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The 2019 Sturt Sabre's historic United States exposure tour; About the athletes, their successfu

PICTURED: Sturt's U18 Div 1 men winning yet another State Championship. 8 athletes from this Sturt team pictured will be on Sturt's Exposure Tour to the United States this July.

This article is about a tour that the club I'm currently involved with (Sturt Sabres) has undertaken for its athletes. This kind of tour, that is going to be on the AAU circuit, to maximise exposure and opportunities for athletes, is quite historic for Sturt and Basketball in South Australia. Packed with players from one of the top club boys teams of all time out of South Australia, this team will showcase the Sturt style of game, which happens to be closely inline with the Basketball Australia (Australian Boomers) style of play.

This is a great read for US College coaches at all levels wanting to learn more about this tour, Sturt Sabres, the college prospects on this tour, our style of play and team culture that is developing athletes that are being very sought after in the US College system.

It is also a great read for young athletes and their families thinking about various pathways in Australia and beyond, there are some great examples of role models on this tour for younger kids coming through to aspire to follow.

About this tour

This July Sturt Sabres Basketball, the club renowned as the top club for player development in the country, will historically send a team of athletes across to the July AAU events in the United States.

VIDEO: Advertisement for a documentary developed on AAU basketball. This team competing in the AAU capitals of America this Summer. Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

The tour was arranged for Sturt Sabres basketball club by Brett Maher's (part article by Brett 👉 By Brett Maher | The Olympics! By a triple Olympian) World Sports Tours and is called the Sturt Exposure Tour.

The Sturt Sabres is the leader in South Australian boy’s basketball over many decades. Sturt, a not for profit club, setup the tour to support our athletes in their pathways and development. It was initially the brainchild of Scott Butler and Brett Maher. Scott, who has had involvement in many successful state programs, division 1 NCAA athletes, even assisting our national women’s team at the Olympic games at one stage, recently elected to accept a role with the state's peak sporting body, Basketball SA, which meant he had to withdraw from the tour. Brett Maher is a great of Australian basketball. The triple Olympian and longtime oncourt leader of the Adelaide 36ers (the cities' NBL pro team) now helps organise sporting tours overseas. As a former Sturt player and Premier league coach the synergies to select Brett to organise this Sturt tour was just perfect.

I'll be coaching the team along with Tim Shortt.

Tim has been a long time coach at Sturt, also working in a professional administrative role with the club for quite a few years, and is currently doing an outstanding job as Assistant Coach in the club's Premier League side.

The team will take part in these tournaments on the tour:

9-10 July International World Championship (held at ASC in LA)

11-14 July West Coast Elite Summer Classic (held at ASC in LA) *

17-21 July Las Vegas Live (run by Bigfoot tournaments)

VIDEO: Big Foot Hoops Las Vegas Classic in 2018. Chris Paul, Carmello Anthony, Russell Westbrook at the Bigfoothoops Las Vegas Live Tournament in 2018.

About Sturt's recent athlete successes

In the past 2-3 years Sturt have had quite a few male and female athletes playing Division 1 College Basketball, on the boy's side this includes; Isaac White (Stanford), Lat Mayen (TCU), Jacob Rigoni (Quinnipiac), Jordan Heading (California Baptist), Alex Mudronja (St Marys), Ben Carter (Montana), with the bulk of them playing together on this Sturt Sabres U18 boys team in 2016 (👉 The GOATs of 2015: The greatest club youth basketball team of all time? Inspiring challenges, lessons and insights for all youth teams to learn and develop from).

Most of these Sturt athletes had taken part in various opportunities for live exposure opportunities external to Sturt as well as working with assisting them.

PICTURED: In past years more Sturt athletes have taken part in the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence Elite Prospects Combine than any club in South Australia. Here we see Alex Mudronja and Jacob Rigoni in team gold in this event in 2016. Part article here 👉 Basketball Australia's College Prospects Combine

PICTURED: Alex Mudronja competed with Team Livon against some of the best prospects in America in July 2018. Past article here: 👉 By Alex Mudronja Q&A at Adidas Nations

With all the success of athletes from Sturt joining college basketball programs, talent burgeoning in the club, Sturt decided to organise their own teams to head over for these events to support our athletes. Because Sturt is not for profit the costings are cheaper than commercial operators and these kids can play with their team mates they have played and won with since 11 years of age.

