As the whistle sounded following Monday’s bronze medal game in Rio, Spain celebrated yet another medal victory, while the upstart Australian national team was sent home empty-handed once again.
If you were on Twitter in the immediate aftermath, it was easy to find frustrated fans and disappointing graphics, including numerous eulogies for a missed opportunity for a maiden Boomers Olympic medal.
Earning a medal in men’s basketball was important for Australia in Rio. https://t.co/RMcoQLmRIH
— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) August 21, 2016
Sure, the heartbreak of the game was palpable, as players like Patty Mills and Andrew Bogut sounded off about the upset locker room following a loss when history was there for the taking. But the trip to Rio, and the amazing ride the Aussies went on, was far from wasted time. If anything, the Boomers merely took the necessary first step to becoming a global competitor.
Entering the Olympics, the Boomers were the 12th-ranked FIBA team in the world. Largely expected to fail to qualify for the medal rounds, Australia featured a team of a few solid NBA players and not much else. This unfancied standing was supposed to be highlighted in their match-up with France, who featured some marquee NBA players like Boris Diaw, Nic Batum, and Tony Parker.
But Australia decimated the French by 20, catching eyes and turning heads. The Boomers would then run through Serbia before matching up with the heavily favored US, who had yet to play a close game, either in exhibition or in the tournament. The Boomers led the US for a good chunk of the game, before ultimately being defeated in a blistering Carmelo Anthony-led fourth quarter. It was a wake-up call for the Americans, and an arrival for the Aussies.
The Boomers would then sweep through their remaining Group A games, entering the knockout stage with just one blemish, against the USA. And across the tournament, pundits were saying that it was the Aussies, not Spain, that posed the greatest threat to US supremacy.
The Boomers made quick work of Lithuania in the quarters, and advanced to the semifinals against Serbia as heavy favorites, in a game billed as one of the biggest in Australia’s history. A win would guarantee the Boomers first medal in basketball, along with a rematch with the star-studded US team.
But we all know what happened next. The Boomers were rocked from the opening gun by Serbia, never overcoming a slow start, and fizzling into a slot in the third-place playoff. The bubble burst heavily for the Aussies, leaving instead just a do-or-die matchup with Spain for bronze.
And while the Boomers would give Spain all they could handle (and give up a really questionable late foul call), it was ultimately all for nought, as the Spaniards upended the Boomers’ bid for a medal. It was a disappointing ending for a surprising run, but far from the end of the story.
The Boomers roster is laden with talented supporting pieces, but seems to be missing the alpha players that would put them over the top in the same way that Spain did with Pau Gasol at the helm in the early-2000s.
Players like Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills made quite the splash in the Rio tournament, and will return to Tokyo in 2020. Aron Baynes and Andrew Bogut will also likely return, providing a solid big-man group to build around. Add in Chris Goulding and potentially guard Tom Wilson, and the rotation looks good.
But the Boomers will add three pieces to their roster with this cast that will elevate them to the top echelon in international basketball. Ben Simmons, the NBA’s top draft pick in 2016, has already made clear his intention to play in 2020. Couple that with Dante Exum, the young Utah Jazz guard, and Thon Maker of the Bucks, and the Boomers could have three new, young and exciting starters in place for the 2020 Games.
Maybe with Ben Simmons spearheading the #Boomers we’ll have a different result in Tokyo 2020
— Ronny Lerner (@RonnyLerner) August 22, 2016
With Spain and France both seeing huge roster turnover due to age, the stage is set for Australia to become a basketball power, and the heir apparent as the thorn in the side of the United States.
The blues followed their late fadeout in Rio, but with the pieces falling into place for the Boomers, 2020 could see the team singing a different tune.