It's hard to think of another Australian men's basketball team that began an Olympic campaign as well as this one has in Rio.
The nation’s hoops partisans know the history well: the Australian men have never won an Olympic medal. Despite a continuous string of appearances since the 1972 Games, the best the Boomers have done is three fourth-place finishes in 1988, ’96 and 2000.
Getting on the basketball podium is a tough task, particularly with such a dominant power usually occupying the top step. Andrew Bogut, rapidly making a name for himself in Rio for his love of banter, addressed this issue when he sat down with Inside Sport earlier in the year. Fully aware that bronze would do for Aussie fans, the 11-year NBA veteran let us know that wasn’t how it worked.
“We’re going in with the goal to win a gold medal,” he said. “You don’t go into any tournament saying, ‘Let’s win bronze. Bronze on three: one, two, three bronze!’ Like, no one does that.”
The Boomers were bullish about their prospects for 2016, owing to a roster stocked with NBA talent like no Australian team before it. But as impressive as that appears, the rest of the world had forged ahead at the NBA level as well – in at least one pre-tournament ranking by a noted NBA reporter, the Boomers were ninth.
After their opening game against France (same ranking: third), revisions might be in order. The Boomers are notoriously bad starters at Olympics, and their victory over the Tony Parker-led French was their first win in an opening Olympic game since ’96. But it wasn’t just the mere fact of the 87-66 result – the Boomers exhibited a cohesiveness (29 assists on 35 field goals) not usually seen in these come-together-quickly international tournaments.
Bogut, in particular, was simply superb in his first Olympic appearance since missing out on London. Far from the role player we see in the NBA, he was integral at both ends, scoring 18 points and keying the offense with his passing, as well as being his stout defensive self.
It underscored his importance to the national team’s fortunes, which will be promptly tested tomorrow morning (Australian time) against Serbia. If the Boomers can post another victory against one of Europe’s toughest outfits and the world championship runner-up of two years ago, Bogut’s medal musings won’t be idle talk.