Imagine watching the 2020 Olympic Games.
Specifically, imagine watching the Men’s Basketball Gold Medal Match.
You’re probably picturing Team USA vs someone.
Are you picturing… Australia?!
Far-fetched? Not as far as you might think. And here’s why…
Dante Exum and Ben Simmons.
Remember those names.
Not only is ‘Dante Exum’ one of the coolest names you’re likely to hear this side of Steele Sidebottom, but the Melbourne teenager is also one of the most exciting young basketballers on the planet. Only 18 years of age, the 198cm (6’6”) Aussie was among the best players at the 2013 FIBA Under-19 World Championships. He is likely to be taken in the Top 5 picks in the 2014 NBA Draft, with some General Managers declaring he’s the most exciting prospect in an absolutely loaded draft. A potential NBA superstar.
Fellow Melbournian Ben Simmons is a year younger, and about to start playing college basketball at Louisiana State University – the same college that produced NBA Legend Shaquille O’Neal. Ben is 206cm (6’9”) and still growing… a force to be reckoned with and athletically off-the-charts. He is projected to be a Top 5 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, and another player carrying the “potential superstar” tag.
Now, Australian basketball fans have been burnt before. We remember the 80s and 90s, when the Glasshouse was absolutely jam-packed for the Spectres, the Giants, the Magic and especially for the Tigers … We remember Dante and Ben’s dads (Cecil and Dave) who were imported superstars. We remember the Gaze-to-Copeland Alley-oops and Hammer Heal and Leroy Loggins and the hope that Australian basketball was on the right track.
And then it all went wrong for the local league, the NBL started hemorrhaging money, the front office made stuff-up after stuff-up, the quality of play declined and fans turned away. We couldn’t even rely on the NBA to keep interest levels up, since the NBA was packed with gangsta prima donnas who the average Australian abhorred.
Then, out of seemingly nowhere, Andrew Bogut was taken at #1 in the NBA Draft. A glimmer of hope! A genuine NBA-calibre talent, Bogut’s career has since been stop-start because of freak injuries, but he’s carved out a very good career and remains Australia’s best ever basketballer (Sorry, Gazey, but it’s true). But despite being an excellent player, Bogut is not a superstar. (Sorry Bogey, but it’s true)
However, Exum and Simmons could be genuine bona fide superstars. And that is very exciting.
(It’s worth noting that if Exum’s reported affection for the LA Lakers sees him wearing their repulsive uniform in years to come, I will seek to have his citizenship revoked…Embrace the Celtic within you, Dante!)
But for a moment allow yourself to imagine two Aussie NBA players leading NBA teams, pulling off highlight plays, hitting gamewinning jumpshots, and generally endearing themselves to the rabid-for-success Australian public.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Dante and Ben (along with others coming through the US College system and guys already in the NBA like Dellavedova and Mills) represent a once-in-a-generation chance for Australian basketball.
Too much pressure on two guys who haven’t even played a game yet? Maybe. But only time (and their prodigious talent) will tell.