In the wake of the NBA finals – where the world saw the first Indigenous Australian basketballer leave the court with a championship ring – there has been an increased media focus on the boom in Australia’s homegrown basketball talent.
While Australia looks at players like Patty Mills and Aron Baynes as emerging products of both the Australian Institute of Sport and supportive club sides, there is one community in Australian basketball that is producing waves of young men and women for both rep sides and the US College system each year. It is known as The South Sudanese Australian National Basketball Association, a competition that hosts up to 40 teams across the country.
Within this competition is the Blacktown club from Sydney’s deep west: Star Basketball.
Star Basketball started in 2006 with just a handful of Sudanese youths coming together for a game of basketball. Since then, it has grown rapidly into an organisation that now represents over 100 young people, with over 30 more on the waiting list. Star Basketball is a volunteer organisation driven by the passion of CEO Mayor Chagai, who describes the aim of the program as building young people’s self esteem and life-skills, and providing a structure for education.
But this is just one of many Sudanese organisations around Australia that uses basketball to help new arrivals. Young migrants and refugees face a host of challenges settling into a new life and basketball gives them something positive to focus on and commit to. The program is receiving praise from all levels of the community as it develops young leaders and keeps youth from wandering the streets.
The results on the court have been nothing short of extraordinary. Former Blacktown resident Ater Majok was signed to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012 and there’s a line of others on his heels with new US College deals in the offering – including Thon Maker, Deng Adel, Mangok Mathiang and Deng Gak.
On July 11-13 all teams from across Australia will come together to compete in the South Sudanese Australian “National Classics” tournament. Held at the Penrith Valley Regional Sports Centre, the massive event will attract nearly 40 teams, 500 players and 3000 spectators jetting in from around the country. It’s a remarkable event, and as Chagai describes it, it’s a day where players “from many different backgrounds come together as a family”.
To see a glimpse of the characters and the event watch the video link from the SSANBA crowd-funding campaign.
With about ten US college players flying back during their university spring break just to represent their local Australian teams in the tournament, the quality of basketball promises to be on par with the Australian NBL. It is something that American scouts and coaches have been aware of for some time: The quiet revolution of Australian Basketball.
The tournament will display the future of Australian basketball, but at the end of the day, it is much more than just a game of sport. It is life changing.
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