped!” said Mills.
“I can’t describe the feeling that me and all the boys have just to be back home in Australia and playing with some good mates in the green and gold. It’s a feeling that you can’t really describe.
“Once you get on the floor with these boys in these colours, I’m full of excitement, that’s for sure.”
And there was some additional excitement as Ben Simmons, despite declaring himself unavailable for the lead up games and the World Cup, joined the Boomers squad on court.
He was a welcome addition as far as Boomers Assistant Coach Luc Longley was concerned.
“Ben looked great today,” Longley told Media.
“He said a while ago he was going to come in and help us prepare and be around the group. He did that today and it was fantastic. He brought the level of practice up just a few notches so it was great.”
It gives the Boomers coaching staff a glimpse of what the team could look like next year in Tokyo and helps the rest of the group get accustomed to playing with Simmons, which will benefit them down the road.
“It certainly helps us looking forward to the Olympics and seeing how he plays amongst the group and how he affects what we do. Obviously that’s the end goal.”
But it was a different player that stood out to Longley today and he was full of praise for what he saw from Perth Wildcats big man Nick Kay.
Coming off an All-NBL season that culminated in a championship, Kay has taken that confidence along with his experience with the Boomers in the qualifying games and come into camp ready to make a case for a spot in China.
“Nick Kay surprisingly was dominant at practice,” said Longley.
It’s a great sign and Longley was quick to point out what he liked about how Kay attacked the first session.
“Just his hustle,” explained Longley.
“He just was getting on the offensive glass, playing D, diving on the floor; the Nick Kay that you see every week in the NBL.
“But this is a different lot of cattle out here so to speak and Nick Kay did really well.”
His development both in the NBL and with the Boomers during World Cup qualifying was evident and as far as Longley was concerned, is testament to the standard of play that Kay faces in the NBL.
Oh-Kay Nick ?
— NBL (@NBL) March 8, 2019
“Nick Kay is a great example of someone that really performs at NBL level and to see that translate at this level as it did today speaks volumes of the NBL.”
Of course being a major part of that Boomers program the past few years has also helped Kay feel comfortable in the system and know how to be successful in the green and gold. He’s battle tested at international level and getting this kind of praise on day one shows he’s not just there to make up the numbers.
“I think being in the Boomers environment has been a big part of Nick Kay’s development, and also he knows the stuff, he knows what he’s doing, he’s confident and that’s what we’ve tried to build in the group is continuity and he’s a beneficiary of that.”
The power forward spot in particular will be hotly contested with the likes of Brock Motum, Jonah Bolden, recent Summer League standout Jock Landale and Kay, all vying for their spot.
“We’re going to have a hard time at the selection table when we pick twelve guys,” Longley acknowledged.
“The power forward position is obviously a bit of a jam but some of those guys are very versatile and I think that’s one thing that we’ll be as a team, is versatile.”
For guys like Kay, along with the other regulars through World Cup qualifying including Mitch Creek, Cam Gliddon, Jason Cadee, Mitch McCarron, Todd Blanchfield, Nathan Sobey and Chris Goulding, they will play a big role in helping the newer guys to the squad like Deng Adel, Xavier Cooks, Bolden and Landale to get up to speed with Andrej Lemanis’ system.
Ready to get back going with the boys ?? pic.twitter.com/rI2uJlF2od
— Matthew Dellavedova (@matthewdelly) August 2, 2019
Longley was very conscious of how lucky they are to have those players, along with the veterans from Rio to help prepare the group ahead of the warm-up games.
“It’s a really important balance,” he said.
“Obviously the strength of our Boomers teams in the past has been continuity and guys that have known the stuff for a long time, so having these guys, a lot of them in it the past three years [during] qualifying, makes a big difference. We will benefit from that continuity.”
As a leader of the group, Mills was clear that his role, along with some of the other veterans like Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova, Aron Baynes and Andrew Bogut, is to bring the group together and continue to ensure they’re headed towards their goal together.
“Us older boys, the leadership group, have a responsibility to make sure that we continue to pass on what it means to be a Boomer and play for your country and make sure that this program is at its peak, knowing the type of talent that is coming through.”
Mills also explained how now that they’re on court together, all the other distractions dissipate easily.
“I think within the group we’ve done a good job of being able to stay focused on that goal and our preparation, and that’s the biggest thing,” Mills explained.
“We’ve got a great opportunity over the next month to prepare. We’ve got some quality lead up games with Canada and Team USA, but these practices and who we’ve got here to go at each other … it’s just full of excitement.”
The goal is clear. Despite never before medalling at a major FIBA tournament, this Boomers team is striving for a gold medal in China. Having come so close in Rio, Mills is confident that this group has the belief to attack that goal head on.
“It comes from history I think and understanding that it’s never been done before, and the belief in one another,” Mills explained.
“The talent that we have right here in this gym right now and the potential for what we can do. We’ve all grown; we’ve all lifted the calibre of talent that we have. We’ve all worked hard to get to where we are. Now it’s just putting it all together, having fun and going to have a good, hard crack at it.”
One player that has clearly grown and lifted the calibre at practice early at camp was Nick Kay. He has certainly not made the team on day one, but he’s sure giving himself every chance.
The Boomers are in camp for six days in Melbourne before the final 12-man squad will be announced. Following that, they head to Perth to begin preparing for their warm-up matches against Canada at RAC Arena on August 16 and 17.
The Canada games will be followed by two further games against USA Basketball at Marvel Stadium on August 22 and 24.
The team will then depart for China for the FIBA World Cup, August 31-September 15.