The GOATs of 2015: The greatest club youth basketball team of all time? Inspiring challenges, lesso
Top from left to right; Jacob Rigoni (Currently a Quinnipiac University, division 1 student athlete in the MAAC), Tyson Brazel (Currently at Bond University on Academic Scholarship, completing dual Law/Business Degree), Nik Desantis (completed a year at one of the top prep schools in the United States, now a key player in the Sturt Sabre’s Premier League team ), Ben Carter (Currently a University of Montana division 1 college student athlete in the Big Sky Conference) and Xavier Owen-Thomas (Currently studying Law and Medical Science at University of Adelaide).
Bottom from left to right: Alex Mudronja (formerly Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence scholarship holder, currently a division 1 student athlete for the St Mary’s Gaels in the West Coast Conference), Lewis Young (currently a professional AFL player with Western Bulldogs), Lat Mayen (formerly Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence scholarship holder, currently a division 1 student athlete for Texas Christian University in the Big 12), Angus Rodman (currently travelling the world and working for some of the best brands on the planet as a top model), Isaac White (currently a division 1 student athlete at Stanford University in the Pac 12).
These guys are all the stars of this story.
They were really the basis for developing this platform that has now helped a large number of South Australia’s best collection of athletes over the past couple of years in their pathway.
VIDEO: Video highlighting some of the male athletes we've worked with, including 5 players from this team. We now also work with female athletes thanks to Luke Allen.
Developing this article was a lot of fun. It gave us a chance to reflect on the journey of this team and we hope will provide a good read to all team members, parents, supporters and those involved, directly and indirectly, at Sturt Sabres and the wider Basketball SA community, with the journey of these great men. We also hope to provide an archive of this significant period of development of South Australian boy's youth basketball. The success of these young men did permeate and spread across the state and pave a path for many to follow (👉 Article here: 2018/19 season will be the most men in history at the Division 1 NCAA level, out of South Australia)
More broadly, it is a great read for coaches, athletes and parents to learn about what an elite development and learning environment looks like. We hope this will educate, inspire, inform readers all over the world with ideas for your teams. This article, like most of them on www.highperformancehoopsnetwork.com, was developed using our unique personal, real life perspectives and examples and relationships.
Personally, I hope my current team (quite a few good prospects in that team too) read this and learn from it, and all other teams I work with in the future.
Years after this team was together Tyson Brazel, currently on an Academic scholarship at Bond University, studying a double Law/Commerce Degree, sums up the journey and the value of being a part of an elite, holistic, learning and development team environment in youth sport:
"The 10 or so years that I was able to play with this group was by far the best 10 years of my life to date. We all had a genuine care for each other and were extremely successful throughout our time together. I look back on these years with fond memories and believe the experiences that I had with these guys has shaped me into the person that I am today. I had to fight for every minute that I got. I believe in some ways this has shaped me into the person I am today, strong, resilient and hard working in everything that I do."
PICTURED: Tyson Brazel cutting down the net after winning the 2015 South Australian State Championships. Outside of Central Districts Lions there was no close rival for this team in the state. By the end of the year this team would beat Central Districts in the final regular season game by 38 pts and then 40 pts in the final 4 game for the season, demonstrating their dominance and improvement over the course of the year.
We’re sure that one-day a box office movie will be made about a local team in the small city of Adelaide, Australia. The movie will be called “The Goats of 2015”. A team whose athletes have defied the odds, pushed through adversity, challenges and doubters to emerge as successes not only in the game, but in life and as young men.
The man who was with these boys each and every step of the way on their Sturt Journey, Donald Rodman, our Team Manager, is to be played by either Gordon Ramsay or Russell Crowe (casting staff are debating which one).
Our Assistant Coach Toddy Gower will be played by Kevin Costner. Our other Assistant Coach, Paul Rigoni, will played by Evan Handler (of Californication fame).
Playing the Head Coach will be Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (those that know me would get the sarcasm/exaggeration).
PICTURED: The team's staff for the LOLs.
The players in this team will all play themselves. They are all stars in their own right. In the era of social media, ESPN broadcast all over the US and the world, and with their success there are 10,000s of eyes on them following them and their journeys.
Here's the story of our team's journey.....
The story's synopsis is about a team with individuals who, from a basketball perspective, were not on national depth charts at the start. Quite a few of them had played in the 11th placed team in the Nationals U16 campaign of 2013 with South Australia Metro. Sturt teams have so much success and this team was not exceptional to that point as far as Sturt teams go. They were your typical Sturt team (Sturt being the most dominant club in South Australia over the past decades) at the time, winning state champs locally, struggling to produce in national club tournaments (EG: finishing 10th at the Classics in U16s), players doing OK at national championships, without being exceptional, looking like they would not progress through into national pathways and/or into division 1 collegiate ranks. However, that year and the year after, they would emerge as nationally recognised players on the court, but also each and everyone a success in their field of endeavour. They would go on to the form the core nucleus of teams that would win historic U20 National Championship medals for South Australia, along with their great team mates and coaches in those teams. 2 would join the famous Australian Institute Sport program (now called Centre of Excellence) and 5 of them would receive division 1 college scholarships (to conferences like the WCC, Pac12, Big12, Big Sky and MAAC).
It is always fun to tune in to ESPN any given week to see one of them play. Hear about how they have just taken the team chartered jet across to play against North Carolina Tarheels, or just played a game against big name programs like Villanova, West Virginia, Gonzaga. I'm not sure this has ever happened with a boy’s youth team in the history of the sport in Australia; a club level team having 5 members go on to be division 1 college commits, including 2 high major commits. No team has even come close to this in South Australia to that point. Oh! And did I mention 5 of them have donned the green and gold for U17/U19 FIBA youth tournaments, representing Australia. And another was a a top 20 AFL (Australian pro football league) draft pick.
Coaches from around 80 Division 1 college programs across America recruited players from this team at some point this year and beyond. Whether or not it is always apparent to those watching on TV the programs that these players have arrived to love having them there and these young men continue to be still constantly improving on and off the floor.
