Boomers and Wildcats earn Jr. NBA World Champs berth

IT was no ordinary Wednesday afternoon at Bulleen’s Sheehan Road Stadium for a group of elite Victorian under-14 players.

They thought it was just a celebration for prior results… not an announcement for the next phase of life-changing basketball news.

Players from the Bulleen Boomers under-14 girls and Eltham Wildcats under-14 boys sat in the stands wondering what all the fuss was about as cameras, lights and a sea of officials watched for their gleeful reactions.

When the word came down from NBA’s Carlos Barraco told the group they were off to America to represent the Asia-Pacific region… the reaction was shocked speechlessness.

The players were stunned. For their efforts last October, in winning the 2017 Basketball Australia Under-14 Club Championships, the two teams have earned an all-expenses paid trip to America to be part of the Jr. NBA World Championships.

Held 7-12 August in Orlando, Florida, the sides will represent the Asia-Pacific region in the championships, a first-of-its kind global youth basketball tournament for the top under-14 boys and girls teams from around the world.

The players stormed the stage to thank Barraco and from there the party started in earnest as tears, squeals and hugs filled the stadium.

Eltham Wildcats under-14 boys coach Craig Stratford said the news took the group completely by surprise.

They’re pretty excited right now and fair enough too, it’s a great opportunity isn’t it,” Stratford said. “They’re still in a little bit of shock at the moment, trying to figure out how it’s all going to work.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity for them to play together again – and we’re over the moon for them.

“I think over the next few weeks it will become a bit more real and we’ll get our heads around it, but for now it’s nice to see them enjoying something that came out of the blue.”

For Eltham junior player Kristian Ferronato, the chance to play with his mates on the world stage left him reasonably speechless.

“I was pretty excited but nervous at the same time thinking about playing against some of the best players in the world at this age level,” Ferronato said. “It’s one of the best feelings to go over there with some of your mates and I’m looking forward to the best time.

“It’s something amazing and it won’t happen too often – I’m just lost for words.”

Bulleen under-14 girls coach Travis Heal, the news came as a complete surprise and it will help further their ambitions in their basketball futures.

“It’s surreal at this stage – just sinking in, but I know this tournament they’re going to will have a lot of college scouts there for further opportunities for these girls… it’s an unbelievable opportunity,” Heal said. “Half of them are crying and they can’t believe it – I think only two of them have ever been overseas, so for the group to get overseas and do it playing basketball with the NBA sponsoring it… it’s unbelievable.

“A lot of the girls want to go to college and it gets them to test their craft against the best players in the world to really get a chance to see where they are and Australia is in this point of their careers.”

Bulleen junior Holly Griffiths was thrilled to get the chance to represent Bulleen on the international stage and most importantly, do it with a group of girls she considers her extended family.

“Indescribably amazing,” Griffiths said. “We’re all sisters and a big family – it’s the best feeling and to represent our club like this… we’re very, very lucky.”

It is an amazing thing just to have our teams take to the national stage and do so well at the Club Championships… but it’s extraordinary to see these sides take off to America to represent our state, our country and our global region.

We’ll keep an eye on these teams as they work towards this amazing opportunity.

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