Home » Rose gold-tinted glasses: has Brian Goorjian selected the right Boomers squad?

Rose gold-tinted glasses: has Brian Goorjian selected the right Boomers squad?

Rose gold-tinted glasses: has Brian Goorjian selected the right Boomers squad?

There’s an old adage that nothing travels faster than the speed of light, with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.

Such was the case late last week in Australian basketball circles.

The texts started flying thick and fast last Thursday night into the early hours of Friday morning and beyond; private messages across multiple platforms, a trickle of whispers at first that quickly became a torrent of incredulity, frustration and finally, downright anger.

Had the Australian Boomers selection panel, led by head coach Brian Goorjian, really not selected defensive anchor Matisse Thybulle for the Paris Olympics?

What in the name of rose gold was going on?

As an especially icy weather front swept through Melbourne in the hours before the official team announcement, the outlook of the basketball public, which was in no mood to hear the reasoning for leaving out one of the more popular figures in recent Boomers history, more than matched the leaden skies.

But now that the dust has settled on the selections — and non-selections — let’s take a clear-eyed look at what the Boomers will be missing out on, and what they’re gaining from the squad they’re taking to Paris.

It first warrants mentioning that Goorjian has forgotten more about basketball than most observers will ever learn in their lifetime.

However you look at this though, the selection of this team has opened the door for criticism if the Boomers do fail, because the surprise has been almost universal.

And let’s be very clear here. Every single player on the plane to Paris is going because Goorjian — and his cadre of talented assistants that includes Matt Nielsen and Adam Caporn, among others — believes they’re the best fit for the game style and results they’re trying to achieve.

But does anyone who follows basketball in this country (and the NBA, for that matter) really, truly believe that Thybulle isn’t one of the best 12 players we can select? From all reports, his omission wasn’t the consensus choice.

And, to be fair, Goorjian has stated that he took what he considered the best fit, not the best 12.

But the fact remains, that in less than a week, Thybulle had gone from proclaiming “we can have the best defence in the Olympics” to being on a plane back to the US.

Yes, Thybulle has his own offensive shortcomings. He’s never going to be mistaken for an elite perimeter marksman, but what he does best — defending offensive-minded wings with smothering, suffocating defensive pressure — he does better than almost any basketballer player currently plying their trade in the NBA or elsewhere.

Just as importantly, he bought into the Boomers’ vaunted culture. The Portland pitbull was an instrumental part of the history-setting Boomers squad that won bronze in Tokyo in 2021 and was considered a lock to make the final cut for these Olympics. Indeed, most people familiar with the Boomers had him locked in as a starter.

Such was the level of surprise when he was left out, even the players who did make the team reportedly expressed their disbelief that he wasn’t in the squad.

It’s a generally accepted maxim that you can really only win at the international game with two things: lockdown defence and/or elite perimeter shooting to negate the physical defence well-drilled national teams will throw at you.

Having both traits means you medal. Committing strongly to one means you can probably make it past the group stage.

By reducing the number of top-line defensive options, Australia then compounded the error by not taking extra shooting in Chris Goulding, who has made a career of being one of the best shooters in Australian basketball history.

This places a fair amount of pressure on first-time Olympian Jack McVeigh, who is the feel-good story of the Boomers camp and selection process, to be Australia’s knock-down shooter throughout the tournament.

Having said that, if anyone has the self-belief to come through in that role, it’s McVeigh. Go watch his reaction upon being told he’d made the team. If that doesn’t warm your heart, nothing will.

His rise from bit-part bench player with Adelaide, to NBL Championship Series MVP with the Tasmania JackJumpers, to now being seen as part of the Boomers core in Paris, has been wonderful to watch.

However, Thybulle wasn’t the only shock when it came to the final 12. The omission of Xavier Cooks was almost as surprising as the inclusion of Boomers stalwart Matthew Dellavedova.

By leaving out Cooks, the Boomers have denied themselves another athletic, versatile defender tailor-made for the international game.

As a result, they’re banking on JackJumpers pivot Will Magnay to fill that void as the third big behind Jock Landale and Duop Reath. This does feel like something of an overcorrection from the World Cup, when a pre-tournament injury to Landale meant the Boomers were perilously thin in the frontcourt, with only Reath and Nick Kay to carry the load.

The inclusion of Dellavedova also came as a sizeable surprise. The three-time Olympian had looked off the pace before the World Cup last year and was left off the final roster for that tournament. His days of pulling on the beloved green and gold looked to be permanently done.

But the one thing you can never question is his resilience. With the same bulldog tenacity that his coaches have always adored, Delly threw himself into this year’s NBL campaign for Melbourne United.

And while the results weren’t always pretty, there’s no doubt he gained Goorjian’s attention. From all reports he led the way at this selection camp, forcing Goorjian into a last-minute reassessment.

However, there’s no way to paint the picture any other way than to say Australia is now taking three point guards (Giddey, Dyson Daniels and Delly) who all have their limitations when it comes to shooting from international waters.

Combine that with the undeniable, undefeated march of Father Time on the likes of stars Patty Mills and Joe Ingles and there’s suddenly a real dearth of elite perimeter shooting.

It warrants mentioning just how close Ingles came to not making the cut. This time last week he was probably on the outside looking in. Ultimately, Goorjian is banking on his experience and poise under pressure to come to the fore one last time.

The emergence then of McVeigh as not just an end-of-the-bench contributor but as a bona fide member of the core group is now ultra-critical.

Make no mistake, this is still a very, very good Australian squad. It has 10 players with NBA experience, a record number.

And the achievements of Mills and Ingles to get to their fifth Olympics should be celebrated widely and loudly.

But in a veritable group of death with medal favourites Canada, perennial contenders Spain, and a Greek team led by NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, it just doesn’t feel like we’ve taken our best team.

For Mills, Ingles, Delly and Goorjian, this is the swansong of a golden era of Australian basketball.

They led the way in redefining and reinforcing what playing for Australia at the highest level truly meant.

“Rose gold vibes” wasn’t just a catchphrase, it embodied the entire team culture.

But three years on, it’s fair to ask if this team can meet the lofty expectations set by that success.

“Whatever comes out of this, there’s gonna be a lot of people that wanna put a bullet in my head,” Goorjian said last Thursday.

“There’s a no-win here. I’ve got a great staff. I feel really good that we’re gonna make the right decisions and put the best on the floor.”

The dichotomy of this squad isn’t lost on those wondering what happened to Goorjian wanting to play faster, be more athletic and more dynamic.

“We’re going to play Aussie ball. And we’re going to go at them with all we’ve got,” he said three months ago when picking the initial squad.

But the harsh reality is that it looks like he’s just gone back to the same old, same old. How that plays out will be intriguing to watch.

Paris — and the last tango — awaits.