We hope this article takes readers through the inner workings of this team, the character and value make up of the athletes in the team and how and why they developed so much through that year.
PICTURED: Alex Mudronja representing Australia at the FIBA Oceania Qualifiers for the U17 World Championships.
PICTURED: A few months after they finished with the team in this article Jacob, Lat and Isaac would dominate for their team at the U20 National Championships and this resulted in their selection to represent Australia for the first time at the Albert Schweitzer tournament in Germany in April of 2016. All 3 would represent Australia again later that year the FIBA U18 Oceania Championships. All 3 now striving to maybe one day make a future Boomers team.
PICTURED: U20 National Champions!! Alex Wright (another Sturt Caoch), Isaac White, Jacob Rigoni, Ben Carter, Harry Reemst (Harry was a division 2 bottom aged player in the same age group that year). All of whom were key members of the U20s SA team that won a gold medal in 2017 for the first time in over 20 years. Here is the story of that team written by their coach, Scott Whitmore; Our story and journey to become National Champions
Angus Rodman, defensive specialist, who was with the team for their whole journey through juniors, stating of his team mates’ success in their fields: “Watching my team mates succeed has always given me great pleasure and that has probably developed even more since we have all gone on different paths. I love hearing and seeing any success my team mates have now and do my best to share and express my joy to them and anyone who has the time to listen to me about it.”
What went on in this team was not always pretty. It was not always beer and skittles but it was one of the greatest teams I've ever been involved with ever since I’ve been coaching (multiple decades now). I'm sure each and every team member feels similarly to me. Angus goes onto explain what it was like to play on this team;
“Playing in this team would be easily described as an overly competitive family. This team was more than just a sporting team for myself and probably the rest of the guys. We spent so much time together training and hanging out together that we really molded each others personalities and general traits. Being involved in this team shaped me to be the person I am today. We were lucky enough to share experiences together that will remain with me for my entire life. From minor successes to championship wins, the duress and pressure we put on each other has certainly helped me be resilient with my other life endeavours. Looking back on it, I consider myself extremely lucky to have been involved with this group of players and coaches.”
PICTURED: Pre-trainings and weights sessions were often filled with laughs and lots of banter. Normally revolving around some kind of competition. Here we have Angus and Isaac finding some stupid pink glasses, stealing one of the Assistant Coaches' phone to take selfies on it.
Alex Mudronja, current student athlete at St Mary’s Gaels, also former Captain at the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence, sums up kinds of relationships these guys had with each and how they would make each other better basketballers too;
“I learned so much from these guys. It gave me a huge appreciation for the game of basketball. I gained some of my greatest friendships here. I would look forward to every interaction with them, whether it was hanging out socially or working out in the weights room on the court. We used to wrestle before and after practice. Literally set up some yoga mats on the floor and would wrestle until someone tapped out. It was filled with laughter but it was real. When looking back on the experience, this is what I remember back to. When we hung out, there was always some sort of competitive game being played. But it was always immensely fun too. We had a lot of fun. When we played together, it was obvious that we had a lot of care for each other, everything just worked. We all came together and just had no real close competition and by the end of the year we were destroying even our closest rivals.”
Alex is a great example of the extreme improvement these guys did as individuals that year and beyond. He was on the end of the bench in a 5th ranked U16 South Australian state team a year prior, not even picked for the U18 South Australian state team this year as a bottomager only to make a national junior team to play in the FIBA U17 World Championship qualifiers later in this year. He was the first from the team selected to represent Australia. At the start of the year he was on the outer and picked mostly on his work ethic and potential. We were looking at rotating him to the division 2s, as most bottomagers tend to be at Sturt at a similar level to Alex. However, he soon convinced us partway through summer season that his potential was going to come to fruition and it did;
“As a bottom aged u18, I wasn’t actually sure I was gonna make the team at all, there was a fair bit of talent in that group and I hadn’t really proven myself as a player yet. Regardless, I was ready to work hard and that was something that Coach Janx valued, so he took me onto a team where was about to have some of the best experiences of my life.”
PICTURED: Alex Mudronja, a bottomager in this U18 team, pictured at the 2018 U20 National Championships. At these championships Alex would dominate that tournament winning MVP of the tournament, the same award Jacob Rigoni had won 12 months earlier. Article on that tournament here; 👉2018 U20 Australian National Championships PER rankings, top 20 athletes
The catch-ups since, the caring communications we all regularly have, the memories we share are the definition of “family” when you speak about those words in the context of sporting teams. The greatest thing about this team was how much we all developed that year as a team and as individuals. It resonates through all our conversations and catchups about that year. The catchups today happen in some amazing places. For example;
Recently Lat Mayen's TCU and Alex Mudronja's St Mary's were playing back to back games at the Staples Arena in LA. Of course both men finding time to catchup in the home of the Lakers and watch parts of each other's games. Who would have thought that from Wednesday night practices on the dusty, rubber floors of Concordia, playing 9:45 PM games at Pasadena, that these two guys would soon be catching up at, and playing back to back games in, one of the greatest basketball venues on the planet!?!?!?!
PICTURED: Above from Pasadena Basketball Stadium (home of the Sturt Sabres) to the Staples Centre (home to the LA Lakers and Clippers). Alex and Lat didn't get a picture when they caught up but the comment was reportedly made to them; "you could say you have come a small way since playing Friday nights at Pasadena 4 years ago!!"
PICTURED: Janx and Lat catching up for a meal on his recent visit home from TCU in Texas.
PICTURED: Lewis Young visiting Melbourne catching up with Lat to watch him playing for the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence in a SEABL game.
PICTURED: Janx and Isaac catching up in the Stanford locker room in San Francisco, California.
