Last month the Boomers won the FIBA Asia Cup with a commanding 79-56 victory over Iran to become the first Australian men’s team to win gold at a FIBA tournament.
With gold medals hanging around their necks, the young Australian NBL players who made up the team noted how much the victory meant to them, despite controversy around the standard of tournament play.
“You can’t describe the feeling that you get from pulling on a green and gold jersey with your name on the back and Boomers on the front. That for me and any Australian basketball player I know is a dream and I ticked the box of playing for my country… It’ll be something I’ll never forget” – Adelaide 36ers Mitch Creek told the Aussie Hoopla podcast.
“It’s awesome to win the Asia Cup, it’s so good” – Sydney Kings Jason Cadee.
“It was awesome, the most rewarding basketball experience of my life” – Adelaide 36ers Matt Hodgson.
Besides Brad Newley and Daniel Kickert, the elder statesmen of the team, the only international experience those who took the court had been at a junior level prior to Lebanon.
The importance each player took from going undefeated and the pride in wearing the green and gold at a major FIBA tournament shouldn’t be undervalued. Many of these players will retire and list this as the highlight of their basketball career.
It’s not an easy thing to gain a Boomers selection. In fact, since the national league started in 1979 only 75 NBL players have ever played for Australia at a FIBA major tournament. 75 people in 38 years.
The opportunity that the FIBA World Cup gave a number of players this year is something that shouldn’t be minimised and allowed 10 guys to fulfil a lifelong dream.
Without the FIBA World Cup format changing dramatically this year, a whole list of NBL talent will be able to fulfil their green and gold dreams from this year onwards. But for the past 38 years, there has been some incredible talent who was never able to don the Boomers jersey for a major FIBA event. We’ve taken a look at the greatest NBL players to have never played for the Australian at a FIBA tournament.
Now this one is a curious one. From 2014 to 2017 AJ Ogilvy has been the best Australian centre in the NBL and he has been named to the All-NBL 1st team each season he has played in Australia. Despite this, the 211cm Ogilvy has not been involved with the Boomers program since he helped the team defeat New Zealand in 2011’s Oceania Qualifiers.
When he was omitted from the Boomers program in 2016 despite averaging 16 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals for the Illawarra Hawks and spending time playing with ICL Manresa in the Spanish ACB league, the league thought to be the best national basketball league in the world, Illawarra fans went bonkers.
While a clear reason why this is the case isn’t to know, but with Andrej Lemanis being the head coach of the national program during that time and rumours of an issue between the two rife, perhaps we have our answer.
Now Ogilvy is vying for Boomers selection at a time when Australia has a long list of NBA experienced big men, Andrew Bogut, Aron Baynes, David Andersen and Nathan Jawai, so the chances of Ogilvy making a Boomers squad whilst going up against these names is unknown, but without him getting the opportunity it’s something we’ll never know.
There is a reason the Boston Celtics drafted Ben Pepper in 1997. He was a damn good, good enough to play for the National team you’d think.
Standing at 213cm Pepper played his best basketball around 2004-06 for Victoria and New Zealand in the NBL. Over those three seasons, Pepper was a highly effective scorer, he shot the ball at over 53% and consistently put up 16 points and 10 rebounds per game.
The 213cm pivot was playing his best basketball at a time Australia was spoilt for choice in the big man department. Incredibly, Pepper was overlooked for the 2006 World Championships, the team deciding to go with big men like Daniel Kickert, Wade Helliwell and Russell Hinder who could score from outside the key. It was a huge omission at the time and sadly, one which cost Pepper the chance to wear the green and gold.
Consider this, during the five years between 1986 and 1990, Newcastle Falcons shooting guard Michael Johnson averaged 26 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists… for five straight years.
Johnson was an incredible scorer, his most productive season being 1988 when he averaged 29 points per game for the Falcons include 41% from downtown. There was absolutely no reason he should not have been lighting it up in the green and gold. Except for the fact, there was already a very talented shooting guard on the team by the name Andrew Gaze.
During the late eighties, Boomers selection was all about the big men and the ability to help stop international stars like David Robinson, Arvydas Sabonis and Vlade Divac. In 1988 and 1990 the Boomers named nine players who played either forward or centre.
Making the squad as a 195cm guard was tough work in those days, especially since Boomer’s legends like Gaze and Phil Smyth were mainstays on the team. Johnson, who is a member of the NBL and Basketball Australia Hall of Fame, cannot be faulted for being one of the best shooting guards in NBL history. Sadly, he wasn’t able to add Australian National team representative to his list of accomplishments.
Now this one kind of has a caveat attached, D-Mac was selected as part of the Boomers squad in 2002 who only needed to defeat New Zealand Tall Blacks in the Oceania Qualifiers to earn an invite to the FIBA World Cup.
We all know how that went down, however, with Australia losing a tournament to the Tall Blacks for only the second time in basketball history. McDonald missed his chance at representing his adopted country at a major FIBA tournament and every other Australian sobbed miserably and called for national team coach Phil Smyth to be sacked.
That year 192cm point “god” averaged 15 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals per game for the Victoria Titans during 2001 when the team was being selected.
Despite putting up big scoring numbers against NBL opponents from 2004 to 2008, coincidently the same time the Boomers were rebuilding and in need of quality players, James Harvey’s dreams of playing on the big stage never happened.
The season after Australia returned from the Athens Olympics, the 196cm guard averaged 21 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists in his final year at Perth. He ventured over to Europe to play in in the elite Isreali national league to develop his game and then signed with West Sydney prior to the 2006 World Championships.