The guys in the team on this Exposure Tour grew up watching the above athletes and their highly successful teams play. They often workout with the Sturt division 1 college athletes when these guys are in town in the college offseason too, Joel Dyer (5'9'' Combo Guard, Class of 2020) stating of what it means to have Sturt players before him follow this pathway;

"I hope to follow their footsteps by joining them as being an Australian basketball player, playing at the highest level of college basketball whether it is NCAA division 1 or 2. Their journeys have inspired me to believe that I can play college basketball and by shooting with guys like Isaac White and Jacob Rigoni it showed me that I do have the skills to play. Also with the amount of Australians now joining college basketball, it has opened the doors for many more Australians to play at the various levels of college basketball. "

Tyson Dyer (6'1'' Point Guard, Class of 2021) recognises the offcourt values an behaviours of his predecessors now in the college system as well as their oncourt success, "I hope to follow in the footsteps of current athletes by looking to them for guidance and learning from them. That involves not only how they played on the court but also how they acted off the court." working with athletes on this tour

It should be noted that High-Performance Hoops Network (HPHN) is entirely independent of Sturt and whilst we have at HPHN have a symbiotic relationship with Sturt we also do with a range of district clubs, organisations, and leaders in the sport.

As I've been fortunate to be a part of the basketball journey of many of the athletes on this tour be it as their club coach, state coach, mentor and advisor, workout coach etc it seems like a natural extension that High-Performance Hoops Network would support these athletes in their college basketball aspirations and beyond. Through discussions with the families and athletes, we are very proud and fortunate to announce we will be assisting 7 of the athletes coming on this tour with their college aspirations and broader goals in the sport.

The athletes that nominated themselves to be supported by are 👉 listed here on this page. All 7 of these athletes have formed a major part of one of the most successful junior club teams in the history of basketball in the state of South Australia.

Back to athletes on this tour......

The Sturt Exposure tour is history-making for a number of reasons.

  1. It is the first time the club has sent a team across for these events.

  2. This team consists of 8 athletes who have played on the most successful boy’s youth team in recent history out of South Australia.

  3. The spotlight on Sturt and South Australian basketball in recent years by US College scouts is at an all-time high. Over the past 3 years the state has had 11 male athletes commit to Division 1 College basketball programs. Sturt having 6 athletes involved at the Division 1 collegiate level last season is an all-time high for the club.

It is worthwhile exploring this team in more detail, Sebastian Grifffin (Class of 2020, 6'3'' PG) sums it up well;

"This team has been a huge part of my life and it means a lot to me because I grew up with them. I hope that from this team we continue to grow into greater basketball players and general people in life. I also hope that the connections and relationships we have built through this team last for a life time and we can always count on each other in the future. Our style of play, I believe, will be much different to the other teams in the United States as this team is a great team defensively as we have relentless persistence. Our team will also be extremely flowing on offensive because we like to share the ball around and move the defence through passing. I am unsure of the level of basketball that we are going up against but this team usually finds a way to be successful. Therefore, I believe we can be successful in the US but we may need to adapt to their playing style first."

These athletes on this Exposure Tour have mostly played together since the U14 level in 2015. That year they won the U14 National Championships. These championships consist of the top 24 teams from all over Australia representing their club. These boys winning these championships was an amazing achievement from the small city of Adelaide. A South Australian team has only won the boy’s championships 3 times. All 3 times won by Sturt (1973, 2005 and 2015).

VIDEO: Many members of the Sturt team which won the U14 National Championships will be on the Sturt Exposure Tour this July. Here is footage of Taine Mitchell hitting the 3 point shot to win the Semi-Finals (Final 4) of those championships.

In U16s I was fortunate to coach this team with the Sturt Sabres. We had former Adelaide 36er (36ers compete in the top pro league in the country, the NBL), Jason Williams, and current Stanford student-athlete, Isaac White, as brilliant Assistant Coaches that year. The team went on a 50-3 tear that year. Their most impressive tournament was the top youth club tournament in the country, the prestigious Melbourne Classics. Here the team absolutely destroyed some of the best teams in the nation. Winning every game by 30 pts or more with the exception of the Grand Final against the Melbourne Tigers which they won by 21 pts.

PICTURED: In 2017, 7 members of the Sturt Exposure Tour team would play for the Sturt U16 Div 1 boys in the top club tournament in the country. This team would put in one of the most dominant performances in this tournament of any team in history. This included winning the qualifying finals (Elite 8) against New Zealand by 31 pts and the Semi Final (Final 4) against Bulleen by 37 pts. Then going onto win the Championship game against Melbourne Tigers by 21 pts.

Keanu Rasmussen (6'2'' Combo Guard, Class of 2021) joined the team when he was 14 from another club and has developed significantly with the group, here indicating to college coaches that the talent in this team are proven winners, focussed on consistent improvement;

"The majority of the team have been playing at Sturt Sabres together since U12s. They have built a winning culture on and off the court. For me coming into the team two years ago has changed my mindset to want to become a winner. We are a close group and I am very grateful to be a part of the team.