Tyson Brazel states very well how we remember this journey and how much we miss it; “Throughout my junior career I played in a number of teams, however no team exemplified hard work, competitiveness and a sheer drive to win more than this team did. Trainings were tough and fiercely competitive at times, but no member of this team ever allowed this to come between our relationships off the court. This competitiveness coupled with our strong friendships off the court was what allowed us to create a winning culture. It was bitter sweet playing my final game with this group of guys in 2015, and I will forever look back on my journey at Sturt with fond memories.”
One by product of this team's journey was the holistic development all the athletes feel they benefited from each other and us coaches in their journey that year . All of them mentioning that they think about this team and each other regularly and also how they feel that their journey together helped them all aspects of life later on. Xavier Owen-Thomas, who is currently studying Law and Science and University of Adelaide, stating; “Sturt not only looked to develop basketball skills, but also generally as young men”
So what are some of the things that year that made this team win and develop so much?
Below is a guide to it, packed with ideas and concepts that others can apply to their teams:
Team Building and Planning
Strength and conditioning
Early morning workouts
Belief built through goals and vision, and recruitment
Growth and development on the court; The results and The 3 Losses! (Great time for learning)
The lead up
✔️ Multi-sport athletes
✔️ Had had lots of adversity and failure as a team and indvidiuals developing resilience and a strong desire to overcome those past results
✔️ Well coached each year through juniors
✔️ A number of them playing together from u12s and developing a love for the game in that age group
✔️ Continuity and consistency each year
✔️ Great parent and supporters group
✔️ Players willing to make sacraficies to play and train with great team mates
✔️ A coach that had a huge amount of belief in their talents, and that belief was earned
The core group of players had been together since U12s. Quite a few of them had been multisport athletes and interestingly most of them had even joined a football club together for a couple of seasons when younger. With our Team Manager, Donald Rodman, who was a big factor in how well organised and supported this team had been since juniors coaching that football team.
Under Nathan Vaughan they had actually won the U12 Melbourne Classics with the core but through 14s and 16s had struggled at the big, national club tournaments. Jacob Rigoni, currently a division 1 student athlete at Quinnipiac University, stating of that U12 season; “I joined this group as a first year u12 player when the majority of us were in div 2. I was very excited to be in div2 with these boys as I wasn't in their team as an u10 and admired how good they were. The following year Nathan Vaughan coached us where we only lost 1 game that year and experienced one of my most memorable moments at Sturt winning the National Junior Classics.”
Nathan Vaughan agreeing that this U12 year was the year that a love for the game really began to form as well as the work ethic that would be sustained throughout:
"The dedication and commitment shown by the boys was elite especially for an under 12 group! The extra work that all the group wanted to put in without being pressured or forced to was amazing and it shows where all the boys are today in the lives and sporting careers!
That year really grew the love for the game for the boys and really taught them work ethic and how to be great team mates."
PICTURED: 5 players from this U18 team had played together in the U12 age group, winning the Melbourne Classics. Playing under Nathan Vaughan and Ben Gliddon, this would have had a massive impact on planting their love for the game and deciding to dedicate themselves to the sport.
They had been extremely well coached through each age group as all athletes tend to be at Sturt. Quite a few of them had been in state programs and obviously had developed a relatively high level of basketball IQ that is often developed within those programs.
The Director of Coaching at the time had been there for more than 15 years, Paul Mesecke, is renowned within South Australia for his player and coach development capabilities. Also that year Paul was coaching the division 2 team in that age group so was at almost all our trainings providing oversight. He didn't have massive input into our trainings but when he did it, it was massive value. His input involved much needed tweaks to our x's and o's or providing insights to help us prepare to play a certain team or player based on our scout. Having the Director of Coaching involved in the group was really valuable. It helped ensure our teaching was consistent and had continuity with the other years they had played.
The parent and family group was amongst some of the best I've worked with. We had 10 players and not once was there a mention of questions over court time. Most of the parent and family members are driven, and very hardworking themselves obviously setting the example for their sons. They have all been around sport for a long time as parents but most had also played sport at reasonable levels. They also never questioned any of our x's and o's or decisions as a coaching group. To the contrary they were constantly supporting us, singing our praises as a coaching group to their sons and team mates. This made it a very enjoyable environment to coach in because players were encouraged by their parents to listen and learn from the coaching group, and they did just that.
That year we managed to snare Todd Gower as one of the Assistant Coaches. Todd provided phenomenal, accurate, no-nonsense support and insights. Known for a tough defensive mindset during his time as a player, which took him to a national Division 2 NCAA Championships with Metro State College of Denver. He certainly had a no-nonsense, defensive focus for this team. I still remember at a team get together we had him bring his NCAA National Championship rings to the dinner and the boys loved checking them out and seeing their minds tick over with whether they could win one themselves.
Paul Rigoni, a former State League player, long time high level coach in the district competition had worked with the boys all the way through too and this consistency was something extremely valuable. Not to mention Paul is one of the best people at identifying opposition weaknesses and how to defend them that I’ve seen. Paul makes the following observations on what he’d seen right through their journey; “The group competed hard whenever they played whether training or playing. They didn’t like losing but learnt a lot by their losses over the years. Off the court they respected each other’s game & knew how to have fun. The group had been together for a long period of time, the majority since u10/12s. It’s easy to forget how great a manager we had Donald Rodman to keep everyone organised and a very supportive parent group."
Nik Desantis who came over from another club that year was a great pickup. He, like most of them, had to at times make sacrafices. We tended to have an equal court time policy as much as possible and so Nik who had played virtually all the time previously saw a reduction in minutes. Probably all of them sacraficing minutes to play on this team and together;
"The biggest challenge I faced during this year was adapting to coming off the bench as well as learning to play with a new group of guys. While I was at West Adelaide, I was the starting guard for a number of years, however I knew moving to Sturt, with the group being tight nit as it was, it was going to be hard for me to break into the starting 5. After a few games in, I got used to the role and think I contributed very well to the group throughout all competitions during the rest of the year. My mindset was just to impact the game as much as I could when I was on the court. Learning to play with a new group of guys was challenging too, however I had played with most of the guys during our time representing South Australia at the National Championships."
