Aussies focus on Tokyo

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - March 28, 2021 - 12:00am

Australian national basketball team coach Brian Goorjian is aware that to play in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, the Boomers must qualify for the FIBA Asia Cup in Jakarta on Aug. 16-28 but at the moment, his main focus is on the Tokyo Olympics. Speaking on the EASL Clubhouse chat a few days ago, Goorjian noted that last month, Australia beat New Zealand, 81-52, in a FIBA Asia Cup qualifier in Cairns. That was Australia’s third game in the qualifying series where it’s bracketed with New Zealand, Guam and Hong Kong.

Goorjian, 67, said he’s confident Australia will advance to Jakarta even without NBA players. In the recent win over New Zealand, the Boomers paraded a 12-man squad with 10 players 19 and under and two were 16. Yet Australia trounced the Kiwis with plenty to spare. Only the 16 teams playing in the FIBA Asia Cup will be allowed to figure in the eliminations for the FIBA World Cup so it’s critical for Australia to make up for skipping the second qualifying window.

Australia is in a unique position because it qualifies for the Olympics out of Oceania but competes in the World Cup out of Asia. The Boomers are ranked No. 3 in the FIBA honor roll and Goorjian said the challenge is to bring Australia to a podium finish for the first time in the Olympics. Goorjian hopes to line up at least seven Australians in the NBA, including Ben Simmons, Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova and Aron Baynes, but their availability depends on how far their teams go in the playoffs. The plan is to name a pool of 25 and as the NBA players become available, adjustments will be made. “We’re monitoring how their NBA teams use them,” he said. “We’ll do a simplistic game plan. We’ll consider what they do in the NBA. Synergy is important. Nigeria with coach Mike Brown is in our group in Tokyo. There’s a ton of Nigerians in the NBA and it’s going to be nasty.” Australia and Nigeria are bracketed with the survivors of the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQTs) in Croatia and Serbia. The Philippines is booked to play in the OQT in Serbia.

Goorjian said with Australians in the NBA now household names, basketball is booming Down Under. “Kids want to be like Simmons, Ingles and (Andrew) Bogut,” he said. “It’s not rugby or cricket or tennis. Australia’s junior development program and the local leagues are growing. The game is changing, too. It’s totally different from 10 years ago.  I remember Anthony Mason, Charles Oakley and Pat Ewing playing for New York and Robert Parish, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale for Boston. Now guys aren’t powering inside as much as taking shots from behind the three-point line.”

After playing at Pepperdine University, Goorjian put a backpack on and traveled the world, ending up in Australia where he played and coached for over 30 years. Then he moved to China for more than 10 years before returning to Australia when the pandemic struck. Goorjian took over the Illawarra Hawks in the Australian league this season and despite playing only one home game in 17 contests, the team is about to make the playoffs for the first time in four years. “I miss China,” he said. “The Chinese are honorable, caring and respectful. If you show you’re competent, you have a strong work ethic, you’re a professional, you care for them and you can teach the players to get better, you’ll earn their trust.”

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