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Boomers Celebrate 100th Game in Olympic Competition

As the Boomers revel in their impressive 2-0 start in Rio, they’ll also celebrate the 100th Boomers game in Olympic competition this morning against the United States. And as they face the world’s best, much has been made of the challenge we’ll pose to Team USA given the number of NBA players the Boomers are sporting in Rio; but it hasn’t always been that way. The Boomers have a rich tradition of being constructed mostly from NBL talent and the extent to which that goes may surprise you, given only three of the twelve current Boomers played in the NBL last season. Since the NBL tipped off back in 1979, there have been 10 Olympic Games from Moscow in 1980 to Rio right now; and the Boomers have had a team at each one of those Olympics. In that span, 60 different players have donned the Green and Gold jersey for Australia, from the late, great Ian Davies (1980, 1984) to Chris Goulding (2016) today. Of those 60 players, a staggering 54 have had some NBL experience. In fact, the only six players to have represented the Boomers at an Olympic Games and never played in the NBL are Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova, Aron Baynes, Aleks Maric, Ryan Broekhoff and Cameron Bairstow. When the 2016/17 NBL season tips off in exactly 8 weeks from now, that number will be reduced to just four as Bairstow and Maric make their debuts for the Brisbane Bullets and Sydney Kings respectively. With the return of David Andersen, who’ll join Melbourne United, five of the twelve Boomers from Rio will be in action in the coming NBL season, along with first-time Boomers Goulding, Damian Martin and 2015/16 NBL MVP, Kevin Lisch. Prior to the 1998/99 season, when the NBL ran in the winter months, scheduling of games was a factor so as not to conflict with our Olympians. In 1980, 1984 and 1988, the NBL season concluded in time for the players to depart for the Olympics. Lindsay Gaze manned the side lines in 1980 and again in Los Angeles in 1984, where his son Andrew made his Olympic debut. The senior Gaze handed the coaching reins to Dr Adrian Hurley in 1988 who welcomed a young seven-footer in Luc Longley into the squad. Longley was attending the University of New Mexico at the time. Ironically, Hurley later became a Championship winning coach with the Perth Wildcats, where Longley played his only two NBL games in 1986. In 1992, the NBL suspended their season for four weeks to allow the eleven NBL players selected for the Boomers to compete in Barcelona (Longley was again the only non-NBL player in that team). That squad missed out on playing against the original Dream Team, and finished 6th after losing their quarter final to eventual Silver Medallists, Croatia. In 1996, the NBL spread out their schedule, playing just 6 games over a four week span to allow the twelve Boomers players (all from the NBL with Longley unavailable) and coaches to make their way to Atlanta and back. Legendary NBL Coach Barry Barnes led that squad to a 4th place finish and that campaign is most remembered for the heroics of Tony Ronaldson who sent the Boomers to the medal rounds with a three pointer against Croatia in the quarter finals. The Boomers lost to Lithuania in the Bronze Medal game after meeting the U.S. Dream Team in the Semi-Finals. In 2000, with the NBL having by then moved to a summer schedule, the season tipped off just three weeks after the Sydney Olympics wrapped up. The 2000 Boomers team, again led by Barnes, featured Longley, Gaze, Shane Heal, Mark Bradtke and Chris Anstey, all of whom had NBA experience by then and was considered our best medal chance ever at the time. Once again though, we fell to Lithuania going for Bronze. With Australia qualifying automatically as the host nation, the 2000 Games also saw the Olympic debut of the New Zealand Tall Blacks, who featured several future NBL players including Kirk Penney, Pero Cameron, Phill Jones, Mark Dickel (who debuted with the Victoria Titans right after those games) and of course current New Zealand Breakers coach, Paul Henare. The Tall Blacks also qualified for the 2004 Athens Games, where their roster included six players from the newly established Breakers, who had just completed their first season as an expansion club in the NBL. The NBL connection doesn’t stop there as two former NBL imports are currently playing in Rio in the Green and White of Nigeria. Ebi Ere and Ekene Ibekwe are representing their country and playing significant minutes. Ere put up 14 points in Nigeria’s opener against Argentina, while Ibekwe is now an Olympic veteran, having also been with the Nigerian team at the 2012 games in London. NBL players have a rich history in Olympic play. In fact, the leading scorer at an Olympic Tournament has twice come from the NBL. Ian Davies led the way in 1980, scoring 209 points in 7 games for an average of 29.3 points per game. Andrew Gaze paced all scorers in Sydney with a 19.9 points per game average over 8 games, with Shane Heal finishing second (14.9ppg). Patty Mills led all scorers at the London Games in 2012, less than a year after spending some time with the Melbourne Tigers during the NBA Lockout. Mills averaged 21.2 points per game over 6 games for the Boomers in London. Right now, all eyes are firmly on Mills and the rest of the Boomers, who have a 49-50 record in Olympic play heading into this morning’s clash with Team USA. Ironically, the Boomers first game in Olympic Competition was played at the 1956 Melbourne Games against Brazil. Today, 60 years later, our 100th game is being played in Brazil. As the Boomers celebrate their 100th game, win or lose, we’ll be proud as they continue their quest for the first medal in our rich history.
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