Personally, I had what some saw as a ridiculously high amount of belief in their potential and abilities. Many actually thinking I was crazy with my extreme belief in them, but they earned it. Their collective work ethic and love for the game collectively was like nothing I've seen before. When I started talking about them being future division 1 collegiate prospects, and the level of schools recruiting them, some reactions ranged from disbelief to even anger. Gradually, as the years went on there were experts in the field, and we are talking top coaches in the country, with knowledge on NCAA college ball, that saw what I did in these players though so that was reassuring to know I'd gotten it right, despite the local doubters. Talking to the guys since, I think at times they worked so hard in part because they did not want to let the belief I had in them down. Maybe that kind of belief in your players, when they earn it, even if there are doubters, is something for coaches to think about.
✔️ Extremely competitive practices
✔️ Player driven intensity and competitiveness at practice
✔️ Teaching concepts through small group games
✔️ Letting the players play at practice
“Playing in that team has a lot to do with why I’m here today. The team was full of talented players you had no choice but to give it your all every practice, which made game days easy for us” – Lat Mayen (currently on Division 1 student athlete scholarship with Texas Christian University in the Big 12).
In all my years in the sport I’ve never seen practices anything like these guys had. The stories around our practices are going to become legendary at Sturt. College coaches recruiting our guys constantly ask how did this team get so good (to have 5 division 1 commits). Our view is it was the practices.
I’d love to say they were filled with everyone getting on all the time and no one ever getting hurt but I’d be lying if I said that. They were brutal. Some practices were even shutdown early for player safety, at times a non-foul call would result in some verbal barrages and even a couple of times guys stormed out. Alex Mudronja describes the practices really well;
“One of my favourite memories of being on this team was just the practices themselves. The competitiveness was unreal. I remember coming home from practice and having family members ask me if I had got into a fight on the way home. But I was just covered in scratches and bruises (and occasionally a bruised ego) from a Wednesday night practice - probably subject to diving on a loose ball and fighting (verbally and physically at times) with Gussy Rodman and co. This proved to be one of the challenges from the year, but also my most valued aspect of being on this team. Throughout my basketball career since, I can’t say that I have been a part of something so competitive. The funny thing is; it was just u18 club basketball, but the level of care in winning every drill and every situation at practice from everyone in the group was unbelievable.”
Someone once said high level youth sport mirrors life in terms of setting goals, overcoming adversity, competing and hard work. The values the boys developed in this environment flow into all aspects of life. Lewis Young, who was drafted at pick 49 to Western Bulldogs in the 2016 Australian Football League (AFL is Australia’s number 1 sporting league in Australia), said this about it;
“I developed a lot as a player and person throughout my years at Sturt. I had become a good basketball player for a few years before moving to football. The trainings and being around such a competitive, hard working group of men helped me develop my ability to compete in other aspects of life and eventually as a professional AFL player.”
Interestingly though in the final 6 months of the year this seemed to really settle. The boys continued to talk and I mean talk A LOT but it was almost like they had built a resilience to it. Talking smack when you were beating on a team mate was no longer something that carried the same kind personal offense as it did early in the season. Maybe through this culture the boys had built they built resilience to each other in the process. The smack and the physicality went on but it went from being angry to fun.
Early in the year our drills revolved heavily around station work for the first couple of months. We had a great team of coaches within the team and also at Division 2 level. The stations enabled players to work in small, focussed groups whilst each coach specialised in certain aspects of our gameplan. We aimed to outline our points of emphasis, verbal cues and teaching points in this phase.
Rapidly the drills moved into small group games to teach concepts. Everything was based around competing and playing. We encouraged players to see the games in reads and counters, not playing like robots. We did very little work on basic fundamentals or skills and everything we taught was through game play. We would set small rules in drills, throw in different scoring regimes, add restrictions to teach the concepts we were trying to teach. Throughout we would encourage risk taking and making sure players backed themselves to make mistakes. What they had been told by some other coaches was a bad shot or risky decision they were now been told now was the right decision. Players embraced it and their confidence grew. They were trying things at practice to see what they could do and learning from their mistakes.
As the year went on we went to more 5 on 5 drills. I was extremely on edge in regards to our defense and kept stopping games constantly. At one point in the main season (after our Classics and Centrals loss mentioned further down) one of my Assistants challenged me on constantly stopping games and going off at them for not taking enough risks and being aggressive enough defensively. He was right. The boys needed to just play and were getting frustrated with me stopping them with a rant on their defense. I made a deal with them that we would not keep stopping practices but we needed them demanding more from each other during the games at practice. They embraced it (I think mostly because they were getting so sick of me stopping them) and the intensity seemed to lift even another notch when they had this kind of ownership themselves. The other thing was they were even more self sufficient embracing ownership and leadership over how we wanted to play defensively. This is something we need to be mindful of coaches. Avoid stopping games. Always find ways to keep them flowing.
Nik Destantis, who joined the boys that year, from another club noticing the difference through the year in this team in terms of practices and general culture of the program, but also acknowledging how he developed through the practices; "I developed alot during this period of time. From the get go I noticed a significant difference in the intensity of trainings, preparation before games, scouting and overall team morale. This combined with the extra work that myself and many others on the team did allowed us to become a dominant team in South Australia. We knew that with the group we had assembled, we were almost unbeatable, even on our worst days. Going into games my confidence was high because I knew the work we had done would come to forwishen. I would try my best to pick someone up if they felt like they had a bad game. By the end of the season I felt like this period of time developed both my social and communication skills, in addition to being alot more confident both offensively and defensively in regards to playing basketball."
These young men drove our excellence at trainings. They owned that. And trainings were the greatest source of our improvement through that year.
✔️ Trust those involved to work through complex conflict situations
✔️ Have a plan to work through the conflict and provide the right environment to do so
✔️ Ensure that conflict resolution has the team coming out stronger on the other side and ensure everyone involved wants this goal.
