Written by Tom Hersz.
The Boomers started a quest in August 2017.
Last Friday night, as they defeated Iran 76-47, they achieved what they’d set out to do.
Starting with a campaign at the FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon, a group of mostly NBL players has dominated the Asia region, losing just one game in the past 16 months.
After going undefeated at the Asia Cup, they set out to qualify for the 2019 FIBA World Cup through the new format that required two games to be played at each of several windows every few months.
Now having played ten of the twelve qualifying games, the Boomers have not only punched their ticket to China for next year’s World Cup, but they are in great shape to make a statement along the way.
“I think for us, we want to be the best team coming out of Asia, so we’ve got to finish with that record of eleven wins and one loss,” said team captain Jason Cadee after the Boomers became the first team in Asia to qualify.
With three qualifying games remaining after that win, there was always the danger that this group which has played so selflessly for their country, could let complacency set in and not give their best from here on out.
“Even though technically, you’re not playing for a whole lot because we’ve made it, we just don’t want to lose a game,” Cadee emphasised.
— Basketball World Cup (@FIBAWC) November 30, 2018
Fast forward to Monday night as the Boomers hosted Qatar and it was clear that was not just talk from Cadee.
This group came out with the same fire, intensity and desire to play for each other and their country that we’ve seen throughout this process.
The ball zipped, the defence pressed, and players sacrificed for their teammates on their way to a dominant 110-59 victory.
It was another shining example of the culture that Andrej Lemanis has instilled since he took over this program back in 2013.
For Cadee, being a part of this group has been a lot of fun. Knowing they’ve now qualified Australia for a chance to win their first ever men’s medal at a major FIBA tournament is something he and the rest of this group, that has featured 24 different players, are immensely proud of.
It started in Lebanon where they had no idea how they would fare in the Asia region after qualifying solely through Oceania previously. So to now know that they’re currently the best team in Asia certainly put a smile on Cadee’s face.
“It’s pretty cool,” he admitted.
“I’m pretty proud of the group. Obviously we spoke about this over a year ago, about the process and we didn’t know how it would unfold.
“But I think we’ve done a fabulous job. We lost the one game and we were disappointed with that, but I think overall we’ve played with pride and I think we’ve shown Australia how good we are on the international map.”
The Boomers play both games of the final FIBA qualifying window in February away. They will travel to Kazakhstan and then to Iran as they close out this process.
Up for grabs in those games is seeding for the all-important group draw. That won’t take place until the final 32 teams that have qualified for the World Cup are known, but two more victories will ensure Australia comes out of Asia with the best record, and therefore, the highest seeding from the region.
So there’s still a lot to play for beyond having just qualified.
“It’s an awesome achievement and we’re really stoked with it,” Nathan Sobey said of helping Australia get to China 2019.
“It’s been a journey … and we’re really glad that we can finally take that off our shoulders, but we’ve still got to continue to come out and play the games like we’ve still got to qualify and play some good basketball.”
Sobey, like Cadee, has been a part of this group since the Asia Cup campaign in Lebanon, and would love to see out this process.
A possible wrinkle is that the February window falls on the eve of the 2018/19 NBL Finals. So whether everyone will be available is unknown at this stage and something that was not lost on Lemanis when asked about it following the Qatar victory on Monday.
“That’s something we need to have a good chat and discussion about now, in conjunction with the players as well – what they want to do,” Lemanis acknowledged.
“There’s a bit of consideration to be had before that next window, in terms of how much disruption to the NBL. There’s also the other stuff logistically around, you might not know until Sunday which teams are in the playoffs and then you fly out on the Monday for the international window. There’s just the practicalities of it.”
— Basketball World Cup (@FIBAWC) November 30, 2018
What that could mean, is opportunity for others who weren’t playing in this latest window to have one final audition for Lemanis.
That will be the last time we see the Boomers in action before they go into camp, likely in July, to select that World Cup squad.
For the 22 NBL players who have helped get the Boomers to where they are, they have known all the way through the process that a spot in China was no guarantee.
There are nine Australians currently playing in the NBA, three more in the NBA G-League, and several more playing at a high level in Europe, plus a guy named Bogut who is likely a lock if he makes himself available. Selecting this final roster of twelve is going to be an unenviable task for Lemanis and his staff.
“This current qualifying format has exposed a whole bunch of players to international basketball … and it’s been a fun and rewarding experience for me to watch each one of them grow at different times in this environment,” Lemanis reflected.
“To see how much it means to them to play in the green and gold, and see that reward of some of the work they’ve put in through their junior careers and their careers in the NBL, so that’s been really fun.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the body of work that these guys have put together and the way they’ve represented Australia on the international stage.”
Whether or not guys like Cadee and Sobey make the final roster, they can ensure they’ve made their mark, not just by helping the Boomers qualify, but by giving whoever dons the green and gold in China, the best possible seeding to help with that medal quest.
If they come out of this qualifying process as the number one team in Asia, then their job is done … for now.