We as a team have become a close friendship group which has helped with my confidence on and off the court. As a player I know I can trust the boys and know that they have trust in me. As a team we are able to use our skills, knowledge and trust to bring our game together to get the job done. Playing/training with such a high intensity level group has made me want to work harder on improving my own game."

Likewise, Tyson Dyer reinforces Keanu's belief that his Sturt teammates have pushed excellence amongst each other through their high levels at practice and willingness do additional skill development and strength and conditioning:

"I believe that our team has been so successful due to the fact that we have played together since Under 12s and have developed an extremely strong bond like no other. Another reason we are so successful is because we all have certain goals that we want to achieve and push one another to be better. The journey we have had together has helped with our development as we are all very close and when we aren’t training, we normally go to a free court and make one another better by continuously putting up shots and taking every opportunity possible to take on extra coaching and shooting sessions with coaches assistance."

They are currently in their final year of junior basketball U18s and have just won the South Australian State Championships in fairly typical dominant fashion through the tournament with Jason Williams as Head Coach and Ben Gliddon Assisting Jason.

Also this season, beyond Sturt, they have taken their success to the next level. 6 players from the Exposure tour team recently competed in the U18 National Championships. This team, coached by a great local coach in Jarrod Clarke (Former Sturt Coach now at South Adelaide) and Assisted by Paul Rigoni (long time Sturt Coach, State Coach) and a range of other top basketball people recently won a Silver in the Championships. These 6 athletes on the exposure tour that played in this state team are Joel Dyer, Tyson Dyer, Sebastian Griffin, Ben Griscti, Taine Mitchell, Keanu Rasmussen who were all long time Sturt athletes and part of the U14 and U16 Sturt teams mentioned above.

PICTURED: U18 National Championships Silver (Runners up) medals. Ben Griscti, Tyson Dyer, Joel Dyer, Keanu Rasmussen, Taine Mitchell, Sebastia Griffin from this picture will all be playing in the team on this tour.

In addition to these 6 men Bailey Wells (6'6'' Wing, Class of 2021) is on the tour and looking to explore college options too. Bailey is a great addition to this tour having also played in the Sturt teams mentioned above, a very good athlete, tough competitor, lengthy, that plays a role to add value to any team he is in. Bailey discusses his time with this team;

"I believe our team has been so successful because it is such a brotherhood around us. We all have grown up playing with each other so we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses very well. The chemistry between the team is unreal because since we have all been playing together so long we all know our positions and where we fit in on the court. We also have a lot of respect for each other and the game. We are all very passionate towards our basketball and strive for success."

Bailey will join 6 of his team mates that won silver with the South Australian state team to also be supporting by with his college pathway.

Liam Mathews, a couple years older than all the others on the tour,will provide leadership, toughness, IQ and skillset on the tour. Another great role player, long time Sturt athlete Liam tends to embody Sturt in terms of work ethic, playing your role and love for the game. He is the oldest player on the tour and his leadership and maturity will be valuable amongst such a young lineup.

We are fortunate to have added a non-Sturt athlete in Benjamin Cannizzaro. Ben is someone I have personally seen for many years and whose game I love. He is a tough, versatile big man. Who has played for South Australia's State team in the past and currently in the Central Districts Lions Premier League squad and has been so since a young age. He knows these athletes well, they have played with and against each other since U14s and will add great value on and off the floor.

Finally we have another tough character in Jackson Allen. Jacko is the youngest member of the team. His size, defensive versatility, IQ and toughness, as well as maturity beyond his years make him a very welcome addition. He will be looking forward to the experience of being a part of the tour and evaluating his next steps, with plenty of time to decide if the college pathway is something he wants to pursue in future years.

Style of play

Collectively it is hoped this group will showcase the Sturt style of play which is heavily inline with the Australian style of play adopted from the Aussie Boomers. Mike Longabardi, Assistant Coach with Cleveland Cavaliers, was recently in town to take quite a few team members through their paces. Teaching fundamentals and complex structures Coach Longabardi was impressed by their high IQ and ability to pickup new concepts quickly.

PICTURED: Coach Longabardi, Cleveland Cavaliers, with Sebastian Griffin, Ben Griscti, Liam Mathews, Taine Mitchell, Joel Dyer, Tyson Dyer all of whom will be on this upcoming Sturt exposure tour.

The team will have 3 offensive modes of play. Being the first 8 seconds, second 8 seconds and final 8 seconds of the offense commonly referred to in Aussie basketball circles as pace, poise, penetration.

