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:

  • The Leadup

  • The Practices

  • Conflict Management

  • 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

Key points:

✔️ 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.

The practices

Key points:

✔️ Extremely competitive practices