“The fact that we all wanted to win every single time we played. Even during training drills there was always a few moments when you had to pull guys off each other because we were so competitive” – Lewis Young
As Angus says above this team was like an "overcompetitive family". Of course when growing up families do fight. In sporting families there will at times be rivalry, jealousy and competitiveness but if handled in the right way it brings strength and appreciation for how we ultimately make each other better people. We learn to truly care for each other and when you move out of home you want to see your sibling do incredibly well. You have pride in their success because you know that your years together helped contribute to who they are today. You know that because of that in your various fields of endeavours, your personal journeys you will always still have each other’s back, a person to have share your deepest fears and challenges with, a safe place to share your successes with where that other person will now feel genuine pride and happiness in your personal success. Forged in competitiveness, rivalry and alpha male drive to better each other coming out the other end as brothers wanting to genuinely see each team member succeed.
“I learned how to become a functional member of a successful team, which essentially allowed me to become a WINNER. I learned to value others’ successes over my own.” – Isaac White
Two of our guys, who I guess would have been considered by outsiders to be in our best players, really did fight a few times. I think it is important to understahd that because we were all in such an internally competitive environment the team does need to have internal procedures for managing conflict that inevi. This conflict carried through the team and really did cause friction between the players, also the coaching staff and club’s Coaching Director as everyone had differing views on how to deal with it.
I will try to explain how our conflict was managed:
1. Parents stepped back and trusted the coaches and players to deal with it. I remember in a conversation with one parent after his son had taken a day off school with an injury incurred during a rough incident practice telling me “Andrew, I am going to trust you to deal with this but you need to deal with it and I am going to be watching very closely”. I greatly appreciated this approach by the parent, knowing that if parents had gotten involved things would have escalated even further.
2. The outstanding character of all the players. Both players did have valid and real issues with each other. However, both also had immense respect and valued each other and how important they were to each other’s development. Despite some very challenging conflict both were mature and genuinely wanted to listen to ideas to resolve it and work on it. It did take work but they genuinely wanted to solve it and were happy to take on advice and support to do so.
4. Like many conflicts I felt there was no right or wrong and both had probably slightly wronged the other at some point (just like what happens in any family dispute). It would simply be too complicated for anyone else to get directly involved in all the detail and I felt that the boys, both extremely intelligent and mature would be able to solve it. We told them to go for a walk and talk it over but call on us if it got out of hand.
On the walk we gave them a working sheet with these questions.
They completed this worksheet.
We didn't want to be too focussed on whose fault the conflict was. In actual fact it was none of their faults. It was mostly about acknowledging what had caused the issues from each side to prevent from happening again. Then focusing on a path forward.
It was not bad conflict in my opinion. It was actually quite healthy.
In my experience with conflict of this nature, if handled and managed well by all parties, it actually strengthens the team. It keeps each other accountable and let’s each other know that if you step out of line there will be a level of accountability from your team mates. That I feel was the cause of the conflict. Both kids were not perfect and they were holding each other to account for their areas they needed to improve in. Of course with the nature of the sporting team environment this can cause conflict. Despite the doubters that year who had said they would not ever be friends both went onto be very close. Their experiences they share in the sport are something very few can relate to and so they continue to talk and at times and mentor each other to this day.
At the end of this process. I feel that this conflict really helped galvanise and build relationships as the year went on. Relationships that at times were looking threatened in their final year together because of this hyper-competitive environment. I greatly valued that their team mates (not one of the 2 in the conflict) sent me this in part of his message at the end of the year;
“You have transformed our team into a beast and managed to somehow to help mend our relationships from the start of the year back to how they were in the past. Your ability to help us do this has allowed us to finish our junior careers on an extreme high with the mates we love and will continue to cherish each other for our whole lives”.
The players had high IQs in the game, they drove excellence from each other, every bit of success that year and beyond is theirs, for this situation I was personally proud how I had helped resolve this conflict with these great men. Relationships you build in the journey are more important than the oncourt success. I hope that others consider these ideas and processes when resolving "good" conflict amongst their team.
Team building and planning
✔️ Have a common goal and vision
✔️ Each team member contributes to that goal and vision and feels ownership of it
✔️ Not just words on paper we aimed to wholly commit to our vision and values
We put together a comprehensive challenging team building and planning process that you could apply to the corporate world. These men embraced it with maturity and took ownership of it.
“During this particular year we faced challenges to continue to develop as a team. We relied heavily on each other to be better, because as the year went on we got better and better and had no competition in other teams in the state.
Looking back a challenge I personally faced was staying motivated as this was the year where I decided not to pursue college. However, this was easily overcome as I had an obligation to my teammates and coaches to stay motivated and committed to our team goals” – Xavier Owen-Thomas
Our team building and planning process went something like this through the year:
1. We started by focussing on the individual. Each individual had to explain what they added to the team and what it meant to them to be in this team and this was done in writing.
2. They also sent through their personal and basketball goals. There were broken into 1 year, 3 year, 5 year and dream goal sections.
3. We used this information to get to know each and every individual player's wants and needs so we could coach to their individual needs and desires. We wanted to know their non-basketball goals too as we valued each player holistically and wanted to try and connect with those goals too.
4. We then worked through each player's goals with them individually coming to agreement with them on their strengths we needed to capitalise on and areas to develop to capitalise on their strengths. We don't focus on weaknesses, we focus on strengths.
5. Later on we asked each player to submit what they liked about this, or any other team they had been in. Also what they did not like.
6. We broke down each individual's suggestions into collated groupings. We then came together for a day of team building. We broke into groups. We asked each group to come up with values that would enhance the things they liked and mitigated the things they did not. Then we voted as a group on each suggestion. This would help formulate our team values, mission and vision. Each and every team member should be proud that despite the lofty statements in the vision that they did achieve that and it tends to permeate even years later amongst the members of this team.
