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In a team of 12, everyone plays their part

19 August 2016

BASKETBALL: It’s an Australian basketball team best known for the fact it contains seven members who have played in the American National Basketball Association and four who have won NBA rings, the sport’s Holy Grail.

Yet the talk after Australia’s dominant run into the semi-finals after the 24-point victory over Lithuania – the team that knocked us out of a medal in 1996 and 2000 – was the balance and belief of the rest of the squad beyond the men big in NBA achievement.

The USA all-star cast has a bench like no other with a long list of NBA All Stars in waiting behind their starting five.

The Aussies stack up better than ever before with Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova, Patty Mills and Aron Baynes having won NBA championship rings – the same amount the American team has claimed - while Joe Ingles (Utah Jazz) and Cameron Bairstow (formerly Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons) have also tasted NBA competition.

However, the emergence of the faceless few in the Australian side in the past week and a half is what has further glued together a tight, tough team.

Coach Andrej Lemanis has been able to rest his ‘big four’ of Bogut, Dellavedova, Mills and Baynes in the pool matches and gave them limited time in the quarter-final with Mills playing under 27 minutes (26:47), Baynes 22:57, Bogut 19:38 and Dellavedova 19:12. Meanwhile, Damien Martin (16 minutes), Broekhoff (19:42), Kevin Lisch (15:21) and number one bench man Andersen (25:40) were all given good time to contribute.

It’s how the ‘A team’ stand up that might have a big impact on how the Australian team finishes up in its pursuit of its first Olympic medal, behind the efforts of the Big Four.

And no one typifies that balance that the Aussies need more than Damian Martin, the 31-year-old veteran of the Australian NBL who is at his first Olympic Games after 13 seasons in the domestic competition.

Not only does Martin, regarded as the toughest defensive player perhaps the NBL has seen, typify the dogged, aggressive attitude of the Australian team, but also how the Games can make the most unlikely dreams come true if you stick at your craft.

As a teenager he was captain of an Australian side that also contained Bogut that won a gold medal in the under-19 World Championships back in 2003.

Martin headed off to the U.S. and played the next four years for college side Loyola Marymount but no one in the NBA came for him. At the same time Bogut wowed the Yanks while dominating for Utah College and was the number one draft pick in the 2005 NBA draft, being recruited by the Milwaukee Bucks.

Meanwhile, Martin returned to Sydney to forge a stellar NBL career, first with the Razorbacks and eventually found his way to the Perth Wildcats where he has had success, making the NBL All-Star team for five straight years.

Now he is reunited with Bogut and is playing more than just a token fill-in role.

“It was a great match-up opportunity for Damo and the reason he ended up on the team was so, if we ran up against someone like [Lithuania’s trump card Mana] Kalnietis, who dominates the ball so much, we could send him out there and he earned his plane ticket in a big way today, he was fantastic,” said assistant coach Luc Longley, the first Australian to make his mark in the NBA.

Martin was asked by the media after the match if he had had some “pinch me” moments since arriving in Rio.

“There has been a lot of pinch me moments throughout the Olympics,” he replied.

“Whether it has been what we have been able to do on the court of whether it’s the events I’ve been to or just walking through the village and seeing the [Olympic] rings a few times.

“Dellavedova is one of the most talented players I’ve played alongside and he has the highest basketball IQ of anyone I think I have ever met; he has been fantastic to play alongside.

“To see him as a 19-year-old trying to break into the teams and now be a legitimate NBA player and a superstar on the international stage; he is having a fantastic tournament.

“To be able to rest some of those guys in particular after a performance like today’s is great going ahead.”

But don’t think Martin is in anyway a star-gazer or the least bit overawed when he gets on the court.

He admitted to being surprised he was called into the clash with Lithuania in the first quarter and received so much court time but loved “getting at” Kalnietis.

“To be honest I wasn’t expecting it; I was down at the end of the bench talking with Chris Goulding and I thought he said my name instead of Lische’s and it was a mistake,” Martin said.

“But it was great to get out there, obviously I have a role to play on the team and that’s more so on the defensive end and Kalnietis is one of the most talented point guards in the tournament and has had a hell of an Olympic Games, so to get out there early and try to get into him was nice.”

Bogut spoke after the match of the “balance” in this team and the fact that so many contributed points and important plays.

Longley pointed to Andersen’s influence when called into the play and his sharp passing ability on assist.

When asked about whether Andersen’s class will finally be recognised, the big man replied:

“If they didn’t before this tournament hopefully they are seeing this now. He’s worked himself into the tournament really well and worked himself into this rotation.

“He’s not only been a steady offensive influence he has also been surprisingly good on the glass when playing ‘D’ which is probably an area coming in that I thought he was going to struggle a bit but he hasn’t which has meant he has been able to play him which he is great.”

Bogut alluded to the whole-team attitude of the Aussies and the Big Four convincing their lesser-known mates in believing they can beat the best here in Rio – and that includes the USA.

“We believe we can beat teams. It comes with our mindset, we’re a resilient group that plays hard,” he said.

“We have a lot of guys who play hard and enjoy being around each other and when you have that it works wonders for you.

“A lot of us hadn’t really got together and spent a lot of time together as a group. I’d never spent a lot of time with Delly really or Baynsey. Just to be together and get to know the different personalities makes us fire; all in all, we like to hang around away from basketball.”

Neil Cadigan

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