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Who is Australia's greatest?
MELBOURNE (Paulo Kennedy's View from Downunder) - Sorry to get all Sound of Music on you but 'High on a hill was a lonely goatherd - lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo' … you know how it goes.
Of course, when it comes to Australian basketball there is absolutely nothing lonely about the GOATherd - in fact it's an ever-growing herd that is receiving plenty of love from a growing hoops-mad community.
For those who haven't come across the vernacular before, the term GOAT refers to the Greatest Of All Time, for which the green and gold seems to have many candidates.
For a long time Andrew Gaze was the undisputed GOAT, his record on the international scene, in the NBL and in Europe unsurpassed by anyone in Australia and not many, if any, abroad.
The list of genuine title contenders really only reached passed 'Drewey' to uber-successful NBA role player Luc Longley, whose key part in three titles with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls gave him immediate candidacy.
But recently the field has broadened, led of course by the charge of the incredible Ben Simmons, who seems to be setting new marks, or equalling those set by the likes of Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and LeBron James almost every other week.
.@BenSimmons25 has 60 points, 30 rebounds, and 29 assists through his first 3 playoff games in the NBA.— NBA Australia (@NBA_AU) April 20, 2018
He's the 2nd player in NBA history with at least 60 pts, 25 rebounds, and 25 assists over the first 3 playoff games of his career (Oscar Robertson - 83 pts, 33 rebs, 35 ast) pic.twitter.com/45Msj5HDd9
It's pretty exciting to think that in just over 16 months' time, Simmons will be leading the Australian Boomers charge towards their first ever FIBA Basketball World Cup medal.
The 21-year-old has shown this season that he is ready to dominate the big stage, and with an experienced Boomers team around him, he should be able to slot in seamlessly and have a huge impact.
His athleticism and excellent read of the game mean he should fit coach Andrej Lemanis' disruptive defensive schemes, while his exquisite passing skills should slot into Lemanis’ brilliant offensive system with ease.
While some are already calling Simmons the GOAT of Australian basketball - and certainly no Aussie has performed the way he has in the world's best club competition - I think he needs a strong tournament with the Boomers to cement his spot.
I don't think we'll have to wait long for that. In the meantime, the debate remains live, especially with the definition of 'greatest' some pundits are using which doesn’t require a player to have excelled at the highest standard of the sport, but rather been dominant in their own level of competition.
It's a different way of looking at it, but I don't mind it because it certainly adds plenty to what is already an interesting discussion.
By the way, what other sport can have a debate as to whether our nations GOAT is female, male, able bodied or para athlete ?— Anthony Moore (@AnthonyMoore) April 13, 2018
I love basketball 🏀
Naturally, the first person that broadened definition brings into play is Lauren Jackson, Opals star, WNBA star, Euroleague star, WNBL star and a dominant force pretty much in every competition she has played in.
A three-time WNBA MVP and scoring champion, seven appearances in the WNBA All-First Team, and a string of championships on three continents tells in short the tale of an incredible club career.
Averaging in double figures in all eight of her major tournaments for Australia – and scoring over 20ppg in three – tells just the beginning of her contribution to Australian women’s basketball on the international stage, which has undoubtedly been more than any other Opal in our history.
Another player who comes squarely into play under the broader definition is Andrew Bogut, whose 2003 FIBA U19 World Championship was something for the ages.
As if his averages of 26.2ppg, 17rpg and 2.5apg weren't impressive enough, the Bogey compiled a staggering 74 points and 39 boards in the two medal round games.
That he went on to be an NBA champion, three-time Olympian (potentially four in two years' time) and was a key piece in the Boomers best-ever international campaign certainly paints the picture of an all-time great.
Gaze, Longley, Simmons, Jackson and Bogut make for a pretty impressive quintet, but there is one other name that simply must be in the discussion - Troy Sachs.
For mine, no Australian has dominated their level of basketball quite like Sachs, who was an irrepressible force on the hardwood with his ability to defend, rebound, score and just compete at an intense level few athletes can match.
In 1996 he drove Australia to their first Paralympic gold medal in wheelchair basketball in Atlanta, and his semi-final performance against the tournament-favourite hosts beggared belief.
Sachs racked up 28 points, 32 rebounds and 15 assists to dismantle the Americans, then backed it up with 42 points in the final. No Australian basketballer has come close to matching performances like that.
He went on to compete in five Paralympics, capping off his run with a 19-point performance in the gold medal game in 2008, remarkably powering his team to victory in deciders 12 years apart.
On top of that, he won multiple club titles in Australia, Europe and the USA to establish himself as the world's pre-eminent wheelchair basketballer at his peak.
It just adds further intrigue to an intriguing discussion. How can you separate such incredible players?
Where does Gaze sit? He is undoubtedly our greatest ever offensive talent. He scored against everyone, including averaging 24ppg against multiple incarnations of the American ‘dream team’.
Longley? He is our most successful NBA player of all-time, a feat that will take some matching, and a three-time Olympian to boot with two trips to the medal rounds.
Bogut? Injuries have no doubt curtailed the Bogey Man's achievements, but his underage performance will long remain our country's greatest - and perhaps the world's best - individual performance at that level.
Jackson? Clearly our greatest female basketball of all time with her long run of dominant seasons for club and country, and her tremendous ability to bounce back from serious injury.
Sachs? Our greatest wheelchair player and, for mine, our number one of all time when all levels of the game are brought together. His brilliance had to be seen to be believed.
Simmons? He's well ahead of schedule to become our greatest player at the highest levels of the game, it’s only a matter of time, injury gods willing.
I guess the big question is can he reach the level of dominance Sachs achieved on the international stage?
I'm sure all Australian fans are hoping so, because that would surely see the Boomers on the dais, quite possibly as soon as next year at China 2019 and at the Tokyo Olympics 12 months later.
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