Patty Mi…. wait… uh oh… where the f**k is Patty Mills?
Further reading of Basketball Australia’s official release revealed that Mills had been omitted from the FIBA Oceania Championships team after making himself unavailable for the European training camp and warm-up games.
To BA’s credit, there was no shying away from the truth about the situation:
“While Mills is available for the Oceania Championships, he is not available for the European tour due to a number of factors. There have been concerns over his shoulder injury last year which required surgery and intense rehabilitation. He continues to have specialised rehab and training, to regain 100% health with his shoulder. This decision between Mills and the San Antonio Spurs meant that he would not be available for the European Tour.
“Accordingly he has been omitted from the team for the European tour and the Oceania Championships against New Zealand.”
Ok… so Patty, in consultation with the Spurs, had made himself available for the NZ games but unavailable for the European lead-up. Lemanis and his staff were left to make the call and, in the end, decided to leave him off the team.
Australia’s best scorer, able to play the Olympic qualifiers, but not given a jersey.
Wow – what a tough call to make.
Before you get all worked up, take a moment to put yourself in Lemanis’ shoes, would you have selected Patty Mills?
For many, it’s not even a question. He’s one of our best players, if not our best. He’s a proven international scorer. He’s a drawcard, too – being one of Australia’s most recognisable and loved athletes over the past 18 months. If he’s available to play against New Zealand, let’s get him on the floor.
For others, though, it’s not quite that simple. Issues like team chemistry, culture and precedence come into play.
All in all, it’s a difficult situation to manage.
“Lots of consideration was given to this situation but at the end of the day you’ve got to make a decision in what you believe to be the best interests of the team in terms of preparing for what is a quality opposition in New Zealand,” the Boomers coach said on Tuesday.
“The importance of having a group who have spent some time together, understanding and developing a style of play, our culture, our rotations and all those sorts of things, we thought it was important the group was able to do that as part of our European tour.”
One wonders how much weight was also given to setting a strong precedent ahead of what could possibly become a ‘Golden Age’ of Australian basketball.
The message, perhaps, is this: playing for the Boomers means committing to the training camp and warm-up games ahead of major FIBA competitions (Oceania Championships, World Cups and Olympics).
Lemanis alluded to that kind of commitment when discussing the Road to Rio with media on Tuesday.
“It’s essentially part of a four year planning campaign which started when I first got the job before the last Oceania series,” he said.
“I sat down with the core group of players and mapped out what it looked like for Rio. Part of that was everyone committing to ‘yes, we want to be there’ and what does that look like and what does that mean? That includes this Oceania series and people being prepared to make themselves available for what is an important series and one we need to get through in order to get to Rio.”
Over the next few years the depth of our national talent pool is set to increase significantly at the top end, including the number of Aussies plying their trade in the NBA. The result will be an increase in talent, sure, but also more and more complications around ‘availability’.
When Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski took the reins of USA Basketball ten years ago, their most immediate concern was that very issue. Having talented players was no longer enough, spending time together and developing continuity as a team had suddenly become equally as important. Their response was to ask players for a three-year commitment to the program.
It’s a conundrum that Opals head coach Brendan Joyce also faced last year, ahead of the FIBA World Championships for Women. His hard line – one I strongly criticised at the time – made it impossible for Seattle Storm guard Jenna O’Hea to participate.
No doubt Lemanis had one eye on those blueprints when he and his staff made the tough call on Patty Mills. A precedent where missing camps and warm-up games is viewed as no big deal could spell trouble down the road with prospects like Exum, Simmons and Maker currently learning the ropes.
The flip side, of course, is that those guys may simply choose to ‘opt out’ under such strict regulations.
Striking the right balance here is no easy task.
“It’s an exciting time,” Lemanis said when asked of the up-and-coming Boomers talent. “There’s certainly some exciting talent coming through and I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure on Boomers squads in the future.”
“I think the reality is, within the next couple of years, we could be leaving guys who are playing in the NBA out of the team just because we’ll have so many guys in the NBA.”
So, what about Patty? Should the ‘rehab’ element of his situation come into play? Has his relationship with the national program been damaged by this decision?
“Patty is someone who is passionate about playing for Australia and would have loved to have been playing in the games so he’s obviously a little bit disappointed,” Lemanis said.
“But I think he’s also respectful of the need for us to develop as a team and spend time together as a team in Europe, building our culture and our style of play.”
Lemanis was asked if he expects to face these kinds of issues next year.
“The Olympics is a great reward and goal for every Australian basketball player,” he said.
“To play for your country at the Olympics, you don’t really need to ask people to do that, they’re more than willing to put their hand up and be involved in that sort of event. I’m fully expecting to have everybody available, assuming we qualify, for Rio.”
To be honest, I’m not sure yet where I land on Andrej’s Patty Mills decision.
I would love to offer a hard-line view here – a hot take – but I truly can appreciate the perspectives on all sides of this dice.
The truth is, it’s easy to make these kinds of calls until you’re the person having to make them. Lemanis is charged with the task of qualifying for the Olympics, yes, but also with building a successful national team program. A program that will hopefully achieve great things over the next 5-10 years. This is not an exhibition team.
As for Mills, well, he’s trying to balance what’s right for his body, his career, the Spurs and the Boomers all at the same time. Patty’s handles are sharp but, even for him, that’s a lot of balls in the air.
And then, of course, there’s you and I; the fans. The packed-out Rod Laver Arena crowd and those watching live (on the Nine Network) from their lounge rooms. We always want to see the best players on the floor and apologise to nobody for desiring it.
Such a tough call to make.
Spare a thought for the bloke who had to make it.