He averaged 22 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists upon his NBL return before suffering an injury 11 games into the season, effectively ruling him out of a national team selection.
Harvey had one last chance as the Boomers prepared for the 2010 FIBA Championships in Japan. On the opening day of the Boomers camp in 2009, Harvey arrived in peak condition, winning the beep test despite being 30 years old and the oldest player in attendance. won the beep test opening day of Boomers Camp
Harvey achieved some recognition for his efforts when he was named captain of the Boomers team which competed in the 2009 Stanković Cup in preparation for Japan. Harvey starred, earning All-Star five honours and winning tournament MVP.
In 2009 Harvey averaged 20 points per game for the Gold Coast Blaze, his long-range shooting remained deadly (he shot 42% from beyond the three-point line) however at the same time three guards were aggressively making a case for Boomers selection.
In 2010 Patty Mills was a second year star in the NBA we had two Aussie guards, Adam Gibson and Damian Martin, starting for their NBL squads and winning championships (South Dragons 2009 and Perth Wildcats 2010), selecting a 31-year-old over youth was always going to be a tough move for a coach to make.
Kerle is another of the many talented shooting guards who found it tough to gain Boomers selection due to Andrew Gaze dominating the international basketball scene throughout the 1990’s.
The 194cm shooting guard had a number of spectacular seasons shooting the ball for multiple NBL teams. In 1995, just prior to the Atlanta Olympics, Kerle averaged 18 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists for Geelong. In 1998, the year the FIBA World Championships were held in Greece, Kerle averaged 3 rebounds and 5 assists for Townsville.
After being omitted from the Boomers squad which competed for a bronze medal at the Sydney Olympics, Kerle seemed to unleash on the NBL averaging 25 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists per game in 2001.
Despite those impressive seasons Gaze and Shane Heal, one of Kerle’s closest friends, were in their basketball primes and playing in the NBA when few foreign players could even be noticed by NBA teams.
Despite never making a Boomers squad, Kerle told the Aussie Hoopla podcast that he felt he wasn’t omitted unfairly, he simply played at a time when Australia’s backcourt was at its very best.
These days, there isn’t much mention of how Stephen Black used to light up the NBL on a nightly basis, but if you talk to guys who played with or against him, this guy could play.
Jeff Van Groningen, the man responsible for putting together the 2007 championship winning Brisbane Bullets (a team argued to be the greatest in NBL history) noted that Stephen Black was the guy they built the team around on the Aussie Hoopla podcast.
The 186cm guard made the Australian Oceania Qualifiers and helped the team defeat New Zealand in 2003, but at that time had yet to establish himself within the NBL. Black left Perth for Brisbane that season, to expand on his game and averaged 22 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists while shooting a scorching 47% from the field, 49% from downtown and 89% from the line in 2004.
Even whilst Brisbane loaded up their squad with talented scorers like Derek Rucker, Lanard Copeland, Mark Bradtke, Sam MacKinnon and Ebi Ere, Black still was the team’s primary scorer and averaged 20 points per game from 2004 to 2006.
When the Boomers headed to Greece in 2004 Black hadn’t made the move to Brisbane and shown his true potential. In 2006 then Boomers coach Brian Goorjian decided full court press the opposition and opted to go with defensive-minded guards like CJ Bruton, Luke Kendall and Aaron Bruce causing Black to miss out on an opportunity to compete for Australia at the highest level.
The 209cm Khazzouh may end up playing for a national team before he retires, sadly it is more likely to be Lebanon, where his parents were born, than Australia due to age and injuries.
Khazzouh was a Boomer’s squad member in 2009 but never made the squad for the 2010 FIBA World Cup. Two years later, however, Khazzouh was at the top of his game, averaging 17 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2 blocks in 2011 and 16 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks in 2012. Both years he was named to the All-NBL 1st team.
Khazzouh represented Australia playing in international friendlies against China and other teams during that time but ultimately he was unlucky to never achieve Boomers selection for a major FIBA tournament due to playing at his best when David Andersen, Aron Baynes and Aleks Maric were dominating European big men and in Baynes and Andersen’s case, making NBA teams.
Like Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing who probably deserved NBA championships but sadly were in their prime at the same time as a guy called Michael Jordan, Julian Khazzouh never got to show what he was capable in the green and gold, but not because he was deserved of it.
People might not view Luke Schenscher as a guy who deserved a Boomers jersey based on his play for Adelaide and Townsville at the end of his career, but few realise his best basketball was played overseas in College (Georgia Tech) and the NBA (Chicago and Portland) before he ever made it to the NBL.
In his junior year in college, he helped lead the Yellow Jackets to the 2004 NCAA title game and averaged 14.0 ppg and 11.5 rpg at the Final Four. He went on to play for the Chicago Bulls (2006) and Portland Trailblazers (2007) in the NBA.
During his time in the NBA he had 10 points and 6 rebounds going head to head with Zach Randolph, he went 3/4 shots (6 points) against Yao Ming, and had 6 points in a game against his idol, the Miami Heat’s Shaquille O’Neal, who he limited to 14 points just prior to the Heat winning the NBA title.
Sadly, his commitments to Chicago Bulls in 2006 where he was hopeful he could secure a guaranteed contract, forced him to withdraw from the FIBA World Championships that year. The Boomers finished 9th in the tournament and would have benefitted greatly with Schenscher’s 216cm tall frame. The team losing other frontcourt players Chris Anstey, David Andersen and Matthew Neilsen due to injuries, forcing them to go with Daniel Kickert, Russell Hinder and Wade Helliwell.
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