Playing for your nation is a whole new ball game...
In the tunnel coming out of the changerooms at the end of the game, Tall Black and Boomer are in animated and friendly discussion.
Waiting in a queue at airport check-in, Australian assistant coach reviews the day’s proceedings with Tall Black captain.
At the hotel waiting for a bus to practice, New Zealand assistant coach chats with Australian starting fiver.
When the cameras stop rolling Australia Basketball legend Andrew Gaze travels back over past games against Tall Black assistant Chris Tupu.
Well the success of the Tall Blacks in the 2001 Oceania Championships suddenly woke Australian coaches up to the fact the Kiwis know how to play the game. Several are or have played on Australian NBL Clubs. Following that historic 2001 victory a New Zealand franchise entered the Australian National League.
Tall Black assistant Dillon Boucher had several successful seasons with the Brisbane Bullets and played alongside and against some of the players in this week’s Oceania Championship team – for both countries.
If anything could be more bizarre, he is coaching against Andre Lemanis his coach at the New Zealand Breakers, who acts as one of Brett Brown’s deputies on the Australian team.
Lemanis must be having mixed thoughts about his participation in the Oceania Championships. As an Australian and an Australian assistant coach, he’s out there to win, and a win over the kiwis has a special meaning. But I am sure at the back of his mind as his Boomers are closely marking Tall Black Kirk Penny, coach Lemanis is thinking – don’t hurt my (Breakers) star shooter! Not surprisingly coach and player do some catching up when the heat of battle has settled.
Oscar Forman – a valuable player in the Breakers franchise, is keen to put a nail in the coffin of the Tall Blacks once he pulls on the green and gold of Australia.
Aron Baynes, centre for the Boomers was keenly wooed by the Tall Blacks. He has an entitlement to New Zealand nationality because he was born there. Now he carries an Australian passport after his family took Australian citizenship when he was 14. With this background he had the option to play for either country. Although the decision has been made to become a Boomer, it’s sure there will still be strong cultural and family ties to New Zealand.
For those who had the chance to watch the first game in the Oceania Championships, none of these sub-plots were obvious or mattered. The donning of the national team uniform comes with an expectation that you will play 100% and relish nothing more than a victory over the enemy on the other side of the Tasman. The contests are not played by the ‘Marquis of Queensbury’ rules. It’s do whatever you have to do and whatever the referees will let you get away with for the valuable win over the opposition.
Bodies clash, hits are taken, bruises are nursed, the game is played in your face.
What it shows is that there is something special about playing for your country. It must be special, Nathan Jawai came all the way back from the USA to do it. And Patrick Mills, even though he can’t play is hobbling along on crutches with the players, eager to be part the Australia v New Zealand rivalry.
For their part, the fans understand that New Zealand v Australia is something very different from Auckland v Melbourne and those that love the game, wouldn’t miss the chance to come out and see something special.
If you doubt the commitment, scan the faces of the Tall Blacks prior to tip-off as they perform the haka as if their life depended on it. At the other end of the court, the Aussies stand shoulder to shoulder, brothers in arms, ready to face the dreaded kiwis.
For its part FIBA are working energetically to make sure that their competitions are not just another game of basketball. A distinctive court “look”, a different TV production approach, and their own brand of game presentation are all small moves to make sure that national team competition is an attractive and interesting addition to the week by week bread and butter of playing for your club.
See for yourself tomorrow night at ASB stadium.