The greatest collective talent at U18 Australian National Champs in history: Perth, Year 2012

Two weeks ago, up in Townsville Australia, I coached another U18 National Championships. It is important we come back and reflect, seek out improvement and do some analysis. One of the things I have been doing is thinking about the level of talent in Australia I have worked with and coached against over the years that I have been coaching at the championships. I began to do some analysis and debate with some colleagues on the most talent in an U18 National Championships. As we continued the conversation and I did some more research and analysis I decided I had to blog on this subject; the greatest collective talent at U18 Australian National Champs in history.

The subject for the blog is Australia's most talented national championships and in blogging on this subject I hope readers can get a better understanding on what the championships produces, the talent that comes through our nation's pathways and the world class development we can provide our athletes here in Australia. In my opinion most don't always appreciate upcoming talent when they see it at the time until they see these men at the other end of their journey. I hope by looking back a few years you can appreciate the great opportunity of competing in, and talent you compete against at Australia's National U18 Championships.

About Australian National Championships

Other than commenting on the most talented championships I also wanted to post a high quality, educational and informational blog on national championships, a proven ground for producing elite, international talent over many, many years. U18 National Champs have been packed with talent over the past decade, and beyond (see the discussion below about 2004), but 2012 was special. The 2012 U18 National Championships are the focus of this blog.

National Championships are the major competitive pathway in Australia for elite, young prospects. They take place in February (U20s), April (U18s) and July (U16s).

Each state across Australia picks its best players to compete in the championships, to represent their state.

US Coaches that have traveled out to watch the championships understand this is NO AAU basketball, no High School basketball (due to the structures and systems) and you would struggle to find similar type of competition in basketball across the United States.

Players are talent ID'd from a young age. They still need to go through an exhaustive and selective trials process in order to make a state team, trials that see the best talent in the state pitted against each other for many sessions until the team is finally selected. In the tournaments players play to win, individual exposure takes a distant second and players recognise their best path to individual success is to help their team succeed. Likewise coaches are measured on success and development. All coaches are accountable to their state High Performance Manager, ensuring quality control, measurement of performance and accountability. In a national championships teamwork, chemistry, basketball IQ, attitude, coachabilty are often placed a premium above inherent talent - coaches want to win but also develop talent, in the RIGHT way.

What does this mean for college coaches recruiting?

In order to recruit the best talent from Australia, have the best insights on talent it is important to understand the pathways and systems in Australian basketball. I am sometimes asked about kids that have dropped 30 pts in a High School game, for example, against substandard competition, but those same kids barely hit the court in a national championship, because they are not good enough. I always tell coaches to take a balanced view but they NEED to definately consider performances at national championships to understand where the kids they are recruiting are at in terms of potential level.

Defining what "greatest collective talent" means

Here, in the context of this blog, I am defining talent as guys that went on with it, playing at higher levels. It is highly possible that the best collective talent in the whole history of U18 National Championships was infact in the past 10 or so years (our talent in Australia is generally considered at an all time high over the past decade) so 2012 may well possibly be the greatest amount of talent ever in history of the championships.

The recent year's 2016 or 2017 national championships will take a few years for us to see where those kids end up, but I personally felt that 2017 had a lot of top end talent that could rival what we had in 2012.

Pictured: Vic metro team 2012. So far. 2xNBA players, 5xD1NCAA players, 2xAFL (top Australian Football league)

Australia's best national championships

Whilst I began considering this blog, I am watching Adelaide born Joe Ingles and Melbourne born Dante Exum running up and down in the NBA playoffs and I am drawn to remember a tournament I was fortunate enough to be an Assistant Coach in, in Perth in 2012. I began to cast my mind back over the 10 (or so), will not give the actual number away, as it will show my age (ha!), that I have actively coached in. What was the best collective talent ever? Which tournament was it?

I decided to do some analysis and check all the players from National Championships over the years and after looking at it in more detail I began to conclude that 2012 was infact the greatest National U18 Australian Champs in history.

Pictured: Perry Lakes Basketball Stadium, where the championships took place. Probably in the top 3-4 multi court facilities in the country.

Up for debate?

When planning this blog a coaching friend of mine and one of the partners with www.highperformancehoopsnetwork.com, Paul Mesecke, began to argue that the 2004 national championships that saw Mills (NBA), Baynes (NBA), Ingles (NBA), Weigh (NBL), Ogilvy (NBL) going at it may have had more talent than 2012.

He can put up a strong argument as he was based at the Australian Institute of Sport Basketball program (equivalent to what is now called the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence) as a coach and saw many of these 2004 guys coming through camps and/or was based there with them. At face value his argument would hold true with many people but I personally find the depth of these championships questionable (more so because I cannot find information on the depth and did not experience it myself to see). In 2012 a breath taking 19 (approximately) athletes went onto play Div 1 NCAA basketball, in addition to 7 pros at NBL, NBA level (so far!). Many of those 19 are still a work in progress, just beginning to filter into professional ranks.

