Boomers head coach Andrej Lemanis conducts a coaching clinic at Maitland Federation Centre, Maitland. Pictures: Jonathan CarrollANDREJ Lemanis has been handed the keys to Australian basketball’s new Ferrari.
A few of the colts still need breaking in but Lemanis feels privileged, rather than pressured, to be sitting in the driver’s seat with all that horsepower under the hood.
One of only a select few to have won National Basketball League titles as a player (South East Melbourne Magic 1992) and coach (New Zealand Breakers 2010-12), 44-year-old Lemanis was appointed Boomers coach in April after guiding the Breakers to a third-straight championship.
He navigated the first road block in August, steering the Boomers to a 2-0 sweep of New Zealand in the Oceania qualifying series to secure a spot in the FIBA World Cup in Spain next September, and his tenure includes that tournament and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Lemanis has at his disposal a core of players strutting their stuff in professional leagues in the United States and Europe, and others from the US college system, meaning Australian-based NBL players will struggle to make the cut when he trims his World Cup squad to 12 in July.
Andrew Bogut (Golden State Warriors), Matthew Dellavedova (Cleveland Cavaliers) and San Antonio’s Patrick Mills and Aron Baynes are in the National Basketball Association.
Joe Ingles (Israel), Brad Newley (Spain), David Barlow (Poland) and David Andersen and Ryan Broekhoff (both Turkey) are also “balling” on the world stage, and teenagers Dante Exum and Ben Simmons have been projected as first-round NBA draft picks.
Eighteen-year-old Exum and 17-year-old Simmons, a former Newcastle Hunters junior, are Australian-born sons of former NBL American imports Cecil Exum and Dave Simmons.
Other retired former Americans who stayed to raise families Down Under have inadvertently provided the Boomers with a nursery of second-generation athletes to pick from.
“It’s a really exciting time to be involved with the Boomers. I said when I got the job, and I still believe it, that we’ve got a good core of athletes there that have been together for a while,” Lemanis told the Newcastle Herald.
“If you look at Joe Ingles, Brad Newley, Patrick Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, all those guys are in their mid-20s, so it’s not like they’re at the end of their careers. They’re still in the prime of their careers, and someone like ‘Delly’ is just starting his international career.
“So to have that as a core of the group, and then to have these exciting young guys come through, who add this other special element with their athleticism and ability to just make plays out of nothing because of what they are athletically, that puts us in a really good position.”
Lemanis served his national senior-team apprenticeship as an assistant to Brett Brown at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey and 2012 Olympic Games in London. Brown is now head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA.
After the Tall Blacks series, where Exum and Simmons made their Boomers debuts, Lemanis went to Europe to check in with the likes of Newley, Ingles and Nathan Jawai, who will be sidelined for up to six months after suffering a neck trauma injury last month.
Lemanis does not anticipate the Boomers playing together again until they gather in Europe in August for training camp and trials before the World Cup.
“It’s now about staying in contact with those guys and monitoring how they’re going, and keeping a Boomers element to what they’re doing day-to-day on their own games and their skill development,” Lemanis said.
“We want them to understand that we’re here to support them, and if they need something from us, we’re only a phone call away and we’ll help them however we can.
“We want them to know that we can continue to help them and service them from afar – paying attention to them, and visiting with them to see their environments and see how they’re doing.
“I was lucky enough to do that when I went over to visit with some of our guys in Europe in September, but the reality is everyone’s in their own professional environment until the middle of June, then we will have a camp towards the end of July.
“At the end of that camp we will cut our squad to 12, pick our team, then we’ll head to Europe in early August and base ourselves out of Europe and seek some good quality competition and games leading into the World Cup.”
Whether 29-year-old Bogut, who has not played for Australia since the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, suits up at the World Cup or the Rio Olympics remains to be seen, but Lemanis said Australia’s only No.1 NBA draft pick was keen to wear the green and gold again.
“Bogut’s skill level would be a tremendous asset to add to the group,” he said.
“I’ve had good conversations with Andrew, he’s certainly committed to the Boomers’ program, and he wants to be a Boomer. He’s just had an unbelievably unlucky run with injuries.
“He needs to be comfortable within himself that he can get through an NBA schedule – 82 games plus play-offs – have an off-season playing with the Boomers, then get through another 82-game season plus play-offs.
“He needs to be confident that his body can handle that but it would be very exciting for us, obviously, if he was able to make himself available.”
Bogut’s shocking run of bad luck, and the unavailability of other first-choice players for different reasons at different times, has given others an opportunity to represent the Boomers.
Lemanis hopes that leaves him with some tough choices to make in nine months, when he has to name an Australian team to take on the world.
The Boomers were beaten in the quarter-finals by eventual Olympic gold medallists USA in London, having finished 10th at the World Championships in Turkey in 2010.
It is a far cry from the golden era when they were fourth at the Olympics of 1988, 1996 and 2000, but it seems the only way is up for the most athletically gifted squad in Boomers history.
“To have that depth, it’s obviously a good position to be in.
“The more pressure there is on those guys to keep their spot in the roster, the better positioned we are as a nation to do well.
“There’s going to be good players that miss out . . . because at the end of the day, the coach has got to make a call and you’re only allowed to pick 12. That’s a good position to be in, if you’re leaving out good players as opposed to putting players in because you have to have 12.”
● Lemanis held a coaching clinic at Maitland Federation Centre last night and will be guest speaker at Hunter Sports High’s presentation dinner at Wests New Lambton tonight.