Another Olympics, another cautiously optimistic outlook for the Boomers. Every four years the team carries the hopes of the nation and its own indomitable belief in itself into the Olympic tournament, striving to finally breakthrough for a medal, only to fall short, sometimes agonisingly so.
In Rio the team came within a point of a podium spot. On three other occasions they’ve fallen in the bronze medal match. So, why should this time be any different?
For one, this is probably the last chance the Boomers’ golden generation of Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova and Aaron Baynes has to etch their names in history. That alone could help create the intensity and determination the team needs to break its medal drought. Last chances tend to have a galvanising effect.
Of course, the absence of Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons obviously hurts.
The Curious Case Of Ben Simmons
After a much-publicised meltdown in the NBA finals, Simmons chose to skip the Olympics to work on his game, although that didn’t stop him from hobnobbing at Wimbledon with new squeeze, BBC presenter, Maya Jama.
You can’t help feeling the Boomers’ famed team culture would have been good for him.
As it is, they’ll will have to do it without him and so far, all signs have been positive. The team went 3-0 in the lead-up exhibition games, which included a rare win over Team USA.
Adding to the buzz is the presence of Simmons’ 76ers teammate, Matisse Thybulle, one of the premier defenders in the NBA. Thybulle made an impact in the exhibition games and if the team is to get to the podium, its D is going to be a decisive factor.
For offence, look no further than Mills. ‘Olympic Patty’ is a real thing. When MH featured Mills on our cover back in April 2020, we asked him about the transformation that seems to occur as he goes from bench guy on the San Antonio Spurs to FIBA world-beater when he pulls on the Boomers jersey.
“I’m a different beast when I pull on the green and gold,” he told us at the time, comparing his Olympic mindset to Kobe Bryant’s famed ‘Mamba Mentality’.
Other players to watch include 18-year-old sensation Josh Giddey, a 6 ‘8” point guard who’s projected to go in the first round of this year’s NBA draft and NBL veteran sharpshooter, Chris Goulding, a Boomers stalwart who will add scoring punch off the bench. And let’s not forget Dante Exum, the star-crossed Houston Rockets shooting guard, whose career so far has been blighted by injury. At 6’ 5”, Exum has the length and athleticism to lock up smaller guards. Who knows, perhaps a successful tournament in Tokyo could be the catalyst for the former no.5 draft pick to turn his career around?
The road to the podium won’t be easy but the Boomers should be favoured to get out of the group stage, with matches against Nigeria, Italy and Germany, they should win. From there, how far they go kind of depends on when they meet Team USA.
Which brings us to the sleeping giant of the Olympic tournament. One of the main causes for optimism among all opposing teams right now is the USA’s poor form in the lead-up exhibition games, sustaining embarrassing losses to both the Boomers and Nigeria. They’ve also been hampered by the loss of Bradley Beal to COVID and the fact that three of their stars – Devin Booker, Kris Middleton and Jrue Holiday – are only joining the team now after the completion of the NBA finals. With minimal practice to build any semblance of on-court chemistry and cohesiveness, they look as vulnerable as they have done in years.
But let’s not get carried away. A team boasting the likes of Kevin Durant, Jason Tatum and Damian Lillard among others, can get by on talent alone, especially as they’ll likely play themselves into form as the tournament progresses. The Boomers did manage to give them a hell of a scare in Rio, losing by just 10 points in the group stage. The margin might be even closer this time.
Other international teams to look out for include perennially strong Spain, currently ranked 2nd in the world, Argentina, who the Boomers also beat in the exhibition tournament and Serbia, led by recently-crowned MVP, Nikola Jokic.
So, can the Boomers finally claim some Olympic bling? I don’t know, but one thing is certain, with Mills now 32, this is probably his last chance to contend, at least in his prime. He and the Boomers might not get a better shot.
The Boomers’ Schedule:
Sunday 25/07: Australia vs Nigeria, 6:20pm, AEST
Wednesday 28/07: Australia vs Italy, 6:20pm, AEST
Saturday 31/07: Australia vs Germany, 6:20pm, AEST