Bronze medal heartbreak endures for the nation's basketball fans. But with this experience and the talent in the pipeline, the future looks even better.
As the phantom foul on Sergio Rodriguez enters into Australian basketball lore, the Boomers and their supporters can rue missed opportunity and console themselves on a campaign well done (except for that first half in the semi-final against Serbia).
What they can also do – and what many have been doing since the first tip-off in Rio – is envision the possibilities of four years from now. As impressive as these Boomers have been, there’s a widespread sense the Australian team that goes to Tokyo in 2020 will be even better.
The Boomers showed characteristic grit and a high level of cohesion on the floor.
By that time, Ben Simmons, Dante Exum and Thon Maker will be established NBA regulars in their early 20s. They will join a line-up that sure to include Matthew Dellavedova, while fellow 25-year-olds Cameron Bairstow, Ryan Broekhoff and Brock Motum (the latter pair having given incredible cameos in the bronze-medal game against Spain). Patty Mills and Joe Ingles should still be vital in their early 30s; the indispensable Andrew Bogut, 32 in November yet always questionable health-wise, is the one who might prove hard to replace.
In recording Australia men’s basketball’s fourth fourth-place finish at an Olympics, and the most impressive of the bunch, the Boomers showed characteristic grit and a high level of cohesion on the floor. But despite claims of a roster overflowing with NBA personnel, this team wasn’t doing it with talent – indeed, if the medal round exposed anything, it’s that the Boomers still lacked the kind of star (with apologies to Mills’ mighty efforts) such as a Pau Gasol or Milos Tedosic that often proves a difference-maker. Australia has a lot of NBA bodies, but they’re still role players or bench guys.
Boomer assistant coach Luc Longley, a man who had a pretty good view of the decisive effect of star power, noted that Australia had never been the type of country that had playmakers: “We don’t have as much dribble penetration or individual flair in transition. With the number of athletes that we have, they aren’t necessarily those types of guys.”
It’s why there’s so much excitement around Simmons and Exum, who have the potential to become NBA All-Stars. “Both of them are definitely that,” Longley says. “They’ve got the open-court speed and dynamism, and both are willing passers as well. Whether it’s Rio or the future, those are guys that will change the face of that a little bit for Australian basketball.”
And they both might walk into a Boomers’ side emboldened by what happened in Rio. The hoops world looks poised for generational turnover – the likes of Spain, Argentina and France should recede, while Croatia and Canada (and a new crop of Americans) are on the way. And Australia should be right there. Mills’ words after the Spain game are fitting: “Coming out of this, it’s no longer about having belief in what we can do, it’s knowing we can do it now.”