With last week’s win over Kazakhstan, Australia officially punched their ticket to the FIBA World Cup 2023. While the World Cup qualification system can be brutal, with travel to all corners of Asia across various game windows, the end result was never really in doubt for the greens and golds. A remarkable 15-match winning streak, including nine qualifiers split by an Asian Cup title, made the Australian Boomers the first team to advance from Asia.
That decisive match against Kazakhstan was a microcosm of the entire qualifying trip. The Boomers simply had too much talent compared to their opposition, holding a 31-point lead into quarter time that closed the door on the hosts. With all 11 players on their roster reaching the score, Australia was once again able to display their enviable depth on the world stage.
That depth has been key to a qualifying and Asian Cup campaign that featured none of Australia’s NBA stars save for a brief cameo by Matthew Dellavedova before his signing with the Sacramento Kings. That has had backup coach Mike Kelly turning to the NBL for his squad’s mainstays through every window. To date, the Boomers have used 31 notable players in World Cup qualifiers: of that group, 18 are currently on NBL rosters, while three others were in the league at the time of their selection.
“I think [the NBL] It has improved a lot in recent times.” Kelly said after the win over Kazakhstan. “Great young players have shown that they are very good on the international stage…it has given the guys a great opportunity and experience to improve.”
Of course, all of those aforementioned NBA stars will emerge when the World Cup rolls around next year. With ten Australians currently playing at the highest level and only 12 roster spots available for the tournament, the competition for selection will be fierce. There is also plenty of talent playing abroad who will be in contention, such as Nick Kay in Japan and Duop Reath in China, national team regulars with major tournament experience.
“We’ve got everyone lining up to play and everyone wants to play, so I think it’s going to be a very tough decision when it comes to this time next year,” Kelly said.
However, some of the NBL’s best players have been given an extended audition through the qualifiers and the Asian Cup, and will be firmly in contention for a ticket to the main event. With another qualifying window and plenty of NBL games to come, three players are poised to push their case as the tournament fast approaches.
In every window since their Olympic triumph, the Boomers have fielded a relatively inexperienced lineup. Just two of that bronze medal-winning team have played since, and in its place there have been 16 national teams debutants
Even with those new lineups, a handful of veteran players have formed the core of the team throughout, with Adelaide guard Mitch McCarron leading the way. With an Asian Cup gold medal already under his belt and a long and highly praised NBL career, he was a natural candidate for a leadership role. McCarron has dressed for six games in the playoffs so far, tied for the most of any Boomer, plus the entire Asian Cup tournament, and has been a mainstay for the last year or so in FIBA competition. .
“Mitch was the captain that went into this trip and he did a great job with that vocally and by example.” said his teammate Thon Maker after the Asian Cup final. “There wasn’t a point where he didn’t tell everyone to get together and just say ‘okay, stay together.'”
It helps that McCarron’s playing style and personality lend themselves fully to leading from the front.