Canada And Australia Should Play Regular International Matches

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AUSTRALIAN and Canadian basketball exist in very similar places despite being, geographically, so far from each other.

Both countries love the sport, both have a stack of players and coaches who we can claim as “world class” talents and we both have several NBA first round picks either in the league or coming in upcoming classes.

We also have struggling national leagues, both called NBL, and for this we can blame the NBA and our strong European links which allow so many elite players to claim foreign passports and double their wages on the continent.

With so much in common, why don’t we play regular international matches against each other?

For all the common ground we share, I would contend, that the Australian and Canadian men’s teams play arguably the least matches of any major national teams.

This shouldn’t be the case considering the depth of talent in our teams and the wealth of our societies – it shouldn’t be hard to pull together national teams, find some affordable venues and play an annual series, especially if we played in Canada and used took players from the US college system, where both nations have a number of talented players.

Timing would be a major issue but between July and early September surely there could be a workable time for a three or five game series.

Maybe we could organise some games before or after the NBA Las Vegas Summer League so to give lesser know players a chance to play serious games near NBA scouts.

If one could be a little more imaginative – why aren’t we creating a four-nations type tournament with Commonwealth cousins in Great Britain and New Zealand.

Those two nations are truly emerging basketball countries and both can claim NBA and US college players.

I’m far from the first person to propose this sort of tournament but at this time of year, as we prepare for the NBA Draft I can’t help but think about how good this could be for all four nations.

Sure it’s not easy for Canada or Great Britain to pull together a team and fly to Sydney or Auckland but there are enough Australians and New Zealanders playing in the NBA and college basketball to be able to bring together strong sides – you could almost make the same argument for British players considering their recent advancements.

Can you imagine the rivalries which could be created and the opportunity to see young stars in action?

If we had already made this series last year we could have had Dante Exum (Australia) playing against Andrew Wiggins (Canada) – a matchup which a year later would be much talked about.

Also TV providers in all four nations are always looking for affordable sporting content so providing a series of matches so in time it could also offer both additional exposure and maybe even a little extra revenue for the four federations.

In 2017 international basketball will undergo an enormous re-generation as FIBA adopts a world cup soccer style qualification system within each continent where national teams play a series of qualifying matches to qualify for the FIBA basketball world cup over a number of years.

Gone will be those forgettable qualifying tournaments and in their place will be regular international windows each year in which nations like Canada and Australia will suddenly need to be ready and able to bring together national team squads to play must-win matches against their neighbors.

This will be a massive cultural change for our national bodies, both in cost and in organisational requirements.

Australia already plays an annual series against China called the Sino Series, this year’s installment is currently in session with Australia winning the first game in overtime.

The Boomers side just one European-based player and a few US college players – the bulk of the team comes from Australia’s NBL but the first game was still compelling viewing.

With the 2016 Olympic qualifications on the horizon, then the Olympics themselves – all nations will need to get used to regular games.

Why not get ready now and lock in such a series?

Dante Exum Isn’t The Enigma Most People Claim He Is

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Everyone in the NBA world seems to be asking about Dante Exum right now.

I’ve seen the reports calling him an “international man of mystery,” and while I see the fun in such a title, there is plenty of information out there about Dante Exum if teams and members of the media are willing to pick up the phone.

In the past few months I’ve heard from a bunch of respected basketball people here in Australia who have been taking calls from NBA GMs and scouts about Exum, some have even had a few quiet questions about Ben Simmons, who is still a few years from NBA eligibility.

But I wanted to give readers my thoughts on Exum from my time dealing with him as an Australian journalist.

He has to get stronger, has to improve his jump shot and will take time to adapt to playing 82 games – you could say that about everyone in the draft.

But mentally, psychologically I have no doubt he is ready to be a pro and will make whoever drafts him better.

I’ve only chatted with Exum a couple of times and same with his dad, Cecil Exum, who is a highly respected person within basketball in Victoria, my home state.

Each time I’ve walked away (or hung up the phone) believing Exum has a good head on his shoulders, a great family behind him and a strong heart in his chest.

The Exum story is a good one and one which would not be foreign to families through the western world.

His dad came out to Australia after a successful college career with North Carolina.

He was a respectable, hard-working import who took care of his teammates and generally did the right thing in all circumstances.

As such he kept getting contracts and made a good career in the Australian NBL.

Along the way he did what several US imports at that time did, he decided to make his life in Australia and as such went on to work in Victoria, coach and play in our state league competitions while he and his wife, Desiree, raised their kids, one of which is Dante.

Talk about Dante’s talents only started a few years back when he made our under-17 national team, previously he had played at junior level for Victoria and looked a promising talent.

About that time the Australian national team, known as the Boomers, were coached by a bloke named Brett Brown, you will now know him as coach of Philadelphia 76ers.

Brown knew how good Dante could be so he promoted him to the Boomers training camp, even though he still hadn’t turned 16.

Once in the national team set-up and playing against international talent, people both here and overseas realised just how good he could be.

The first time I spoke with Dante he was at a camp for the Australian under-19 side which was in Europe and about to head to the world championships.

