9th appearance after a single tournament absence Team videoLet the Bogut era begin Australia has started to rejuvenate the National Team since 2004. Long-time veterans such as Andrew Gaze and Shane Heal are gone, and the Boomers are now Andrew Bogut's team. The 2.12 metre power forward is expected to be one of the superstars of the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan.
Australia has always been more successful in the Olympic Games than the World Championship. The Boomers have not missed the Olympics since 1968 and claimed the fourth place three times. At the 2000 Games in Sydney, legends Andrew Gaze, Shane Heal and Luc Longley led the Aussies to fourth place, being defeated by Lithuania for third place.
But one year after one of the best performances in Australian basketball history, came one of the worst. Australia lost the 2001 Oceania Championship to New Zealand in three games and failed to qualify for the 2002 World Championship. This was a huge blow for Australian basketball, and it cost National Team Coach Phil Smyth his job. The federation then turned to Brian Goorjian, who was then on the verge of joining the Sydney Kings and building a dynasty by winning three consecutive NBL titles.
"Goorj" had two objectives: qualify the Boomers for the 2004 Olympic Games and rejuvenate the team. The first one was achieved in 2003 as Australia defeated New Zealand three times in a row to win the Oceania Championship. The second one is a long time process that started in Athens during the Olympics. Within a very experienced team, Goorjian called upon 20-year-old Andrew Bogut. The young power forward had just completed a promising first season with the Utah Utes in the NCAA. He was the first member of the generation that had won the 2003 FIBA U19 World Championship to be called up to the senior National Team. Andrew Gaze and Luc Longley had retired from the international scene but Shane Heal (34), John Rillie (33) and Tony Ronaldson (32) were still wearing the gold and green jersey. With this aging team, the Boomers finished a disappointing ninth place - but just ahead of long-time rivals New Zealand. But in his first senior competition, Andrew Bogut showed intriguing potential, posting 13.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. As a symbol, he was the second best scorer of the team behind Shane Heal, who retired from the Boomers after the Olympics.
The Boomers continued the rejuvenation process last summer at the 2005 FIBA Oceania Championship as Mark Worthington (22), Jacob Holmes (22) and Brad Newley (20) were called for the first time. Goorjian also took advantage of the 2006 Commonwealth Games, held last March, to allow Luke Kendall (25), Neil Mottram (25) and Russell Hinder (26) to make their debuts. Australia claimed the gold medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games by defeating New Zealand in the final.
Goorjian called 35 players to prepare the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan. He took advantage of the training camp to scout a lot of young players such as 18-year old Patrick Mills who is the leader of the Emus, the Junior National Team. Lack of height has been an issue in the past, but it may not be the case this summer. In addition to Bogut (2.12 m), the Boomers will count on David Andersen (2.12), Matt Nielsen (2.08), Chris Anstey (2.13) and Wade Helliwell (2.12). Aleks Maric (2.10) and Ian Crosswhite (2.12) are also good alternatives. The team could have been even taller with Luke Schenskcher (2.16), but the red-head giant decided to play the Summer Leagues with the Chicago Bulls to earn a spot in the NBA for next season. Andersen is still a question mark to play at the World Championship after breaking his ankle earlier this season and not having fully recovered yet. The Australian frontcourt will be tall but also talented as Andersen was among the best centres in the Euroleague and Anstey won the NBL MVP award this season. Bogut meanwhile may be one of the superstars of the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan. He will be able to attract the defence and use his excellent passing skills to find his open teammates.
At forward, Coach Goorjian will mix experience and youth. He can count on Sam Mackinnon, Jason Smith and Glen Saville - all in their 30s. They all have the experience of international competitions and will help their young teammates deal with pressure. Newley is one of the most promising Australian players and may be the eighth Aussie to play in the NBA. A break-out performance at the World Championship may help his stock rise. Worthington will also be very useful thanks to his versatility and his team-oriented spirit. Holmes and Kendall are promising players at shooting guard and have a chance to make an impact in Japan.
The Boomers could have found in C.J. Bruton the successor of Shane Heal at point guard, but he will not been available for the National Team as he wants to play in the NBA Summer Leagues. But the heir to Heal is more Baylor University's 21-year-old playmaker Aaron Bruce, who has also drawn comparison to Steve Nash. Bruce may see his first senior competition action with the Boomers at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan. It will be a good opportunity for him to gain experience after playing college basketball in the States. The absence of another point guard, Stephen Black, who is out with an injury, could be an opportunity for 18 year-old Patrick Mills to make the team.
Australia will meet tough opposition in the Group C, which features Greece, Lithuania, Brazil, Turkey and Qatar with four teams going through. All the teams, maybe except Qatar, are serious contender for the eighth finals. And Australia will probably compete with Turkey and Brazil - also in rebuilding phases - to qualify for the next round.