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Sobey or McCarron in Boomers wings?
MELBOURNE (Paulo Kennedy’s View from Downunder) – The new FIBA Basketball World Cup qualifying system is like finding a window upstairs in your house, that you never knew you had, with a really interesting view.
In days past the question was so often asked in Australia, and I'm sure many other countries too, about how certain players would go if they got an opportunity in the national team.
So often it was really just speculation, because when the real deal tournaments came around it was so often our best players in green and gold.
The Boomers got the opportunity to groom young players like Brad Newley, Andrew Bogut, David Andersen, Mark Worthington, Joe Ingles, Dave Barlow, Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova during the 2000s, but that was in the vacuum left by the departure of Andrew Gaze and cohorts after Sydney 2000.
The benefits came eventually, as each of those players were contributors building the era that now threatens to become Australia’s greatest, but the cost was a long run of outs.
Not qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, ninth at the Athens Olympics, failing to make the quarter-finals at three successive world cups from 2006 to 2014, and a pair of ok seventh finishes at the Beijing and London Olympics - a long way from the memories of Seoul, Atlanta and Sydney.
The cost of the long and successful run the likes of Gaze, Mark Bradtke, Andrew Vlahov, Shane Heal and Tony Ronaldson enjoyed was a following generation largely devoid of international experience.
If you look at recent history, the Boomers could indeed be heading for a similar thing – eight of the Rio 2016 squad will be 30 or older by the end of this year – because coach Andrej Lemanis has built success on the back of stability.
That’s where the new system is a godsend. Now, at regular windows, new players get opportunities to prove themselves and also get familiar with the Boomers’ system under the stress of competition.
If you look at our wing players, Barlow has moved on from international basketball, Newley isn’t far behind him, Kevin Lisch and Ingles are now into their fourth decade, while Chris Goulding will reach that point in October.
Mills will continue to provide his scoring punch from the two-spot, and Ryan Broekhoff is a dependable ‘3&D’ role player, but the reality is there will soon be swingman spots to fill.
Through the World Cup qualifiers we've got to see the emergence of Mitch McCarron and Nathan Sobey in green and gold, two players who could potentially play a sparkplug role at China 2019.
Money-making Mitch McCarron – just 25 years of age, unselfish to a fault, tough as nails, athletic and strong, with a nice touch from outside and a knack for playmaking – looks like a Boomer in the making.
He doesn’t need the ball to be effective, has an aching hunger for defence and has the genuinely physicality to survive against the world’s toughest teams.
He can also defend from the 1-3 spots and is currently showing in Slovenia that he is developing the ability to run the show offensively.
Sobey isn’t quite the polished all-around product McCarron has, but boy does he have some x-factor.
His ability to score in transition, finish above the rim, knock down tough pull-ups and create for others have been shown time and again in the NBL the past two seasons.
What’s really launched him into national team calculations has been a huge improvement in his workrate at the defensive end.
“He definitely sets the tone for us on defence,” Adelaide 36ers teammate Anthony Drmic said after Sobey shut down Casper Ware in Game 4 of the NBL Grand Final.
Once a player who could be exploited defensively, and indeed earlier this year was bench by 36ers coach Joey Wright for his lack of effort on D, Sobey has become a guy who relishes taking the toughest assignment.
Ware, Bryce Cotton, Travis Trice, Edgar Sosa and Rotnei Clarke are some of the players he’s been able to subdue at times throughout the 2017/18 season.
Playing in Wright’s switching defences he has also proven he can think his way through various disruptive schemes, something crucial to be successful in Lemanis’ program.
So given his ability to bring energy at both ends of the floor, score in a variety of ways and defend quality opponents, what is it that has so far limited Sobey to a bit role with the Boomers’ NBL-based line-ups?
For me its consistency. In a 28-game regular season for club, you can afford to have your ups and downs, to bounce back after two or three down performances.
In international tournaments like the World Cup or Olympics, you’ve got to be able to be at or near your highest level each night, particularly where the fundamentals like defence, making good decisions with the ball and converting open looks are concerned.
If you look at Sobey’s NBL season, he’s shot below 40 per cent in 17 of his 34 games, but shot 50 per cent or better 14 times. From the arc, there were 15 games shooting below 30 per cent, but 13 at 50 per cent of greater.
Offensively, he’s like a box of chocolates, you just don’t know what you’re going to get. When the heat is on, will he deliver?
The plus for the emerging talent from Warrnambool, on the coast between Melbourne and Adelaide, is he did deliver in last year’s NBL playoffs.
Also promising was his nine-point, 4-of-5, four-assist first half in Melbourne in Game 3 of this year’s grand final, before he was harshly ejected from the stadium. He then followed that up with a strong Game 4 at both ends.
If he can repeat that sort of on-court mix of poise and aggression in Saturday’s deciding Game 5 it will make a statement to Lemanis and his staff that the late-blooming 27-year-old continues to grow.
The NBL decider, and the Commonwealth Games campaign starting April 6, are the perfect chance for Sobey to stake his claim for the June/July and September World Cup qualifying windows, when more overseas Boomers are likely to return.
Showing the ability to fill a role around some of those players will be a key test for any role players looking to earn a ticket to China 2019. Sobey needs to make up some ground on McCarron, but now is his moment to shine.
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