Patty Mills in the centre at the front and Matthew Dellavedova at the back on the far right during their days at the AIS. Photo: AISBefore they were NBA millionaires or Olympic Games medal contenders, the Australian Boomers were schoolkids at the AIS in Canberra trying to kick-start their careers.
But the man who helped shaped Australia’s golden generation of basketballers, Marty Clarke, says the groundwork on campus at the AIS has set them up to chase an historic medal.
Ten of the 12 Boomers at the Rio Olympics went through the AIS program that Clarke played a major role in from 1998 to 2010.
Canberra star Patrick Mills was initially overlooked for an AIS basketball scholarship in 2005 and was only included in the program when Collingwood skipper Scott Pendlebury instead chose the AFL.
Mills then handed the AIS captaincy to Matthew Dellavedova and now they’re both NBA champions with the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers respectively.
Add to that Andrew Bogut, Joe Ingles, Aron Baynes and David Andersen and the nucleus of the Boomers side has its roots in the capital.
So if anyone knows if the Boomers can break through for their first Olympic medal, it’s Clarke.
“Those main guys are going back for a second and third time, so this year and the next one are huge windows of opportunity for Australian basketball,” Clarke said.
“They have proved that they’re there not to participate, they’re there to win. And they’re doing a great job of it.”
The Boomers have drawn accolades from all corners of the world after their stellar run at the Olympics, including pushing powerhouse the United States and beating Lithuania in the quarter-finals.
They play Serbia on Saturday morning with the winner to advance to the gold-medal match and the loser to play for bronze.
Australia’s style has been punctuated by an electric offence and hard defence, and Dellavedova attributed the combinations they’re executing to their formative years training and playing together at the AIS.
Clarke said their friendships and bond on the court were “the most important thing” and it was the one area where Australia are better than the rest of the word.
“Our willingness to do what is good for the group rather than what’s best for the person. That was something we worked on every single day; we met about it, we talked about it, we worked through it every day.
“Because most of these guys are institute players they have had that drilled into them from a young age and hopefully they have remembered it.”
NBA champion centre Bogut has led the way with his trademark aggression and been vocal in his determination to take on the world.
Before the Boomers played the US he criticised other teams for overly idolising the Dream Team.
“Teams who ask the Americans to autograph their shoes are beaten before the game begins,” Bogut said. “But that’s not us and we think we can win.”
Clarke said it is this attitude and team-first mentality that sets the Boomers apart.
“You need to take that approach because otherwise you end up getting the autograph and that’s not what you go for,” he said.
“It’s always been my philosophy of Australian basketball, that’s our competitive advantage; it’s not going to be size, it’s not going to be in the athleticism.
“We’ve made great strides in skill and when you do that and you’ve got your base of great teammates, now they have a real chance in being able to compete with the rest of the world.”
He said the professionalism ingrained in the players through the AIS, combined with the friendships forged, underline both the sudden success of the Boomers but also the championship-winning contributions in the NBA.
“We used to play probably 30 to 35 international games a year against men, and then they would play their junior stuff as well,” Clarke said.
“I know things change and that’s just the nature of the beast, but when these guys were at the institute they were getting significant international competition against men, they were playing domestically against men, and they were practicing every day against really good players.
“They had great facilities, all the support and infrastructure around the institute, nutrition, psychology, bio-mechanics, skill acquisition, all the bits and pieces that go in to making a professional athlete.
“It’s hard work, but 10 years down the track for some of them and it’s really shown some benefits.”
One corner of the globe where the success of the Boomers is no surprise is St Mary’s College in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Clarke is an assistant coach.
The NCAA Division I basketball college is intimately connected with Australian basketball, having been home to many players and coaches from Down Under, most notably Dellavedova and Mills.
OLYMPIC GAMES MEN’S SEMI-FINALS
Saturday: Australia v Serbia, 8am.
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