At the time he was projected to be a possible NBA draft pick but his future plans were completely unknown, as such there was almost no media coverage of him in Australia.

When we spoke the team had recently found out one of their best shooters, a guy named Mirko Djeric, was going to miss the tournament as he had been shot in the leg at a house party in Sydney.

When I asked Dante about it he spoke like a seasoned veteran, saying how much their friend would be missed and that the team would be playing for him.

That seems like a response anyone could make but several months later I was in Sydney for the Australian league (known as NBL) preseason tournament where Djeric was playing with Townsville Crocs.

During the Crocs first game, I noticed Exum and two of his Australian under-19 teammates quietly walk into the stadium.

At half time those same boys went and greeted Djeric’s very nervous family who were watching his first serious game since returning from the shooting.

His family had been riding each of Djeric’s shots, each time he hit the floor or took a foul.

But when those boys came over to them they all exchanged hugs and kisses like long-lost family – turning up at that game said more about Exum and his teammates than any conversation could tell you.

I spoke to him a few months later after ESPN’s Chad Ford listed him third in his 100 players list.

Exum was training with the Boomers and loving the chance to battle NBA guards Patty Mills and Matt Dellavedova and European veterans like Joe Ingles and Brad Newley.

He seemed more excited about being in the national team setup than anything else.

At this time talk was building that he would definitely be heading to the NBA but Exum made it clear he was torn both ways between having the college experience his dad had at North Carolina or fast-tracking his career to the NBA.

His biggest learning curve was facing the physical strength of playing against men like Mills and Dellavedova – but from all accounts I received Dante more than held his own.

When ESPN reported in January that Exum would enter the draft, suddenly every person with a camera or microphone went looking for Dante.

He was in Canberra, training at the Australian Institute of Sport, so was quite hard to find.

I sent him a couple of texts asking if he had a few minutes to talk, I didn’t hear anything from him all day until just before 4pm when he called me back saying he was more than happy to talk and was held up training.

This time he made it clear he had noted the extra analysis US college stars like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins had faced during their freshman seasons – he knew it was time for him to go pro.

In the past year I have talked to lots of people who have worked closely with Exum, so often the conversation begins with “don’t report this but Dante did this”.

I won’t break those confidences but each time they told me stories of him going the extra mile for a teammate, telling volunteers or officials he appreciated their work and similar gestures.

Dante has been a heart-beat away from the NBA for over a year now but hasn’t let it change his values – if that isn’t the best possible indication of his ability to handle the NBA, then I don’t know what is.

It’s Time To Change The NBA’s Video Review Policy

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Technology has done so much for basketball, especially the NBA.

It has allowed the league to beam its games all over the world and reap billions of dollars in the process.

It has also allowed players to hone their fitness, reduce their travel time and improve their recovery and the number of years they can play at NBA level and make NBA wages for longer.

I love my NBA League Pass and also love wearing my NBA merchandise shipped straight from the US to my home in Australia.

But when it comes to the NBA’s video review system – it’s time to go old school and place the power back in the referees’ hands.

LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers called for video review to be scraped following what he called a blown decision which contributed to his side’s game 5 Western Conference semi-final loss to Oklahoma City Thunder.

Rivers was “pissed” about a video review decision late in the game in which Clippers forward Matt Barnes looked to have stripped Thunder guard Reggie Jackson of the ball as he drove the basket attempting to take the lead for his side.

Replays appeared to show Barnes hitting the hands of Jackson as he went for a layup with Jackson then appearing to touch the ball after it came loose, hence knocking it out of bounds.

The referee called no foul on the play but when reviewed by the referees they gave the ball to the Thunder.

I don’t think the league needs to completely scrap the system but it needs to cut down the areas big brother in which can have oversight.

Namely, the video needs to be used for when referees can’t make a firm decision on whether a shot is a two or three pointer and when it comes to decisions on whether a shot left a player’s hands before the shot clock expired.

In those areas video can give comprehensive information which the referee’s human brain cannot match.

But when it comes to deciding fouls and out of bounds calls – these are areas which, for the most part, require a human decision.

Sometimes the two-dimensional cameras give us a clear decision, other times they don’t and because of that we should leave it to the referees to make the call.

Now I hear you all saying that video replays can show a player hitting another player’s arm and can show a player stepping out of bounds or touching the ball with the tip of his finger.

But the video is not always conclusive and can often give contradictory information when shown at full speed or slow motion.

The referee making a decision on the court gives an immediate and, for the most part, fair outcome.

Yes, referees can be swayed by crowds but that is just an element of the human condition and nobody in the NBA is better conditioned at playing down crowd noise than NBA referees as they face such crowds every night over the season.

We have to fight to keep our game human and make sure the outcome of games is not handed over to robots and computers.

Pro sport is at its best when we have humans competing against humans while other humans try to shape events (i.e. coach) and more humans try to keep them playing by the rules (referees).

The NBA needs to looks deeply into its business-minded, corporate heart and score a win for the humanists.

We need an NBA in which games are decided by players and where decisions, for better or worse, are made by referees.

Plus it will never be much fun yelling at computers – “You suck, R2D2” isn’t near as satisfying as “You’re blind, Joey Crawford”.