Pace phase we are looking for kick aheads and attacking the paint, poise we will move the ball get actions (ball screen, DHO and a range of concept based reads) and final 8 seconds where we will exploit a mismatch through isolation, set a pick and roll to attack the rim or get a post feed and action. These guys are highly skilled at making plays and attacking the rim, decision making is exceptional at getting to receiver spots on penetration and making a kickout or dump off if double teamed. Guys have license to shoot the ball on a kickout or make an extra pass for another action, rim attack. Tyson Dyer demonstrating an outstanding understanding for our style of play compared to the USA teams;

"I think our style of play will be effective over in the US as we are a very fast team and play with great skill. A lot of teams in the US are all about iso ball and making big plays so I think we could take advantage of that. We play a team first style of basketball and would rather team success over individual success. We move the ball well which should lead us to getting good open looks."

Joel Dyer talks about the chemisty and ball movement of the team, as well as our tough defense;

"I think our play style will be very different from that of the US teams we play, but I think it will transfer well because we move the ball well, play unselfishly and all play a tough style of defense."

In U16s we decided to implement a style of defense for this group called Havoc! This was based on themes and concepts from Shaka Smart's time at VCU. It embedded a style of play and philosophy that we felt could see these athletes develop for the longer term, inline with the Basketball Australia style of play which emphasises being disruptive. Our havoc was based around rapid change ups of intensity, traps and defensive transition in which we tagged up. From a developmental point of view this style of play was outstanding for athlete development to play internationally. It was based around putting athletes in situations where high risk and reward defense was encouraged but they were still held accountable for giving up blowbys and staying in front of their man. A situation to push athletes to play high pressure ball defense rather than gapping off containment, but develop the footspeed and strength to contain with pressure. This took time but in their later years has paid massive dividends, with these players able to play with significant ball pressure with the footspeed and ability to "wall up" to still stop paint penetration and easy layups. Throughout they have learned many ball screen coverages particularly with the help of Liam Flynn who is renowned for coaching ball screens from both an offensive and defensive perspective and has often worked with these athletes.

The Havoc style will continue to reap dividends at the AAU level as we seek to disrupt and contain the high level athletes known for playing AAU basketball on the American West Coast.

During this U16 season 2 videos were developed to show case the team's defensive playing style and offensive teamwork. We put voice overs into these videos along with embedding slides our team values which I believe permeates through the lives of these athletes and how they play today.

VIDEO: Showing our Havoc style of defense. Predicated on disruptive defense. The only way for athletes to flourish in this system is to develop foot speed, athleticsm and TOUGHNESS to be able to be highly disruptive whilst containing dribble penetration. It takes time to develop but the end result speaks for itself.

VIDEO: Offensive style of play showcasing team work and ball movement. In addition, developing skills to attack the rim and score in traffic, with contact is really important. Again something that takes time to develop as young players are still developing these skillsets and strength to successfully make plays like this but in the long run it pays off.

In recent years there has been a huge emphasis at improving shooting at Sturt as we recognise that for our athletes to compete internationally high-level skills like shooting will give them a strong advantage. It is vital athletes can shoot the ball with super confidence and this comes from all their long hours of hard work in the gym. Here is Joel Dyer moving through some of our benchmark shooting drills:

Bailey Wells talking about how skilled he feels his team will be "I think that it will be a bit of a shock for US teams to see how skilful our side is in offense and defensively. I feel like we will be able to achieve a lot with simple things like help side D and our fast tempo style of play."

Ben Griscti (6'10'' Stretch 4, Class of 2021) sums up the complete package he and his teammates aspire to be really well too; "I hope to follow the pathway set up by recent South Australians and Australians by achieving a Div 1 college scholarship. I hope to add to the reputation of Australian players being of a high standard, hard-working, resilient and excellent teammates and students."

Ultimately all these athletes do have personal goals. Some want D1 college, some want to go the JUCO path, some athlletes on this tour are just coming away for the experience and friendship.They ALL WANT their team mates to all succeed in their own goals too and know that ultimately their best and most enjoyable path to achieve satisfaction, recognition and personal success is through team success. Ben sums it up well

"This tour is the start of my basketball career past juniors, looking into the future and creating opportunities for myself. From this tour I hope to experience what it is like playing with international players and learning from their style of play, which will be a more offensively focused and faster style of play. I think our team can and will be successful in America if we stick true to our style of play, which is hard defence creating offence. I think the college pathway can offer me a very high quality of basketball, very high level of education and overall a unique experience that not many people have. My ultimate goal in the sport is to play Division 1 college basketball then pursue all opportunities that become available to me before returning to my hometown and playing for the Adelaide 36ers. "

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