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Tips for College Coaches: Finding and measuring Aussie talent

Jacob Rigoni, Lat Mayen, Isaac White. Winners, that show the Aussie Style, all have dominated at National Championships and have the talent, personalities and character traits that build winning programs.

Having seen some world champs first hand (Olympics, U17 worlds) international basketball is different, every country had differing styles of play and it is apparant whenever you see an international tournament. When recruiting internationally it must be a challenge as to what look for, with so many different systems and playing styles. I hope this article helps coaches understands the Aussie system and style of game.

"In Vegas for the AAU circuit, game sense, and team mentality of the Aussies we see is generally far ahead. The difference is the that US teams play with raw athleticism. Unfortunately for them I think most college programs take the path of basing their game around this, rather than skill and IQ "

- quote, changed slightly, from a very high level, successful college coach, who has worked with top Aussies. This coach will not be identified.

I'm constantly learning from college coaches across the US. I believe in a growth mindset and whilst the conversations revolve around the Featured Athletes, and educating US coaches on Australian Pathways, I am also always learning lots in the process.

If you look at our population and participation numbers in basketball compared to every country, including the US, we are doing well. Our men's Olympic team at the recent Olympics epitomises our Aussie style, including our mindset to representing something bigger than ourself.

It is obvious that this style also transfers to success in the College system, one only needs to look at programs like St Marys, Albany, Boise State etc, schools that have being extremely successful with the involvement and significant contribution of Aussie talent. Even take it to the NBA and the 4 teams in the last 2 NBA final's series have all had an Aussie in them (Dellavedova, Mills, Bogut). You could argue the Aussie style of game wins.

Larry Brown, former Head Coach of SMU, another program starting to build a cohort of Aussies, and looking to expand that sums it up really well in this article ( when talking about Dellavedova:

“I look at Dellavedova. I don’t think anything blows you away, except his IQ and competitiveness, and what a great teammate he is. I’m the biggest Andrew Bogut fan of all time. I just marvel at him.”

I think it is fair to sum this up in my words and say Larry just thinks Aussies help team's win! If you are still not sure, do this. Compare the number of NBA rings between the Aussie Boomer's players and coaches (EG: Longley) and the US team at the last Olympics. For such a small nation, our nation's players tend to end up on winning teams.

The purpose of this article is to let out some insights about recruiting Aussies. These are the insights Z to why many of the College coaches that know our systems well have so much success recruiting the right talent. This article is not about "how to get" the talent. "How to get Aussies", I feel is different to how you get US kids. I may produce an article later on, on "How to get Aussies". The focus of this article is a discourse on what the coaches that know Aussie hoops well are looking for in Aussie talent, which is different to what they may focus on when recruiting US kids. I also want to explain clearly the various levels our kids go through.

There are 3 main areas recruiters need to look at that I'd like to put forward in this article:

- Quickness vs athleticism

- The Aussie Psyche

- Teamwork and chemistry

However, in order to understand these 3 concepts we need to understand the unique structure of basketball pathways in Australia that I feel is the key agitator that produces the athletes we do, that is our pathway.

The pathway

Pic from Basketball SA ( Demonstrating the pathways in Aussie Hoops. Note: "State Teams" from the Tournaments stream is much higher level than "Junior and District Competition" in the competitions stream.

First off the club system:

There are several 100 High Schools in our state of 1.2 million people but amongst these schools each region has a district club and there are 10 district clubs. As you can imagine with so many kids from across the state (our state has a population of about 1.2 million) concentrated into the club environment it is quite high level competition. Certainly much higher level than most HS games across America because our talent is so concentrated per district. First big mistake the a college coach can make at times, and it is happening less these days, is basing the evaluations on High School level footage, evaluations and stats. Any high level kid will easy drop 20+ points every single game at High School level if they want to and be a cut above their opposition, such is the nature of the spread of talent.

From the age of 8 kids have the chance to join a district or representative club they are exposed to trials, in order to be selected to division 1. Clubs are normally run by a Coaching Director that looks after ALL the age groups from 8 yrs of age, right through to 18 yrs of age. One of the key roles of the Coaching Director is to develop a curriculum and style of play that is consistently built up as kids grow up. The body of knowledge within that system will grow and grow, building on each block, and this tends to develop some great knowledge of the x's and o's as each year is built up. Through each age group kids have to trial and are selected for certain criteria (ability, teamwork, potential, basketball iq etc) to play higher levels up to Division 1. At U14 level kids have the chance to play in national championships against the best teams in country. This tournament is high level for kids that age and teams are often scouted, players are actually coached on the x's and o's and put under the pressure of a national championship. There are also state championships for the clubs and each age group can earn points over the state championships for their club to be the state champion club. I feel the club environment puts positional pressure on kids from an early age to operate within a system, learn the x's and o's and execute for their team to succeed, if they don't do these things they lose their position in their team. Aussies in this system also learn team chemistry and toughness with so much high level competition and pathways from a young age.

To understand the differences in the kinds of player developed maybe think of the AAU system in comparison with the club system we have in Australia.

High Performance:

Similar to the club system our high performance programs are effectively a network. From the club system kids are picked to move into a National Intensive Training Program (NITP) squad. This program operates under the guidance and partnership with our National Peak Sporting body's High Performance department, which includes our national Olympic coaching staff. Gamestyle concepts and curriculum filter down this pathway through to the state based NITP. From the club system above the best 10 players are picked to play for their state. They play at National Championships and often coaches of our state teams are either in the NITP system or have been so our state teams often adopt parts of the national curriculum too. As you can imagine, with a population of 1.2 million, having the best 10 kids selected into 1 team, each state team is packed with good players.

