Home » ‘An anxious, nervous situation’: Joe Ingles takes last shot at Boomers selection | Jack Snape

‘An anxious, nervous situation’: Joe Ingles takes last shot at Boomers selection | Jack Snape

‘An anxious, nervous situation’: Joe Ingles takes last shot at Boomers selection | Jack Snape

Joe Ingles ran out onto John Cain Arena on Thursday, behind his dear friend Patty Mills, as he so often has. This time, “Don’t change” by INXS, rang out around the court.

The Boomers duo – after four Olympics together and that famous rose gold medal in Tokyo – are one of Australian sport’s most revered tandems. Both are loved by basketball’s purest fans, the junkies that recognise their grind to become valued commodities in the cut-throat NBA while remaining distinctively Australian. But all great buddy movies must come to an end.

Ahead of this weekend’s final cuts for the Paris Olympics squad, journalists and die-hard Boomers fans compared lists of ‘locks’ and ‘maybes’. Ingles, once one of the first names on the Australian roster, found himself very much in the latter group.

At the end of the second match against China on Thursday night, Ingles said he was aware of the situation. “Like everybody here, you want to make it and, like Patty, I would be going to my fifth Olympics which would be unbelievable,” he said. “I did everything I had to do and could have done. It is what it is.”

Coach Brian Goorjian warned the final pre-cut hit-out would deliver close to the rotations he had in mind for the Boomers’ first Olympics game in France on 27 July, and if players struggled he would not be afraid to bring in others. When Ingles hadn’t left the bench in the first half, and Mills had shot one from seven, the writing was on the wall.

While their performances may have been absent, their personalities shone bright. Mills was animated with young fans before the game, clearly still the face of Australian basketball despite his advancing years. Ingles was the most voracious towel waver on the bench, hurling not-so-delicate words of encouragement to centre Jock Landale who is emerging as one of the Boomers’ biggest strengths.

At half-time, the other players who sat out the entire first half – Chris Goulding, Matthew Dellavedova and Xavier Cooks – all got shots up. Inglis had stayed in the dressing room.

Was this the end for the man they call Jingles? Or was it a new meander for the 36-year-old, 18 years after scoring 29 points in his NBL debut, and only hours after he had signed a one-year, $4.9m (US$3.3m) deal with NBA contenders Minnesota.

Then, there he was. Resplendent in lemon yellow, the man his former Orlando team-mate Cole Anthony described as built like a substitute teacher. Marching out for the second half alongside presumed starters Josh Giddey and Landale, as well as Dyson Daniels and Mills.

Boomers guard Patty Mills is hoping to be selected for a fifth Olympic Games campaign. Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Ingles’ first touch was a wild pass, but he quickly settled down. His connection with Landale was obvious, an early alley oop a statement of intent. There was more playmaking – he finished with four assists – and even a re-appearance of the competitor that seemed absent in his 20 minutes in the first match on Tuesday.

After one drop off for another Landale basket, Ingles gestured to the crowd in as much spite as celebration. There were clashes with opponents, and referees, but against this opposition Ingles appeared to come out on top. Drawing a charge, he slid on the ground, then pointed to the whistling referee with two fingers, like he was awarding a goal just up the road at the MCG. Eight minutes and 32 seconds later, he had returned to the bench, his point made.

And Goorjian had taken note. He revealed afterwards it was this third quarter that forced him and the coaching staff into a selection re-think. “I looked [at my other coaches] and [it was like], ‘hey, man, we got to talk about this shit, right? And they can all see it.”

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Ingles may be Utah Jazz’ franchise-leader in three-pointers made, but he is in the midst of a selection conundrum for Goorjian. The coach wants to deploy a physical, defensive outfit, but no other player offers Ingles’ mix of complementary shooting and auxiliary playmaking, let alone a swagger battle-tested against the game’s biggest personalities.

Nick Kay, Jack McVeigh, Cooks and Goulding – who also starred in the third quarter with four three pointers – and are also on the bubble, and their fates will largely depend on whether the coaches decide they need Will Magnay in the squad as a third big.

Goorjian said Ingles “looked really good” after Thursday night’s match. And Mills’ shooting struggles – he went just one of eleven by the final whistle – are not deemed a concern by the coach. But the 70-year-old also knows the final decisions will be difficult. “There’s going to be a lot of people who want to put a bullet in my head,” Goorjian said.

Ingles said the players have felt the pressure of the looming cuts, but he’s done all he can. “It can be an anxious, nervous kind of situation when you are fighting for your lives,” he said.

“I will go home tomorrow regardless and see my family, hang out with the kids and I’ll either be happy or a little pissed off. We will see what happens.”