Wednesday 24th July 2024,
The Hoop Doctors

Australia: The Next NBA Breeding Ground?

Australia Dante Exum NBA

The NBA is always searching for new ground to mine its gold from. They’re always looking for new markets. League marketing efforts behind players like Yao Ming or Jeremy Lin, without wanting to reduce their talent, were in part motivated by an attempt to start marketing the game and finding players out of China. And it makes sense – why not open up the game to more than a billion new people? And surely out of that, comes great players, just waiting to be discovered. The next market we tapped into was India, with similar logic behind the moves to nab Satnam Singh and Sim Bhullar, albeit not as successful.

I reckon there’s a market that we really haven’t tapped, and yet has still proven quite successful in terms of the players it’s produced to date.

Australia. The country that provides the largest number of subscriptions to NBA International League Pass outside the US and the most number of NBA players per capita INCLUDING the United States. Yes, it’s an island in the Pacific of only 21 million people, most of whom are enthralled by peculiar sports like Australian Rules football, cricket, or rugby.

But at the same time, it’s ridiculous that the NBA hasn’t actively exploited the region – Australians have an incredible passion for sport, and that translates into a natural athleticism in their people. Andrew Bogut, the 2005 number one overall pick and the defensive cornerstone of the reigning champs in Golden State, was from my hometown in Australia, Dante Exum, last year’s number five overall pick was also Australian. Next year’s projected number one pick, a young man who’s drawn comparisons to LeBron and Magic Johnson, is Ben Simmons, also a young Australian. Technically, Kyrie Irving is Australian too, but let’s not get into that. Patty Mills is a spark plug off the bench for San Antonio, Joe Ingles a solid wing for Utah, and Matthew Dellavedova made headlines in last year’s playoffs with his gritty defense and playing himself to literal exhaustion in place of Kyrie. In Europe, Ryan Broekhoff and Brock Motum are lighting it up after being signed to various summer league teams in the NBA.

The skills that Australians learn in their ‘native’ sports transfer right into basketball, and we need to tap into that. Australia has a team that’s strong enough to win silver at Rio next year, because they breed athletes that understand the nature of hard work, and that’s evident in the gritty, school-of-hard-knocks style of play in Andrew Bogut and Matthew Dellavedova.

Let’s take advantage of all of this, let’s send scouts down under, and start scouting and preparing kids from a younger age, like we do with AAU ballers in the States. In Australia, the pathways are generally through school or representative sport, and never against particularly big men (America seems to breed physically larger players at elite levels, a product of a large population). The earlier that these kids can come to the US and play at top levels, the better. We’ve already seen it with Ben Simmons who’s widely tipped to go number one, and Thon Maker, an uber-athletic 7 foot point forward out of Melbourne with handles like J Crossover. Both of these players were picked up early, sent to the States to play high school ball at an elite level, and the subsequent development has resulted in a potential number one overall pick, and another lottery pick.

We need to be more receptive to Australian players in college as well – Isaac Humphries, a centre from New South Wales has gone to Kentucky, Deng Adel, a 6’7 forward from Victoria has gone to Louisville, and Jonah Bolden is set to be a real player at UCLA, but besides that, not many colleges seem to want to pick up on the wealth of talent that comes out of Australia. There’s one recurring name, though, and that’s Saint Mary’s College. Saint Mary’s have developed a bit of a tradition of recruiting Australians, under head coach Randy Bennett, and look how that’s worked out. Since Bennett’s taken over, the Gaels have had 5 NCAA tournament appearances, an increase from three in over 60 years. This includes going all the way to the Sweet Sixteen in 2010, losing to Baylor.

Australia’s a goldmine of talent, with passionate, hard-working, talented players, and the NBA needs to do more to take advantage of that. Let’s start with an Australian NBA game – seems to me the perfect way to kick start a wave of Australian recruiting.

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