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So you want to be an AIS athlete: Janx' view on what it takes

Alex Mudronja and Owen Hulland in the pic above. No idea what they are doing with their fingers?!?!?!?

A talent factory forming in South Australia

In the coming few years, South Australian Basketball has the chance to gain international acclaim as a talent factory. Never has there been the combination this level of talent and international interest in our talented kids. These guys have a lot of work still to do to achieve this lofty statement but I know they can do that. This week we take another leap forward. All involved should be proud, coaches, families, administrators and supporters. Their team mates and of course these player's themselves deserve congratulations for their dedication, commitment and hard work to achieve their best. This success can build a culture in South Australia, and lay groundwork for future generations coming through in my opinion.

Two SA athletes are joining fellow SA kid, Lat Mayen, at the COE/Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra. The AIS is the fabled institute in Australia where guys like Patty Mills, Dellavedova, Bogut, Ingles, Baynes etc spent time. Owen Hulland from Norwood Flames and Alex Mudronja from Sturt Sabres will join Lat, also from the Sturt Sabres. It is a pretty big achievement for SA Hoops to have 3 young men at the AIS at once from our state, including 2 guys from my current club, Sturt Sabres. Infact Lat and Alex were from the same team last year at Sturt and I was lucky enough to coach them both at the mighty Sabres.

Sam Simons is also there with the girls and is one of the top female prospects in the country.

The last SA boy was there about 6 years ago. This was another athlete I was lucky to work with a lot, over quite a few years in Central Districts Lion's Daniel “Big Diesel” Carlin. Prior to Daniel, Sturt had Claybrin McMath from SA at the AIS. To have 3 from SA there at once is just great and something rarely done out of South Australia.

I am proud of Owen and the fact he is from Norwood. As a former Norwood junior player myself I remember the last time Norwood had a boy at the COE/AIS in Daniel Thompson, maybe 15+ years ago. Owen has just had a Jeremy Linn experience in the past few months. Like much of the talent out of SA recently, has gone from virtual unknown, not even being included on the squad for U17 World Championships selection, to having D1 college offers already, basketball without borders invite and now an AIS Scholarship. I remember our plane flight back from Sydney in January 2016, having a long chat with Owen about pathways in Australia and abroad. At this time he looked at me and said; Janx I cannot see the difference between me and other top big men in the country. I had to be honest with his conundrum and I told him that I did agree, I could not see much difference either, infact I thought he could be better than some others.

My experience working with SA kids that have gone to the AIS

I have worked with Lat, Alex and Daniel Carlin significantly at club, state and on a personal level and became close to them and their families over that period and beyond. In Owen's case, I did not work with through the club system, only at state and NITP level and I feel he really excelled through our state process. They are all actually profiled as a part of the "Athletes" page on this site, and I personally feel honored they and their families wanted me to stay involved in mentoring and supporting them. They were a privilege to work with and it is important to acknowledge their outstanding character traits here as well as what others can learn from their success. Anyway my point is, having worked with these guys so much, I guess you could say I’m maybe somewhat of an expert at knowing and working very closely with guys from SA that have attended the AIS in recent years. This got me to thinking, what does it take? What do these guys have that no one else has got? What should young players, with their parents support, be focusing on to get to this elite level? In this article I am able comment on their collective consistencies through their pathway through SA hoops to the AIS. I really hope that other athletes and families take the following seriously, give it some thought.

So, what does it take?

Looking at them now people would say it is genetics, but I do not think that is the case Height is a factor but there are many tall guys before them that have not being anywhere near that level. I don’t think they are particularly genetically gifted outside of their height. I’ve seen better athletes, physically stronger guys be nowhere near this level. Also, the AIS does take guards, there would be many guys playing here now taller, and maybe even more athletic than Mudronja. Most teams and kids playing div 1 in SA alone have similar genetic attributes to these guys and likewise across the 1000s playing nationally. Genetics makes it possible for them but it is not what sets them apart from the 1000s of other kids playing D1 level representative hoops in each state based competition. So let’s remove the question of genetics. I really just don’t believe it is why these kids make it.

Here is what really sets them all apart:

Coachability - These guys all were able to reduce the time between feedback and applying feedback substantially faster than others. There was no doubting their coach, very little questioning of feedback or coaching. If they do question it is to seek clarity then once they understand they just do it. The feedback given may have been related to the execution of a skill such as shooting, a new variation to a play or set or new need the team had from the player such as more scoring or passing etc and they are able to apply it all to their games - quickly. When breaking their games in detail through tape it is sometimes amazing to see the level of detail from feedback given that they are applying. Parents/guardians were extremely supportive of their child being coached and encouraged respect and learning mindset by their child, through the coaching they were getting.

Family or carer support - great family support and commitment. All of them have at least one family member or carer who provided GREAT support, making large personal sacrifices. In almost all cases the support was not just financial and logistical but also centered around motivation, goal setting and positive affirmations. Their supporters all encouraged them to allow themselves to be coached, to respect those trying to make them better and they also worked with coaches in a positive way.

Unfaltering work ethic – what most call ridiculous these guys took in their stride - They all had an unfaltering work ethic in their late juniors. They love to work hard, it is something they mostly take in their stride and when they go to work they want to get better. 6.30 AM sessions are the norm, late night weights are fine if that is when they can access the weights room, going for runs. Any chance to train in their own time is something they just do as part of their lifestyle. They enjoy the work and the challenge of working harder than others. For example; I remember often picking up Lat Mayen to go to training on a Sunday. I would ask what he did the night before and he would often tell me he watched our State League (Premier League) and afterwards at 10 PM on a Saturday had gone to the gym to lift weights.

Likeability - Their team mates like them and look up to them. Happy players tend to be good players. If you are un-liked in a team environment you just won't enjoy it. Will your team mates have your back if they don't like you. These guys are all down to earth lads and very much liked in their peer group. Their team mates want them to succeed and have helped them get this opportunity. For example; Alex Mudronja missed the bulk of our preparation for U18 Nationals through injury. However, with 4 weeks to go before the tournament and after 1 training back his team mates voted him into a captaincy role.

Adversity - Each of these guys had some significant phase of adversity along the way. Most were not great players through the early stages of their juniors and some were not even div 1 level. Some were overlooked for teams, squads, played in losing teams etc. but they all suffered adversity, they were not front runners all the way through. They all felt a compelling need to overcome and defeat whatever their adversity was rather than give up. Infact in each adversity made them more determined.

Fluidity of movement - all move extremely well for their size. To better describe what I am referring to here I will describe some tests I used to assess this. Players, if you know the test perhaps you can work on the answers to the test and this will help you improve this attribute. The test is slightly different for bigs as opposed guards or wings. For bigs: Can they guard on balls with a hard show and recover or a switch. The hard show is the primary test for mine. Can they move laterally between their defender, switching temporarily onto a guard, contain the guard, then recover back to their own man. They need to be able be quick, maneuverer around their team mate to get back to their own guy and move laterally quickly. For guards: Can they split defenders out of onballs, do they play out of 2 distinct speeds out of onballs. Again all good tests of fluidity of movement, splitting defenders, changes of pace and changing direction fluidly to find gaps out of onballs all tests what call "fluidity of movement".

I hope coaches, players and parents read the above and think about each attribute.

To the guys I have been privileged to work with, their families I thankyou for your work, the traits above you have displayed. I thankyou all for your great friendship initiated by our mutual drive for success. I wish you all the best in basketball, but more-so in life, you ALL deserve this.

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