Paul believes that no guy in 2012 would be a match for Baynes. He also is not convinced on the top end, NBA talent in 2012 compared with 2004 stating "Hard to tell cause Exum hasn't exactly been good at NBA level while Mills and Ingles are excellent. Plus Simmons is only good at tweeting and hasn't won anything, nor even played yet. Whilst we can hope they reach their potential. There are a number of factors including injuries that could stop them from being better performed than the current guys have been during the current playoff run."

Some very strong arguments. Hard to argue against Mes. However, I contend the depth in 2012 will prove better with so many guys going to D1 NCAA programs from that tournament. Time will tell if I am right as their careers continue (go Simmons!).

SA Metro - "Get them off the floor as quick as possible"

That year (in 2012) SA Metro had a solid team in our own right, quite a few of the guys had won Bronze the year before as bottomagers, under the same coach, and were expected to push for national selection. We thought we could medal if everything went right and we did have the talent to do this, but everything needed to go right. I can remember our pool game against Vic Metro when Neil Gliddon (state High Performance Manager at the time) came up to me and said "Tell Michael (Head Coach Michael Chrisan) to get them off the court, get them off the court as soon as you can". I smile now at my response at the time. I ask Neil with a confused look "You want us to forfeit?". "No. Get them off the court, get your starters off, don't call timeouts, don't stop the clock, just make sure the game is over as quickly as possible and worry about the next game".

I mention this (A) because it was funny at the time for Neil to say that going into half time. Here we were at half time and the State High Performance Manager who pushes us to win every game is saying words to the effect of; it's over, you guys are done, give up now, worry about the next game and (B) because it shows how good Vic Metro were that year. We kind of felt a bit insulted that he felt this way but those that know Neil know you don't argue with him unless you know you're right, in this case, deep down, I knew he was right. I told Mike (Head Coach), and we got them off the floor as quickly as we could.

PS: Sam McDaniel (currently at D1 School University Louisiana Monroe) if you read this, I have not forgotten McKay and I still owe you around $240, as we told you we would pay you $40 per dunk in games. Oh sorry, we still cannot pay you as you are an amatuer athlete. Note: we had jokingly told Sam we would pay him per dunk but then told him after we could not pay as he was not yet 18. Just an ongoing joke.

Pictured: SA Metro men. Tough to match with the Vic Metro team above with 1xNBL development player, 2xD1 NCAA players, 1 JuCo player, 1xD2 NCAA

Video: SA Metro vs Vic Metro in 2012. - with a nice voice over - ha!

Who's who in the crowd

This tournament had a sense of the level of talent around, there was a strong sense this was a talented year, Aussie basketball was maybe on the cusp of something amazing.

In most nationals there are a myriad of National program and NBL scouts, former players, coaches etc but I remember sitting there one night with our Assistant Coach Mike McKay (former Olympian and long term professional player in the NBL). Mike, and his fun loving self, was drawing in the who's who in the gym and I was lucky to be hanging with him at that minute. Sitting with us was Luc Longley (triple NBA Champion), Andrew Gaze (NBA Champion, 5xOlympian), Steve Carfino (former NBL player, now TV media legend), Nigel Purchase (long time NBL professional) and a bunch of other names. Just before these guys had joined us Mike was acting like his usual goofy self (great man) and texting sh*t talk to Phil Smyth (5xOlympian) on the other side of the stadium.

Of course in the gym were Vic Metro parents Dave Simmons (Ben's Dad and x-NBL player) and Cecil Exum (Dante's Dad and ex-NBL player). There were more but that is all I remember now.

It is always great at National Championships to see the current and past international greats following and watching the future International greats in the sport out of Australia. This tournament had a great feel to it when some of the greats of our game in this country and maybe the world were fans. They were all excited by the talent, such was the conversations I was lucky to be listening in on, sitting next to Mike while they spoke about the kids in the tournament.

Grand Final - the best I have seen

I remember the Grand Final battle in particular which saw Dante Exum and Ben Simmons going at it against Nick Duncan and Mirko Djeric. This was a phenomenal game. The free flowing, confident player driven style of a Mark Watkins NSW Metro vs the sometimes uptight, ridgid, half court game of Vic Metro, executing 1st and 3rds the same way almost every possession. NSW Metro played a fair bit of zone at 1 point to force Vic Metro to try to win it from 3 pt line. The game was low scoring as many National Championship Grand Finals are. NSW Metro would eventually win out by 1 point but it was just exciting to see Djeric and Duncan who clearly had the GREEEEEN LIGHT. I loved how NSW Metro played, their passion and their freedom to overcome a very talented and deep Vic Metro.

Mark Watkins, coach of the NSW Metro men in this game, who also went onto coach the National U17s in future years provides a first hand coaches' account; "It was a Final to remember. A number of quality players competing for their state. The game was a real arm wrestle. A pleasure to coach a team of guys who wanted to play for each other and their state. A game I will never forget. Many of that class are in the NBA, college having great careers. An honour to be a part of their lives."