7. We did similar with the KPIs with groups coming back with suggested KPI's.
8. At the end of this process we had a player sit in front of the playing group. Each player had to discuss how much value the person in front bought to the team and why. Again we took a strength based approach, focusing on their strengths we needed them to be extremely good at and focused on.
I had spoken about my planning for this day with Paul Mesecke who knew this team really well. He suggested I look into Gung Ho! Philosophy and study up on the Goose, the Beaver and the Squirrel. I won't go into huge detail how we incorporated Gung Ho! to the day but you can read about the concept of Gung Ho! here.
9. With quite a few of the athletes that were climbing the pathways and/or managing significant time demands Mesecke and I would review their goals with them and their parents. At these sessions we would really ask them to review their plans and goals. We would do a current situation analysis. Analyse how they were progresing towards their goal. This included their college recruiting activities. We would then break down their weekly schedule with them. In a few cases, once this schedule was agreed we distributed to other coaches such as the Premier League coach and school coaches so they could support the athletes weekly schedule.
Isaac White and Paul Rigoni had this to say about our team building and playing approach that year:
"They all had different strengths and had developed an understanding of their roles within the team over the year." - Paul Rigoni
“We shared a common interest and shared a vision. We were selfless and bought in to each other, and our team vision. We wanted to win. Knowing this would be our last year together, we wanted to win, we wanted to win big and we wanted to win now.” – Isaac White
Strength and conditioning
✔️ Provide access to a top strength and conditioning coach
✔️ Strength and conditioning is great for team building too
✔️ When it works well players at this age will love competing with each other on this too
PICTURED: Isaac White, Jacob Rigoni, Angus Rodman, Alex Mudronja from the team joined by Seb Vozzo for a steep hill climb. The strength and conditioning was not driven by the coaches at all. Taylor and the boys would organise it all. It had a very signficiant social component to it too which made it more fun for them and a big contribution to building this team's friendships too
One of the other things that were a massive point of difference for this team that year was their commitment to strength and conditioning. As they were all so competitive with each other their gains, the weights they were lifting, their speed was something that was constantly a point of conversation amongst the group.
One of our Div 2 coaches, Taylor Renshaw, was actually also a Personal Trainer specialising in athlete development. He did an outstanding job in providing his gym to team members and motivating and supporting their endeavours. Massive changes were made through the year to their bodies, strength, athleticsm and conditioning. Most of the team worked out with Taylor at some stage that year and the ones that did not were doing their own additional strength and conditioning too to keep up.
"Their work ethic was one of a professional level team. The drive, shared vision and passion for success was noticeable from watching the group for only a few short minutes. Behind the scenes, having players hitting the gym at 5:30am on cold winter Monday mornings was a testament to their work ethic and desire to improve.
My biggest focus for this group was helping the boys understand that it’s not in the gym or on court, but away from the game where building positive habits has the biggest impact on their success.
Professional athletes don’t wake up one day and their signing the dotted line. It’s doesn’t work like that. Being a professional takes years of building positive habits day after day. Sacrificing things like free time, partying and gaming. Giving up a short term want for a long term goal. Looking at the long term success of the members of this group, I feel it only adds to the argument of just how lucky we all were to be surrounded by the level of professionalism and success shared within the group." - Taylor Renshaw
Pictured: Nik Desantis, Alex Mudronja and Isaac White joined by others (top). Down the bottom Angus Rodman and Alex Mudronja working out.
Nik Desantis adding how these extra workouts contributed to the relationships off the floor;
"I think the mixture of different personalities integrated with everyone having the same goal really made this team successful. All the boys got along together very well, we would having a-lot of fun at trainings and games but would work hard at the same time. Outside of our scheduled practices, most of the guys would hang out quite a bit. A few relationships that grew over this time were with Isaac, Alex and Angus. We would work out at Mercedes college most Saturdays, as well as lift with fellow Sturt coach Taylor Renshaw at his home gym."
Early morning workouts
✔️ Additional small group focussed skill and fundamental development in addition to team trainings is vital
✔️ Must be done with likeminded, hard working, driven athletes together
✔️ Must be game related and focussed on teaching tactical decision making
Early morning workouts were something most of the athletes in this team also chose to get involved with. Paul Mesecke would lead workouts on Tuesdays and I was fortunate to be invited to help. A bunch of Sturt players, including members of our U18 team that year would attend. Alex Mudronja would attend those workouts and also attend workouts on Thursdays with me, and at times these were also attended by Nik Desantis and/or Isaac White too. Guys like Isaac, Tyson, Angus and Jacob were big into the early morning workouts with their own coaches at school and/or in their own time.
Again this was great for team building but also provided the opportunity to really focus on specific skills and fundamentals development you could not get a team practice. Mesecke's small group sessions were small group game based, and really good at developing complex team decision making out of pick and roll, hand offs, post actions etc. He was very good at developing all 5 players to work in unison during these types of actions.
This, along with all our intensity and competitiveness at team practices, and strength conditioning sessions, really provided these young men with big edge in order to develop at a much faster rate than their peers in other teams. And they embraced every opportunity to do this extra work.
PICTURED: Photo taken by Coach Janx before early morning workout at 6.30 AM with Alex Mudronja that season.
Belief built through goals and vision, and recruitment
✔️Absolute belief in your athletes will significantly contribute to them believing in themselves
✔️A team that supports each other's individual dreams and aspirations
✔️Take control of pathways for players, no matter the politics or decisions of coaches in Australian pathways (State Coaches, NITP, National Coaches)
✔️Through the recruiting process try to ensure that if one player is being recruited with a visit that the opportunities are shared for the team
Going into this season I had some inclination that this could be a special group. I felt a few of them were being unfairly overlooked for state teams, NITP and national teams. Both Mesecke and I felt that in some ways club politics was creeping into junior sport, an ever present problem in South Australian basketball. When some players and parents really began questioning these situations we decided to explore an alternate pathway to fall back on. Despite the setbacks with selections into other programs we wanted to give them something to believe in, something to strive for, even in the event they were continued be overlooked. Most were beginning to think about the college pathways and had goals to get a division 1 NCAA scholarship, like most district division 1 baskeballers. I made a commitment to a few of them that if they continued to invested their time, efforts and energies into their development and being great team mates I would do EVERYTHING in my power to ensure they achieved their college dreams. Initially the platform of www.highperformancehoopsnetwork.com is about delivering on that promise and rewarding their commitment.
