Australian Boomers head coach Andrej Lemanis has revealed that Andrew Bogut was struggling to walk after Game 1 of the recent Olympic Qualifying series against New Zealand and believes the NBA Champion’s dominant performance in Game 2 was nothing short of amazing.
Speaking at the annual Pete’s Bar Basketball luncheon in Melbourne yesterday alongside Opals head coach Brendan Joyce, Lemanis offered some incredible behind-the-scenes insight into Bogut’s inspirational effort.
“It was one of the more impressive mental applications of doing what it takes to play that I’ve ever been associated with,” Lemanis said.
Competing with the National Team shortly after wrapping a gruelling championship campaign with the Golden State Warriors, Bogut’s involvement had lifted the Boomers camp ahead of the New Zealand series.
“We rocked into practice that first day in Croatia and Andrew dominated practice,” Lemanis said.
“Just walking out of practice you could see the confidence that his involvement had given to the rest of the group. Guys were like ‘geez he makes a difference’ and ‘having him back there helps’. He was an inspiration to the rest of the group.”
Unfortunately, however, the big fella tweaked his back during a training session in Europe. He wasn’t the first player to get hurt by a Nathan Jawai screen and he certainly won’t be the last.
Lemanis revealed that Bogut hurt himself again at practice in Melbourne ahead of the big #Homecoming Game at Rod Laver Arena and that there were some question marks around whether he would even play in that game.
“He played because it meant so much for him to be playing with his mates, to be playing in Melbourne and to be wearing the green and gold singlet again,” Lemanis said.
During that game Bogut re-aggravated his back injury after attempting to take a charge on Tall Black Mika Vukona. The injury left him largely incapacitated post-game.
“After the game he was really struggling to walk,” Lemanis told the Pete’s Bar Luncheon.
“We woke up on the Sunday morning to the news that Andrew couldn’t get out of bed. Basically our medical staff said ‘he’s done, there’s no way that he’s going to be able to play in Game 2’.”
Bogut stayed in Melbourne for treatment and scans while the Boomers flew to New Zealand for Game 2.
“He was ok to play with pain but he wanted to make sure that nothing was going to be damaged,” Lemanis said.
At that stage the Boomers were preparing for the challenge of closing out the series without their NBA Champion.
Lemanis explained that he chatted to Bogut on the phone in the hope of flying him across the ditch just to be around the group.
“I spoke to him from New Zealand on the Monday and said ‘listen mate I have no expectation that you’re going to play – the medical staff have told me that there’s no way that you can play – but you are an inspirational leader of this group if you could just find the energy to just get on the plane and be with your team-mates I think they’d really appreciate that’.”
But Bogut wasn’t interested in sitting on the sidelines, not with a spot at the Rio Olympics on the line.
“I’m coming over and I’m going to play,” he told Lemanis.
Music to his coach’s ears.
“I was like: ‘OK, let’s do that then, let’s go with that plan, that one sounds much better,” Lemanis laughed.
Bogut arrived in New Zealand at 1:00am the night before Game 2 and presented ready to play come game time. Prior to tip off, Lemanis warned the squad against complacency and stressed the dangers of playing the Kiwis on their home turf.
“I finished what I thought was a fantastic speech and stood up for the hands in,” he explained.
“Then Andrew said ‘let’s just kill these guy’. I was like: ‘yeah, cool, let’s go with that plan then’.”
Bogut did exactly that, scoring 10 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and swatting 3 shots in the Boomers’ comfortable 89-79 win.
Team-mate Matthew Dellavedova told media at the time that Bogut’s presence was a major motivating factor for the group.
“It definitely fired up the boys because he was putting his body on the line to play,” Delly said. “Especially early on, getting a few buckets and blocks.”
“Then to start the second half like he did, really gave us an emotional boost and it’s just great to be playing out there with him.”
As well as providing a welcome offensive punch inside (and some trademark cunning), Bogut was his usual intimidating self on defense.
“He was inspirational the way he played,” Lemanis reflected yesterday.
“It really meant a lot to him. Particularly for someone who has taken a lot of shit over time with people questioning how much he values playing for Australia.
“He’s always been injured. He’s had some horrific injuries. To be with him and to see the professional that he is, and how much he values playing for Australia, that was great.”