2016 – another shining year for Victorian basketball

WHILE many will say 2016 was a tough year – full of loss, surprise and controversy – at least the basketball world gave us something to smile about.

In particular, Victorians put their hands up and made 2016 a fabled year for what we achieved.

Our Boomers shone. Our Sapphires and Gems sparkled. Ben Simmons became Number 1. We had to say goodbye and #ThankYouPenny.

Every national junior title from under-20, under-18 and under-16 levels came back to Victoria, our Club Championship and School Championship teams delivered in spades and our Ivor Burge teams and Kevin Coombs Cup sides also gave it their all.

It was an incredible 2016 for basketball on and off the court – as Victorians excelled across the state, the country and especially the world.

A photo posted by Ben Simmons (@bensimmons) on

Ben Simmons became Victoria’s second NBA number one draft pick when his name echoed enthusiastically around the world on June 23.

“It’s amazing,” Simmons told ESPN soon after his name was called.  “I’m happy the Sixers chose me.

“It’s a great city, and I’m looking forward to getting to Philly.”

While injuries have held back his rookie NBA season to date, we can’t wait to see him debut for the 76ers sometime in the new year and show the world what we’ve seen in the Victorian colours for years now.

Matthew Dellavedova dove on every ball and fought his way through to Cleveland’s drought-breaking NBA Finals triumph, as one of the more extraordinary come-from-behind victories in sporting history (sorry Warriors fans! At least I didn’t say you blew 3-1…). Our Country star hit the road to join Milwaukee after the dust settled on the Cavaliers’ extraordinary come-from-behind championship win over Golden State.

Not content with just a championship, Delly’s next performance on court, arm to arm with his countrymen, almost made history.

The Olympic Games proved a mixed bag for our Australian teams, but the Victorians always battled to the final second and in the case of the Boomers, our national men’s team went within a shot of its first Olympic Games medal.

From the highs of leading the Americans at half-time in an Olympic shoot-out for the ages, or the gutsy wins over Japan and Serbia in the group stage, the Boomers set the stage for “that game” against Span in the bronze medal showdown. With seconds left, Patty Mills stuck like glue to Sergio Rodriguez… yet what happened next still hasn’t sunk in.

Whether or not “it” was a foul (safe to say 7am in the morning there weren’t many fans of that call in Australia!), there were too many highlights to rattle off from the likes of Matthew Dellavedova, Andrew Bogut, David Andersen and Ryan Broekhoff who all performed strongly in Rio.

Penny Taylor

#ThankYou Penny. Picture: FIBA

The Opals were gallant as everyone said farewell to a Victorian legend – one of our greatest ever from this state – Penny Taylor from international basketball.

“This sucks (bowing out in the final loss to Serbia), but I’m always proud to play for my country,” Taylor said at the time.

Liz Cambage was extraordinary through that campaign – making her mark as Australia’s prime performer – as we were also well served as well by Victorian metropolitan and country tandem Rachel Jarry and Tessa Lavey.

The Rollers had a similar fate at the Rio Paralympics – fading just after the group stage as Jannik Blair, Josh Allison, Tristan Knowles and Shawn Russell performed admirably in the international spotlight.

But we weren’t done internationally there.

Our under-17 Sapphires were phenomenal. Ezi Magbegor was extraordinary throughout the tournament in league with the likes of Jaz Shelley, Monique Conti, Rebecca Pizzey, Kiera Rowe, Jaz Shelley and Lucy Cochrane rounding out the Victorian contingent that defeated the USA in the semi-final before routing Italy to take the title.

“It is hard to put into words how I feel at the moment, the whole experience was amazing,” Conti said. “I could not have asked for a better group of girls to play with – we all knew each other from nationals, both playing together and against each other.”

Add to that the performances of the Gems in Oceania and it was clear to see that Victorians wore the green and gold proudly and pushed Australia to greater points on the basketball landscape.

The world recognised us further – annointing Michele Timms twice in Hall of Fames this year. Firstly, her recognition by FIBA then backed up when the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame elevated her to Legend status.

“This has to be up there with winning the first ever medal in 96,” Timms said at the time. “To be recognised individually on the world basketball stage is the pinnacle I would think for most basketballers.”

Closer to home Victorians made sure our status wasn’t questioned in the national arena.

Under-20 wins for Victoria as well as under-18 and under-16 triumphs with Victoria Metro showed the state’s dominance in the junior championships. Victoria Country also excelled, getting silver through their under-16 boys in a fantastic Victoria vs Victoria showdown for the finale.

When you add our successes from national championships, international tournaments, the National Junior Classic, the Australian School Championships, Victorian basketballers had an exceptional year and deserve to be congratulated.

We grew from our grassroots up. Hoop Time participation numbers went through the roof as young kids from across the state – pleasingly with a lot from the country regions – got involved with their first taste of basketball.

The Melb Utd. VJBL continued its expansion too; adding new teams and associations throughout the state. It continues to be the benchmark for junior basketball leagues across the world and one of Australia’s finest junior competitions across the sporting landscape.

BIG V has also expanded its number of teams and brought in new associations to keep the competition up to standard and constantly evolving.

Walking Basketball became the next big online thing and we were featured on the evening news to boot as the inclusion department showed time and time again how basketball is a sport for everyone.

We also made significant financial investments to boost basketball’s inclusivity – adding 42 new playing wheelchairs to the state in a $50000 partnership with VicHealth.

Basketball has also expanded to meet demand – as growth came in waves and investment provided associations like Werribee, McKinnon, and soon in the new year, Casey with new stadia to spread their wings and flourish further.

Extraordinary years on the court are only possible due to amazing people and tireless work off the court. From everyone at Basketball Victoria, we wanted to thank the players, families, coaches, administrators and volunteers for pushing our sport to the top yet again. Here’s hoping 2017 breaks the mould again.

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