As the year went on the self-belief in this group was just rising and rising and Mesecke and I felt this is largely because they were so excited about this alternate pathway to the more traditional pathways in Australia. The first division 1 college coach visit had been in part way through the year to recruit these athletes and then a steady stream was starting to come into Adelaide. Heavily involved with high level district basketball and state teams for over a decade I could only remember one time a division 1 college coaching coming to Adelaide to recruit to that point - ever. That year and since I think there have been almost 20!! It was really nuts. This is the first time anything like this was happening in Adelaide. Some of the coaches we had coming here that had been to Australia quite a few times to recruit, but never bothered to visit Adelaide.
Players and families were also being recruited and schools even as big as Louisville, SMU, Albany, Oregon, Utah, San Diego, LSU, Yale, Loyola Marymount, Boise State, St Mary's, Stanford, Davidson, TCU, Creighton, Texas, Villanova, Oregon State, Hawaii, UCLA, Princeton, Butler, Ohio State etc etc the big names were contacting us about these athletes, contacting the athletes, their families and in some cases coming out to see us.
"Looking back a challenge I personally faced was staying motivated as this was the year where I decided not to pursue higher level basketball pathways after this year. However, this was easily overcome as I had an obligation to my teammates and coaches to stay motivated and committed to our team and their personal goals." - Xavier Owen Thomas
Whilst this did not impact each player in the team, because a few did not have college as a goal, and it was something we rarely spoke about as a group, everyone was aware of it. It was something that helped everyone because even those without college as the goal realised they were part of something special. It was extremely validating for the team and despite been overlooked by national programs and NITP/NPP pathways at the time this was something quite a few of them was getting extremely excited about. Interestingly beyond that year we were also excited when they did eventually begin to be selected for Australian Develoment Camps, National selection camps, and the like.
Growth and development on the court; The results and The 3 Losses! (Great time for learning)
✔️Playing style that did not restrict players. Teaching concepts, reads and counters helped teach players to make their own decisions thus growing and developing.
✔️ High risk, high reward style of game focussed on long term player development rather than winning in the short term.
✔️ Coach takes blame for losses where the team is delivering on their values
✔️ Losses can be your best opportunity for growth and development if managed well
✔️ Learn to deal with and embrace adversity
VIDEO: A highlight video we put together of our team winning the largest tournament in the Southern Hemisphere. The Dandenon/Eltham Tournament. This was put together to help show some of our values on the court.
Our playing and training style was really focussed on developing them to play at higher levels. We really did not try to play a style to win now, it was about what style would help prepare them best to develop and improve and ultimately achieve their goals. They were used to been berated, from within some environments, for doing things they were not allowed to do and suddenly they were getting in trouble for not taking enough shots, not backing themselves in, not defending aggressively or taking risks in defense. All their environments were valuable for their development and there is nothing wrong with those past controlling environments from that point of view but suddenly they had an environment where the shackles had been lifted and there was a very high belief in their abilities and because of their past experiences they relished this situation. I previously wrote a blog that really sums up our playing style and messaging this season; What is Janx' Ball?
I won’t say everything worked each and every time; Our pro risk style, and developing an aggressive mindset defensively, cost us in our biggest tournament for the year. At the worse time it probably helped caused our defeat at the hand of the Dandenong Rangers in the Melbourne Classics, a tournament the team was determined to win. Isaac White echoing this sentiment:
“Classics was my biggest disappointment. As the year went on we couldn’t find much competition within SA and so not being able to prove ourselves on the national scale because of a few minutes of bad basketball was disappointing.”
PICTURED: Winning the state championships that year in a canter. Quite a few members of this team would win state championships in South Australia in each age group from U12s - U18s. A rare achievement in itself.
Through our playing and training style it also helped push up player's self confidence and belief;
“We developed this expectation to win, it wasn't cockiness but it was that losing was unacceptable and if push came to shove we would generally always find a way to make it happen and the faith we had in each other that it would happen was incredible.” – Angus Rodman
“Even to this day I find myself thinking about this core group/team. I can honestly say this was the only group I’ve been a part of that I would feel comfortable coming back from a significant deficit with.” – Isaac White
There were 3 losses for the 12 months. Yes! This team went 50-3 for the year. The year started in October 2014 and we lost a game in around November, with a bunch of guys out who were heading to the US for a tour the next day sitting out. All good that was summer season (called the silly season often because it is largely about getting ready for the main season and tournaments). Other than that the only other losses we had was the game in the Melbourne Classics and 1 the week after the Classics. Interestingly, looking back this Classics period and just after it helped trigger the biggest growth period for these men. It is interesting that their biggest disappointments led to their their biggest growth, most of them in their answers stated this Classics loss was their biggest disappointment for the year.
“From memory, we had very few losses. We had won the Dandenong/Eltham Tournament in January against the best club teams in the country. We had only had 1 single summer season loss. It is fair to say we felt unbeatable. But this was before unfortunately losing to Dandenong again at the National Classics, where we significantly underachieved.” – Tyson Brazel
In the conversations with many of them today and even in our conversations for this article I feel that colectively, as a team we learned that when you go through adversity it is a great time for significant growth and development. It just seems to always work out that way and I feel we ALL had that idea reinforced this year. For the young men today this is very useful as they navigate through their own Collegiate playing, academic and pro careers.
