WHEN the Victorian Under-20 Men enter their huddles at next year’s Australian Junior Championships, they’ll hear lessons from legendary coach Brian Goorjian.
They’ll also learn from Don Nelson – the NBA’s all-time winningest coach – two-time NBL champion Al Westover and some of the greatest minds in Russian basketball history.
Some words from NBA MVPs Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki may also find their way in there.
These extraordinary players and coaches have helped shape the elite playing and coaching philosophies of Vic U20 Men’s head coach Chris Anstey.
Throughout his decorated career in the game, Anstey has learned from the best and is now putting their lessons into practice when his #TeamVic squad take on the rest of the country in February.
Anstey, a two-time Olympian and Basketball Victoria Wall of Fame member, said he’s excited about the challenge of leading Victoria’s Under-20 Men.
“I really enjoy working with elite athletes at an age where they are still able to be positively influenced and being part of molding their habits and the direction they would like to go in the sport,” Anstey told Basketball Victoria. “Also, sometimes just opening their eyes to how good they could potentially be, if they are willing to take on board the lessons that their coaches put together for them.”
One of the greatest ball players Australia has ever produced, Anstey spent almost a quarter of a century playing and coaching at the elite levels in our sport.
He made his NBL debut as a teenager alongside the legendary Andrew Gaze at the Melbourne Tigers in 1994, before shifting clubs and winning a championship under Goorjian with the South East Melbourne Magic in 1996.
The following year Anstey went global.
He was selected in the first round of the 1997 NBA Draft before leading Australia to a memorable gold medal at the FIBA 22 & Under World Championships, where he was named Tournament MVP.
Over the next fourteen years Anstey completed one of the most extraordinary professional careers in Aussie hoops history.
He played three seasons in the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls, spent multiple years in Europe’s top leagues, represented Australia at two Olympic Games and returned to the NBL to win two MVPs and another couple of titles.
The man is a living legend of the game.
“You don’t often get a player with his standing in the game coaching these young players,” Victoria Metro U18 Men’s coach Darren Perry said. “His understanding of the game is significant, he really understands how players think and gives them advice that is hard to compare to normal coaches because he’s got that unbelievable experience in playing at all levels.”
After hanging up his kicks in 2010, Anstey immediately turned his hand to coaching. He has coached for years at Melbourne’s Caulfield Grammar School as well as spending a couple of years as NBL head coach of the Melbourne Tigers and then Melbourne United.
But most recently, Anstey served as Perry’s assistant with last year’s national championship-winning Victoria Metro under-18 Men’s team.
“I really enjoyed working with Darren, primarily, as well as the other assistant coaches,” Anstey said. “It’s interesting, I really enjoyed being an assistant coach for the first time as well and learning other people’s philosophies and structures and just getting more and more ideas that help further develop my own.”
A late-comer to the sport, Anstey has fond memories of learning the game under his first coach, Des Middleton, at the old Albert Park Stadium. Middleton created an environment where players were supported to take risks and develop their skills; something Anstey hopes he is re-creating for his athletes 25 years later.
“If you can work with these young players and have them develop a skill that they are able to apply in a game for the first time and it works, you see that sense of enjoyment and accomplishment in their own eyes and a bit of a sense of improvement in themselves,” he said.
“That is really enjoyable as a junior coach and I’ve always said that’s more important than winning or losing; that growth of individuals and growth with the team. If you can get that right often winning takes care of itself.”
Another key element of Anstey’s experience has been competing in tournament play – a whole different beast when compared to season-long competitions.
“A tournament doesn’t build character it reveals it,” Anstey explained. “That’s part of our training philosophy to make sure the athletes understand what they are walking into.
“One basket, one pass, one point, one free throw… it can mean everything in a tournament situation.”
Anstey played for Australia at the 1998 FIBA World Championships as well as the 2000 and 2008 Olympic Games. But it was his experience in 1997 with that legendary ‘Crocs’ team that taught him the most about tournament play.
Anstey recently told the story of watching team-mate Simon Dwight stay ready throughout that tournament, despite his minutes declining, and then deliver when called upon against the USA in the quarter finals.
It’s a lesson he’s determined to pass on to his team ahead of next year’s national championships. Your time will come and you need to be completely there to seize it.
“It’s the understanding of just the importance of every single possession,” Anstey said. “And let me tell you, we are going to need everyone; we don’t just play seven players in a tournament, we will need all 10.”
Assisting Anstey will be John White and Shane McDonald as well as two-time NBL Coach of the Year – and head coach of that ’97 Crocs team – Ian Stacker in a mentoring role.
Of course, Anstey will also be drawing on lessons from numerous other elite basketball minds that have influenced him over the years.
“We started in October, we have a three day camp in January and take off at the start of February,” Anstey said.
“I’m really looking forward to it.”
Anstey and the under-20 men’s team will head to Gosford, NSW for the Australian Junior Championships, held from 7-11 February.