Bulleen and Eltham star at Jr. NBA World Championship

TIME and time again Victorians prove their calibre on the international stage.

It’s just what we do. No matter the opportunity or what team they find themselves in, the Victorian spirit and skill is always on show and greatly impresses in those moments.

For our 24 junior stars that headed to the Jr. NBA World Championship, this is especially true.

Selected following impressive efforts at the Australian Under-14 Club Championships in 2017, the sides have shown they’re worth representatives of Asia Pacific.

They weren’t the biggest or the strongest but together they rattled a few sides that thought less of us. These Boomers and Wildcats alike showed what individual associations can do within international basketball, let alone what could possibly happen if you united the Australian states or bring together the premier talent of our country.

Compare us to composite sides of Europe, Africa and Middle East – or the all-star representative teams hand-picked by Canada, Africa, Mexico and India. They were hand-picked to excel but even then that wasn’t necessarily enough to get past our clubs.

Bulleen

Bulleen girls at the Jr. NBA World Championships. Picture: NBA PHOTOS

Our’s started this journey last October together as team mates and never wavered throughout. Boys and girls who stood shoulder to shoulder whether it’s a Friday night in the suburbs of Melbourne, the grand final stage at Dandenong or under the bright lights standing together as Asia Pacific.

While we see elite NBA and WNBA players make a name for Australian professional basketball internationally, this achievement will equally showcase Australian junior basketball.

Your 12 best isn’t necessarily enough to get by us… imagine what will happen if Australia picks a best-12 too. It sets the stage for some remarkable achievements in the years ahead but let’s not gloss over a sensational performance in 2018.

Nothing can sully this achievement – these are phenomenal as our Asia Pacific sides excelled. Bulleen finished fourth in the world and Eltham earned third in the international side of the draw. The Boomers were incredible in a 42-45 loss to Europe in the International final. Ally Marshall (17 points, five rebounds) and Tess Heal (15 points, eight rebounds, five assists) surged for Asia Pacific as we pushed the Europeans all the way. Heal drained two three-pointers to slash the gap, but in the end the Europeans had just enough in the tank to see off our gallant resurgence.

The boys wrapped up their World Championship journey with a 52-62 loss to Canada in the international semi-final. Kristian Ferronato (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Zahn Agosta (13 points) led the Wildcats’ performance in league with Brad Moorey (four points, 10 rebounds) and Riley Lewis (six points, five rebounds) starring under the basket.

How do you describe a journey like this? Bulleen coach Travis Heal said it was a phenomenal tournament in Orlando and one they were thrilled to experience.

“This has been an amazing experience that has been shared by 320 very fortunate players, 64 extremely lucky coaches and many thousands of parents who made the trip from home to Orlando,” Heal said. “It’s by far the biggest and best basketball experience I have ever been involved in.

“I am extremely proud of the 12 girls who have been lucky enough to get this opportunity.

“Many times have NBA staff told us that the Australian teams are their favourites – we were polite, upbeat, well-mannered and thankful for the opportunity.

“On the court we were aggressive, played hard, played like a team and gave 100 per cent each time on the floor. At the end of the day we finished fourth in the championships and were the second best team on the international side, which had some national teams picked exclusively for this tournament – so Australian basketball is in very good shape.

“Thanks to all the parents for allowing me to coach your kids – you guys should all be very proud of your daughters.”

Eltham coach Craig Stratford was equally amazed by the opportunity and was honoured to be part of this world-wide environment.

“What an amazing week both on and off the court in Orlando Florida,” Stratford said. “The Jr. NBA World Championships is something I feel so lucky to have been part of – it has been awesome to get to experience this with our talented group of Eltham Wildcats kids, great coaches in Carly Stones and Amy Vine, a fantastic team manager Tania Weddle, my amazing family and a very supportive group of parents and siblings who have helped to create the environment we all enjoy being part of.

“On the court we finished the World Championship with three wins and two losses record and officially sit third in the international side of the tournament behind Africa and Middle East and Canada.

“Off the court I feel like we were first – both the boys and girls teams (coached by Travis Heal) from Australia have won many admirers with their friendly and respectful approach to all of the other athletes and officials involved.”

There are few ways to describe this journey other than life-changing. Forever international representatives. Always united as Asia Pacific. Set to stand together for the rest of their lives as the winners of an incredible opportunity.

We can only stand back and applaud their efforts and celebrate Bulleen and Eltham as worldwide phenomena.

Congratulations.

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