The year is barely two-thirds of the way through, but already Andrew Bogut is talking Olympic gold and the merits of Swaggy P taking the knee for the Australian cause in Rio. The buzz surrounding the Boomers is very real. And so are their medal aspirations in 2016.
Even still, as one NBA scout recently told Downtown, “Australia has a legitimate chance to be medal contenders. Maybe not in Rio but 2019 World Cup they’re deep in the race.”
With Ben Simmons, Dante Exum, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Ingles and a host of other well accomplished pros, Australia could possess the sort of depth that may threaten the traditional power structure in international basketball.
But while you’re etching the year 2019 into your memory bank, you may like to log in one other name: William McDowell-White.
The son of AFL Premiership player and Brisbane Lions Hall of Famer Darryl White is starting to evoke little ripples across the basketball fraternity after impressing with the Under 19 Australian team at the 2015 FIBA World Championships.
It’s true: The NBA is living through the golden age of point guards. But so is Australia. Indeed, Mills, Dellavedova and Exum are the headlines but McDowell-White might soon evolve beyond the small print, and into something special.
McDowell-White isn’t unique in cobbling together a string of strong performances as a bottom-ager in a major tournament like the FIBA world champs. Heck, where he winds up in three years is far from certain, and the feeling from those who’ve watched him is that he’s somewhere in the middle of the pack.
“He definitely isn’t on Ben Simmons’ level of talent right now,” one NBA scout told Downtown. “I would say Will is in the middle. He could go either way. His decision-making isn’t elite yet as it needs to be but he’s still only 17.”
The “either-way” analogy isn’t necessarily damning. In other words: He’s a teenager still trying to figure out who he is.
But what he offers could be unique to Australian basketball. He boasts that something “special” that every talent evaluator seeks. He’s the rare speedster with the basketball IQ to shift gears, create space and whip defenses into a haze in the open court.
Adelaide 36ers Head Coach Joey Wright compared the 17-year-old’s explosiveness to Derrick Rose earlier this year.
“It’s a fair comparison in the sense of how fast he is with the ball,” agrees Australia’s Under 19 Head Coach Adam Caporn.
“It’s very hard to say,” adds the NBA scout. “Rose is very special, we’re talking about an MVP. I know he’s not comparing Will to that. He’s comparing his style to Derrick’s. I can say a little bit as he’s great in the open court and he has that ability to change pace, which is special.”
Although he sometimes strays into hopeless adventures in the paint, McDowell-White’s ability to break down perimeter defenses and manufacture his own tempo when the game drifts on a sombre pace, is nabbing intrigue from major college programs and NBA scouts. Playing the long game can be dangerous but he definitely projects to be in the mould of a true point guard.As we look at the years ahead for McDowell-White, it’s appropriate looking at exactly where he is right now. He faces the same question that Exum faced last year: Does he become the next exotic, foreign mystery man or does he pursue the traditional college route where you’re closer to the furnace? Nobody really has a grasp on the Aussie’s next move.
“He’s got a big choice to make,” says the NBA scout. “He has positional size which translates in the NBA. He has a feel right now, which is very interesting. It’s really up to him.
“One, how bad does he really want it and how hard does he want to work for it? And then two, the coaching? Where is he going to go? Is he going to stay in the NBL and play pro against men or is he going to go against guys his own age, and guys who are just as or better athletes? If he holds his own or excels then he has a great chance of playing in the NBA one day.”
Teams have access to more statistics and game film than ever, but quantifying a foreign prospect’s value remains dicey. Numbers breathe momentum to a player’s stock but the context behind those numbers, and the trends that develop between the crossovers and the heat checks is the vital predictor for how a player will fit in the professional game.
What’s clear though is that he is neither cocky when he’s a front-runner, petulant when he’s behind or an A-hole when he’s away from the public’s eye. His approach to basketball is steady and wrapped with an appealing single-mindedness.
“He clearly loves the game, wants to play for Australia and he keeps it as simple as that. When he came back from a shoulder injury, he didn’t have a full preparation,” Caporn recalls when McDowell-White joined the Under 19 squad.
“When he first got back and into his first session, I asked him what he thought, and he said, ‘It’s great to get back out on the court again’. He just loves to play.”
For the same reason that the point guard barely showed a flutter to the Rose comparison, Coach Caporn isn’t concerned with what lies ahead for him.
“Will’s an elite prospect for our country. What he wants out of basketball in my discussions with him will lead to him making good decisions. With his makeup and characteristics, he has a chance to achieve all the things he wants from the game – the NBA and the Boomers.”
You’ll notice how we haven’t discussed McDowell-White’s defense. It’s an open secret that most players don’t play as hard as they’re capable of on defense during their journey to the NBA. They just don’t feel the whisper of their mortality when they’re nearly always the best player in the gym. Hell, they can make up for a blown rotation with an assortment of daggers on the other end. But this young Aussie is a little different.
“He’s competitive and doesn’t back down, which comes from his football background and with his dad being such an elite athlete in the AFL,” says the NBA scout. “You can definitely see some stuff from him that translated from watching his dad play as a boy.”
Much of the last year was spent debating the merits of NBA players donning their national colours in the offseason. Sure, there are reasonable arguments to be made on both sides of the bar, and the safest bet from a financial perspective might be just condensing international competition to a mostly under-23 format.
And yet, if you caught the Australian Boomers’ homecoming fiesta – even if it was merely gazing into the Corey Webster and Patty Mills show in Melbourne – you’re probably wondering why a debate even exists. Sure, the risk of injury will forever lurk in the background but players want to play for their country and it’s the players that ultimately dictate the way the game will be run.
“The NBA is really global so it’s not so much a destination but rather part of the pathway,” notes Caporn. “It’s your professional destination. To get there, there is no set pathway and while you’re on that you sort of realise that maybe your greatest honour is to actually wear the green and gold.”
From what we’ve seen so far, McDowell-White shares that same mentality.
What’s clear is that his and Australia’s future could be special. For now, though, he has some big decisions to make; decisions that could play a major role in framing just how special that future turns out to be.
Right now, it could go “either way”.