Thanks Watko.

Pictured: Two Aussies at Boise State University. Drmic on the left had a stellar career, but came through U18 National Championships a few years before Nick Duncan (right) who featured heavily in 2012.

Pictured: Going at it against Duncan and NSW in the 2012 Grand Final was (now) Utah Jazz Guard, Dante Exum.

World Championships

To add further weight to my argument that 2012 U18 National Championships had the greatest amount of talent in history you could look at World Championships. The 2012 World Champs included all guys that had played earlier that year in Perth.

I had been fortunate enough to see the 2010 U17 World Championships in Hamburg Germany. These tournaments are high level, with many guys from 2010 going on to kill it at the college level and a few guys that are still high level NBA players. The Aussie team had finished 6th in 2010.

In 2012 they managed a Silver medal. For a country of Australia's size to win Silver at a world event like this speaks volumes about our levels of junior talent, development and abilities at that time. Of course this level of achievement has often been the case at junior world levels but this result helps show the talent and level of the 2012 group that played in Perth U18 National Championships.

Benjamin SIMMON | VIC

Mirko DJERIC | NSW

Nicholas DUNCAN | NSW

Dante EXUM | VIC

Matt JACKSON | VIC

Fabijan KRSLOVIC | NSW

Michael LUXFORD | VIC

Darcy MALONE | ACT

Gerard Martin | NSW

Jack PURCHASE | VIC

Felix VON HOFE | VIC

Pictured: Silver medal winning U17 National team in 2012. Included all players from U18 National Championships in 2012. They lost the championship game to USA which included mostly future NBA players such as Jabari Parker (Milwaukee Bucks), Justice Winslow (Miami Heat) and Jahlil Okafor (Philly 76ers) .

Player breakdown

US High School athletes have a 0.4% (http://www.viralhoops.com/scholarship-odds/) chance of securing a D1 College Scholarship, which makes sense given the numbers of High School athletes in America. In the 2012 National Championships there were about 16% of athletes in the tournament that secured a D1 Scholarship, made the NBA or at least became an NBL development player. That is a whopping 40 times more likely to gain a D1 scholarship or above out of these championships than out of US High School. I have not even included SEABL players in the equation.

There were 19xD1 College Scholarships out of the championships.

Players of note Nick Duncan (Boise State University), Jack McVeigh (Nebraska), Tanner Krebs (st Marys), Felix Von Hoffe (eastern Washington), Deng Riak (Eastern Carolina), Xavier Cooks (Winthrop).

Pictured: Jack McVeigh playing for Big 10 School, Nebraska Cornhuskers averaged 15ppg at the 2012 U18 National Champs as a bottomager.

Pictured: Xavier Cooks from the 2012 U18 Nationals tournament is having a stellar career with Winthrop, averaging 16ppg this season, carrying the Eagles into the NCAA tournament. Next season, in his senior year, he will be joined by 2 more Aussies in Kyle Zunic and Tom Pupavac.

2 NBA (so far) - No names needed.

4 NBL (so far)

Mostly these guys are development players, with Mirko Djeric and Finn Delaney playing regularly.

Rhys Vague (Perth Wildcats), Mirko Djeric (Sydney Kings), Finn Delaney (New Zealand Breakers), Sam Johns (Adelaide 36ers)

There were also around 15xD2 NCAA players from the tournament in 2012. Again, a very high percentage of success if you compare it to US High School teams.

Pictured: Joshua Derksen playing for one of the top Division 2 NCAA programs in America, Bellarmine University, going against the power program of Louisville in a non-conference game.

3-4 AFL

Whilst analysing the playing list from 2012 I noted that there were quite a few guys that had gone onto be drafted to the AFL (our elite, professional football league). I counted up to 4 that joined an AFL roster at some point. This may have also been the deepest pool of elite footballers at any championships too (note to self: save that for another blog - ha).

Picture: Christian Petracca who was a key player for Vic Metro in 2012 now plays in Australia's top Football league (AFL) with the Melbourne Demons.

Conclusion

Regardless of whether I am right about the depth of talent making the 2012 National Championships the greatest ever collective talent or Mesecke's arguments about the 2004 championships holding true (Ingles, Mills, Baynes, Ogilvy, Weigh is a fair bit of top end talent!) we can be sure that one thing is true. Aussie basketball pathways will keep getting stronger.

National Championships have been a vital and excellent part of our nation's elite sporting pathways. They are not the be all and end all but I believe they are a big part of the reason Australia produces the winners that we do. Great players who value teamwork, competing hard, toughness and being humble no matter how good you are at very high levels. That is why Aussies tend to do so well overseas and play on winning, overachieving teams in college, Europe and the NBA.

Finally, who knows? In just a few years time we may well be saying the U18 National Championships in 2017 had the greatest amount of talent history. Watch this space......

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