National Championships:

This brings me to the key events college coaches must be looking at that is Basketball Australia's National Championships. The championships take place at U16, U18 and U20 level. All these tournaments are heavily taped and statted and are very high level. Outside of the kids that make Div 1 college level through prep schools or Jucos the significant, vast majority, if not all, kids playing at D1 level have played National Championships. It is not unusual for coaches to not be aware of where to locate stats from the championships or even be aware that they are available. Well here they are, all the championships since 2007 you will see names like Dante Exum (NBA), Ben Simmons (NBA), Isaac Humprhies (U of Kentucky), Dejan Vasiljevic, (U of Miami), Jack White (Duke), Venjy Jois (Eastern Washington), Peter Hooley (U of Albany) etc listed there in the relevant championships they competed in. Anyway our state system is brutal just like the top level college system. You try out, you are cut, you deal with adversity and you have to manage failure, losing at times when the pressure is on. There is no sense of entitlement in Aussie kids in our system because they have to work for everything at this level, as at times deal with adversity, from a very young age.

The stats and footage from a national championship are easily accessible. They are online and it gives College Coaches a great chance to compare kids statistically to other kids they are recruiting, or hearing about. When talking to College Coaches I am sometimes intrigued with the number of coaches that do not realise where to locate this information, when in my mind it is a great quantitative tool to use in evaluations.

How to evaluate Aussies:

Once you know the levels it becomes a case of what you should evaluate. I had a conversation with a friend I have known for many years that coaches D1 College ball. In the conversation we were discussing one of the top recruits out of Australia over recent times. He mentioned that in a sprint test the particular recruit did not measure well compared to some kids he had seen in the US. This was an intriguing assessment to me as I am not sure a sprint test has much correlation at all to playing the game of basketball.

There is a difference of quickness vs athleticsm. Athleticsm is easily measured. It is a vertical leap test, a sprint test etc that can measure athleticsm but I am not sure how relevant these are to basketball. There is some relevence for athleticsm to contribute to success in international basketball but it is often overstated. Was Paul Pierce a great athlete? Was Bird a great athlete? Quickness is the ability to make rapid decisions with many, many variables is something that coaches must value. 9 other players on the floor, making rapid reads, decisions and with a confident mindset. I feel when assessing Aussies that coaches need to look at the quickness of our players. This is tough to assess without seeing fullgames, need to see past the highlights. Aussies are not ALWAYS great athletes but they need to be quick.

The Aussie psyche. From a young age in the system presented above you are coached to win, to represent something bigger than yourself. Your club, your state, your nation are all bigger than the individual. Our top players are thrusted into environments with other top players and the pecking orders are flat, everyone is equal. Coaches coach to win tournaments, to harness individual strengths together in a team environment. This reflects in the Aussie attitude to team mates, coaches and the game. To paraphrase one US College Coach; "I want to build a program like St Marys have, Aussies don't have the sense of entitlement that our kids sometimes do and that fits well with our value system". Aussies are extremely self confident but are also openly humble. Arrogance and exhuberent confidence is not something valued in our teams so our best kids, whilst being very internally confident, are not exuberant or arrogant. Aussies love to be coached, are very focused on getting the job done, we also love to compete - HARD.

Photo credit: No other blurb required.

A lot of hardness Aussies compete with comes from our national spot of Aussies rules football. A good friend of mine, now works coaching at the Pro-A (high professional league level) in Germany. He has often commented on the extreme toughness of Aussie kids as opposed to German kids. He believes it is due to the fact our national games (Aussies Rules Football in Australia's case, Soccer in Germany's case) are worlds apart in terms of physicality, toughness required and types of skill. It makes sense, our kids grow up playing Aussie Rule and/or playing basketball with, and against, many players that have played Aussie Rules. Our biggest sport idols are Aussie Rules players and it makes sense that Aussie Rules culture endears a love for physical and competitive toughness in our baketballers because it is a such a big part of our national sport.

Teamwork and chemistry. Teamwork is drummed into Australian kids from a young age. Playing with a team and executing to get team mates open is how player's learn to play the game. Xs and Os and understanding of Xs and Os is really valued in the system. Players are developed to have an intrinsic understanding of their role because they have to pass so many selection processes at each level that their ability to take on feedback and put it into practice,and also self evaluate, and adapt to their team's level of competition, or tendancies of opposition teams, needs is at a very high level. Aussies love the team culture, building great environments, and you only need to see guys like Patty Mills when he is on the bench waving towels to understand how much value guys can add even when they are not on the floor. Aussies that are the best players add value to their team and team mates and ultimately understand the the sum of the whole is greater then the parts.

Here are a few questions I feel college coaches should ask themselves when evaluating Aussie talent:

  • Do they make great decisions on court - quickly?

  • Are they great team mates?

  • What do their state coaches say about their character?

  • Are they tough, physically and mentally?

  • Are they in the National program, what do the National coaches say about them?

  • Do they make those around them better through great passing in the right spots, to the right people, creating a positive environment?

  • Do they have a great understanding of the game?

  • Are they winners in terms of work ethic and desire to get better?

  • Do their teams typically overachieve?

  • Are they humble, with a high self belief still, and coachable?

  • Do they enjoy the success of their team mates in games?

Recruiting Aussies is clearly rewarding for US College coaches, their coachability, toughness, quickness and teamwork is why so many winning programs have an Aussie or 2 (or 3 or 4). I hope the information in this blog is helpful to ensure your recruiting is a success!

Janx out!

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