Regarding the Clasics loss; where does blame lie for this loss? The buck stops with The Rock (AKA the head coach) - me. We broke down the game into 30 second segments as a coaching group and every poor outcome oncourt had extended to a coaching decision made in the game. We also had the challenge that one of our guys Jacob Rigoni had just come back from a bad ankle injury that weekend and we were still managing him back. Jacob was a very big out. Lat Mayen also had injured his knee and was struggling in the Dandenong game with that knee injury. Also after the tournament Isaac White sent me a text letting me know his ankle had been injured early in the game we lost. To prove it he sent a pic and his ankles were blown up. I still cannot believe to this day how he played with his ankles like that. It says alot about his toughness. Breaking down the loss, there were a lot of coaching errors, poor rotations and changes to tempo that caused the loss. Our playing style also to blame. It did encourage guys to make plays and to back themselves a lot. I feel that this really developed the kids but at the time, when we needed to move the ball more, play safe defense to win that this style was our downfall in that game.
After the 2 losses it was the players that solidified as a group. They took the lead and decided they would get back on track and even closer together. Jacob Rigoni took the lead sending this message out to the group after the Centrals loss the week after the Classics;
"I know that it is important to all of us to go out on a high and enjoy the remainder of our season together. It’s time to put the disappointments of the last few weeks behind us and use it to motivate and bring us together and to improve as a team and individuals and finish our junior careers on a strong note and set high standards for all of the Sturt juniors to follow. We can do this by continuing to buy-in to each other and the values we have set and followed all year, by pushing each other at training to all be better and remain focused and locked in to our team oriented basketball for 4 quarters each game. We have shown that we are one of the best teams in the country and finishing our season off undefeated from now will prove this again. Whenever we’ve faced adversity and a setback, we have always bounced back and lifted each other up and i have no doubts that we will do the same once again and finish where we deserve to be." - Jacob Rigoni, 20 June 2015.
For the lads it was a great period of growth during that final 5-6 months. With the coaches unleashing more control to the athletes they embraced it and just began to really thrive. Interestingly training intensity ramped up even more the less control we took as coaches. I really feel like this back half of the year June - October was their greatest jump in improvement for the year.
State was over, which although an important part of their development, was probably a distraction to what our team was trying to do and how I wanted to develop these guys. With that over we were now more focussed on our team. The internal conflict, the hyper competitive practices, our belief in the team, our playing style, the 2 losses etc all finally bought it together. Relationships were stronger than ever, players were driving this team in every way more than ever.
The most telling 2 games of our progress were against Centrals. A super talented, extremely well coached team in their own right. Infact they had finished a place or 2 higher than us as at the Classics that year, 5 months earlier. I had actually been fortunate enough to coach those Centrals boys in U16s and they were quite heavy with bottomagers. I think they had some success the year after this one once they were topaged u18s. Our final 2 games against Centrals, the 2nd best team in the state was very telling of our growth through the year. I've not seen anything like this. 2 talented teams going at it. The number 1 ranked team vs the number 2 ranked team in the state. We would win by 38 pts in the final game of winter season against them and by 40 pts in the final four game (Semi Finals). It was just a huge gap that had opened up and it had all come together.
If we had played the Classics again, with everyone healthy, and with all our lessons from the year we would have won easily. We were that good now.
At the end this journey our guys were NOW ready. Ready to leave the "family", ready to leave the metaphorical nest and begin to take on the world. That they did just that and are doing it now. As I write this and think about that year I am filled with emotion. Could not be more proud of who they are today on and off the floor, the relationships we all share, and how much this year impacted all of our life journeys.
I hope there are some concepts and ideas to reflect on and possibly apply to your own teams in all of this.
PICTURED: WInter season Premiers. The last premiership for these boys together.
There is no doubt that in these times the word GOAT (AKA Greatest of All Time) is overused in sport. Almost always when it used it is debatable. But the term almost always generates great conversation, arguments and debates. Here are the reasons why this team was the GOAT team:
50 - 3 win loss record for the year.
Based on the phenomenal rate of improvement of these young men throughout the year if they had played in the Melbourne Classics at the end of the year, without injury, they would have won easily.
5 Australian reps, 1 AFL draft pick
5 division 1 college commits, including 2 to high major programs
Team members would go on to have significant, historic success at the U20 state level, along with their other team mates and coaches.
Won Summer, Winter seasons. Won the SA State Championships. Won the Dandenong/Eltham tournament.
Had been state champions in every age group
But the most important thing was the journey. The growth and development of each and every guy. You read the story and statements of their journey together consider teams you've been involved with and decide for yourself.
The story is still not completed. This is just a few chapters. I for one cannot wait to see what they do next in their professional sport careers and professional careers outside of sport. Each and every team member a part of the journey, experience and growth that year. I love seeing and hearing of the impact many of them have on others following their careers, be it those following at Sturt and South Australian basketball.
These guys have paved the way for many others to follow and impacted our sport in this state forever.
Yes the arguments for this team being the GOAT youth boy's team to that point is extremely strong.
Who has next got next? Which team will emerge to contest the mantle? Time will tell.
End of the day no result, no "silly GOAT" status matters as much as what this team shared that year, the years leading up and beyond. What they learned and how they grew, helping each other:
Being a great teammate
How to win
I learned much more from the players and coaches" - Lat Mayen
-How to win
-courage" - Lewis Young
3. Work Ethic
5. Friendship" - Tyson Brazel
work ethic and
goal setting - achieving goals." - Angus Rodman
"1. I love basketball
2. Loving your teammates pays dividends.
3. This team shaped my career
4. Effort and energy suffices for talent.
5. It’s not over until the final siren blows." - Isaac White
" 1) Commitment
5) Communication " Nik Desantis
fighting through adversity
passion" - Jacob Rigoni
This pic sums it all up in the final game they would play together:
PICTURED: The boys in their final premiership game. It would be an easy 20+ pt win in the end but a fitting one to close off the amazing year (And years) they all had together.
VIDEO: Who is the GOAT? What is the GOAT? Why have a GOAT? An endless debate.