It’s an exciting time for Australia’s basketball fraternity. There’s an all-time number of Australians playing in the NBA, and most of them play a major role with their respective teams. One of the their brightest young prospects seems destined for a No.1 overall pick this summer (Hey, Ben Simmons!), but for all of the Aussies rich tradition in producing top talent, the men’s team has yet to win a medal at Olympic competition – or any seniors men’s level tournament. The 2016 Boomers will look to change all that in Rio this summer.
Playing a critical role in the Boomers’ backcourt will be the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Matthew Dellavedova. Starting5online caught up with Dellavedova in Brooklyn on Thursday to ask him about the squad’s Olympic aspirations, playing with such a deep national team roster, and whether there’s any extra pressure to win a medal.
Starting5: What were your initial thoughts when you saw the Boomers’ group for the Olympic Games?
Matthew Dellavedova: I think anytime you’re in the Olympics it’s going to be a tough draw either way. Both groups have a lot of great teams, and we’ve also got the two qualifying teams [still to be determined] and we know they’re going to be quality teams as well, and they’ll be coming in with some momentum from having played earlier in the summer.
S5: Obviously to win a medal we’re going to have to go through the U.S.A. at some point, but even before looking ahead to a potential semi-final with them, what other teams do you think we have to be wary of?
MD: World basketball is really strong right now, and there’s a number of teams that have a rich history and a lot of tough players playing well right now. Spain is always there; Argentina and France ….Turkey got us in the World Champs [in 2014], Brazil. There’s going to be a number of tough teams, plus whoever qualifies as well. Every game is just so important.
The international game goes a lot quicker than the NBA game because there’s not as many media timeouts and stoppages, so you really have to be locked in from the start. The schedule that we’ve got with training camp in Melbourne, and then the games in South America, are going to be great preparation, and the group we’ve had has played together for a number of years. That adjustment period of coming back into camp and getting started again is not like you’re starting from square one. You keep building on what we’ve done with Andrej [Lemanis] and Brett Brown before that, that chemistry and understanding, that togetherness as a team, is going to be one of our advantages.
S5: I’m glad you mentioned that, actually. I asked Brett Brown about Australia’s strengths as a squad and he mentioned roster continuity as a major factor. You obviously agree with him?
MD: Yeah. You know, Brett was great for the program, and Andrej has done a really great job as well. I remember at one of our camps with Brett – I can’t remember which year – he had a slide on a powerpoint, and it showed the medal-winning teams and the continuity they had from each year, and including their qualification years, not just everyone coming in for the World Champs or the Olympics. Every year that core group came together. I think the buy-in from everybody involved [with Basketball Australia], guys have been playing long seasons over here, but there’s been that much pride and respect for pulling on the green-and-gold. It’s pretty special, and we all know that we wanna do something special, and we have to be committed to that, not just when it comes to an Olympics or World Champ year.
It’s an on-going process [and] I think getting together in San Diego with the NBA guys was pretty cool. It’s pretty special.
S5: That ‘buy-in’ that you mentioned, you’re going to play pretty deep into the playoffs this year, along with Bogues and Patty. Was there ever any thought to maybe resting your body this summer, or because it’s an Olympic year everybody is all in for the haul?
MD: Yeah, I think that’s the great thing about this group. The group has been together, or known each other since we’ve been at the A.I.S., and then playing in junior and national teams for a number of years, so it’s pretty cool that you get to play with your mates that you’ve grown up playing with.
S5: Bogues missed the London Olympics in 2012, how crucial is it getting him back and being really healthy at the same time?
MD: I think it’s really underrated how smart of a player he is. He’s like a glue guy from the five spot, and that’s really valuable because he anchors the defense, he’s talking on defense, you can post him up on offense and go get a bucket. He probably doesn’t get that many post touches with the Warriors, but he can definitely do that with the national team. He’s such a great passer [which] is very valuable.
S5: I could probably see him playing a similar role with the national team that he does with the Warriors. Not really a focal point on offense, but a guy that will just hold the team together.
MD: Yeah, and if we need to slow it down and throw it down inside we feel confident throwing that into him. He had some back issues in the New Zealand series [last August], he wasn’t sure if he was even going to play in that second game, [then] he comes out and has a blinder. It’s been fun playing with him the last couple of years.
S5: The Australian men’s teams have yet to medal in Olympic competition. Given how talented and deep the roster is, is there any added pressure on you guys to medal in Rio?
MD: I wouldn’t say pressure. I’d say excitement, and a sense of urgency, and commitment to the goal because you got to strike while the iron’s hot. We don’t know if we’ll be back in this position again. Lots of things can happen.
Obviously you want to keep building for the future [but] I think we’ve had a group that’s been playing together for a number of years, we’ve had international experience, either in NBA or Europe or the NBL. It’s going to be a good time, and I’m looking forward to it.