The Pride of Queensland

Cameron Bairstow cried after his Queensland team won the 2009 National U20 Championship, but they weren’t happy tears.

Shane Froling, the coach of that team, remembered Bairstow was drug tested after Queensland’s win in the final. Bairstow was worried about the outcome of the imminent test, and Froling asked him what he’d done.

Bairstow’s indiscretion: he had used his asthma puffer before the game.

“He thought he had cost us a medal, so when I see him nowadays I do rib him about that,” Froling told Downtown.

Bairstow was concerned because he hadn’t previously declared himself asthmatic, but he was safe—he only had to tell the officials prior to the test. He passed, and Queensland kept its gold medal.

That team went undefeated in the tournament and featured two current Boomers and six players now in the NBL.

The roster consisted of Mitch Young, Matt Hodgson, Brendan Teys, Todd Blanchfield, Damon Heuir, Jeromie Hill, Christian Salecich, Jorden Page, Brock Motum and Bairstow.

“The team was obviously just stacked with talent,” Jeromie Hill said.

Seven of the players were at the Australian Institute of Sport at the time, and Blanchfield had previously attended. Though Queensland had only won the men’s under-20 nationals once, in 2005, it made sense that lots was expected of its 2009 team.

“I remember Marty Clarke, the coach of the Australian Institute of Sport, saying that we kind of had to win it, otherwise we look bad, having so many athletes from the AIS from Queensland,” Hill said.

“So I guess there was a little bit of expectation, but we handled it well.”

Queensland was a long, tall and athletic team, and according to Matt Hodgson, Froling allowed the talented roster to play to its strengths.

“Frolie did a great job of coaching to a very open and free style of play,” Hodgson said.

That 2009 tournament was in Townsville, which provided Queensland with advantages. There was local support, the players were familiar with the venue and city, and the team’s court assignments were favourable in the February heat — as Hodgson remembered, Queensland was always on the air-conditioned court at the Townsville Basketball Stadium, not the slippery ones.

“I think that was just a bit of hometown love,” he said.

Froling, a veteran of 271 NBL games, tried to make his players comfortable during the tournament. He gave each of them choices for what sort of recovery session they’d do and made sure, with cooking help from one of the team managers, there were three options available at every meal.

On the court, Queensland’s run included a 25-point win over a Victorian side with Matthew Dellavedova and Ryan Broekhoff, an 83-point victory against the Oceania team, and a semi-final defeat of Western Australia by 11 points in what Froling said was the team’s toughest game.

Queensland’s opponent in the grand final was New South Wales, a team that featured Jason Cadee.

Froling told his team that Cadee, a “scoring machine,” would be Queensland’s biggest problem. Froling’s plan was to wear him out by running him off screens early in the game. The team followed the instructions.

“My boys were bouncing him like a pinball machine,” Froling said.

The game was close in the first half, but New South Wales, who had lost Shane Harris-Tunks in the semi-final, were run over after halftime.

Brendan Teys recalled that, with about four minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Froling subbed in top-age players who had been on unsuccessful Queensland teams at previous national championships. The players, including Page, Salecich, Motum and Teys, essentially took turns making threes in the closing stages of the game.

“That was just a special moment for us who had come up short in the past,” Teys said.

Motum had 27 points and Page had 25 as Queensland won 111-72. Page received the Bob Staunton Award as the tournament’s most outstanding player.

“Big Joe” Tertzakian was with the team in a support role and he brought out national champions hats that he had gotten made — unbeknownst to Froling — with the players’ names and numbers on them.

“You wouldn’t normally see that at the nationals, so he must have been ultra-confident that we were going to win,” Hill said.But other basketball commitments meant there wasn’t time for the team’s celebration to linger.

“It was quite disappointing when we all had to fly back to Canberra the next day knowing that we’ve got practice the day after that,” Hill said.

Beyond being the occasion of Queensland’s second and most recent under-20 men’s title — no state other than Victoria has won the competition since — the tournament helped Queensland’s players develop.

Froling said Bairstow and Hodgson struggled to catch the ball before the nationals. As a remedy, Queensland’s assistant coaches would stand eight feet away and throw baseball passes at their heads.

“By the end of the tournament, those boys were gloving every single thing that was thrown at them,” Froling said.

At the time of the tournament, Froling didn’t think Bairstow was going to the NBA, but he isn’t surprised the forward made it there, given his work ethic.

“If you said to him, ‘You need to improve your shot,’ he’d go and spend six hours that day on it,” Froling said.

Hodgson said he expanded his game at the tournament and credited Froling’s encouragement and coaching for his improvement. His experience at those nationals helped him feel like he belonged at the AIS, and he went on to make the Australian U19 team and play at Southern Utah University and Saint Mary’s.

“That tournament I think helped me to really give me a bit of belief in myself heading down the road,” Hodgson said.

Christian Salecich and Page are the two players from that team who aren’t Boomers or playing in the NBL. Salecich played college basketball at Saint Louis, Missouri Southern State and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Page, who has battled injuries, spent four seasons at Saint Mary’s.

The six current NBL guys from that ’09 Queensland team have combined to play over 450 games in the league.

Bairstow, who played a season-high 18:33 in a game this week for the Chicago Bulls, and Motum, who’s with Lithuanian side Zalgiris Kaunas, will likely be on the Boomers team vying for a gold medal at this year’s Olympics.

Those are the kinds of achievements their coach anticipated seven years ago.

Said Froling: “There was no doubt in my mind I was going to see those kids playing NBL and for Australia.”


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One Response

  1. KimJong at |

    Great piece, well done Alex.

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