Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Man Up

No player is bigger than the team.

I believe this.

Every member of a team deserves recognition for their contribution. That’s what makes a team. When clubs market a single player instead of promoting the team as a whole, this marginalises the efforts of the rest of the team. And what happens when the “star” player gets injured, signs with another club, or retires?

It is a short-sighted and shallow solution, and one that indirectly detriments the team, and the game.

That said, while players and other fans profess loyalty to their clubs, I do not.

I love my teams. I share their elation in victory, their disappointment in defeat. I attend every home game, and try to travel to away games. For games I can’t get to, I will sit in front of a computer graphic, constantly refreshing my screen for the latest score.

But ultimately, the Team is a club, a franchise, an association. They can be sold, go bankrupt, change management, change their logo, or sign new naming rights sponsors.

It is the players who have played each game, win or loss. They’ve trained, practised and analysed; they’ve taken the hits, dived after balls and suffered the injuries. Fans have gotten to know them, their nicknames, habits and superstitions. We’ve seen what they do off the court, from juggling fulltime jobs to raising money for charity. We’ve spoken to them as they patiently sign autographs for us.

It is the players who are owed loyalty, if not by their fans, most certainly by their clubs.
Players deserve opportunities. Coaches no doubt want that all-important dub, and play their well-worn line-ups, but to what cost? Keeping some players on the bench for the entire season, only letting them on the court for junk minutes? Their effort throughout the season is worth more than that.

Players are owed a duty of care. It’s unconscionable for the “leadership group” of a club to put a player at risk by playing them while injured. The Canberra Capitals pointed fingers overseas, at what they purported was a club not acting in the interests of an injured player. Later that very season, the Capitals sent their own player on a road-trip double after suffering a concussion in the game prior.

Players should have support. Clubs have rules and policies, which they need to uphold. If these are breached, clubs certainly need to act accordingly. But their actions can affect outcomes, contracts, reputations, and even careers. Clubs owe it to the players to, you know, not throw them under the bus.

Perhaps there are some clubs who, more than anything else, want to win a championship, and play the game in a way to achieve that.

I don’t care what they say.

No game is more important its players.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Show and Go

Another WNBL season has started; Twitter is ablaze with excitement.

Australian sports fans are riding high on the hype after the London Olympics; now is an opportune time to promote the Women’s National Basketball League. Spectators who may not have considered watching women’s basketball before, surely could not help being swept up in the action in the Opals games, televised live on Foxtel.

With world-class players returning to our shores, including the World’s Best Player, a number of imports added to the mix, and the young talent of the Australian Institute of Sport dispersed among the teams, Season 2012-13 is full of promise.

So, what is the coverage like? Basketball Australia announced their new “improved coverage” deal with long-time broadcaster ABC, just 3 days before the season opener. The new agreement includes a live webcast on ABC Grandstand every Friday night, and a delayed broadcast on free-to-air channel ABC1 in a one hour timeslot.

If you’re thinking “how is this possibly improved?” then I share your cynicism. Yes, some of us can still recall the one-hour-of-WNBL-highlights days.

The spin-pill that fans are expected to swallow, is the new timeslot will attract more viewers to the sport, and the flexibility of the broadcast arrangement allows fans more choice of how they watch at home. You know, because fans like seeing just parts of games. And poor resolution webcasts. We love having that choice.

Look at what programs are on ABC instead. Saturday afternoons, viewers can watch old Pink Panther movies before the game, the Wonder Years repeats after. Both equally justifiable reasons to cut the WNBL broadcast short... And Friday nights on ABC2 hold repeats of Spicks and Specks, and food shows. Which validly explains why the 2008-09 media deal cannot be replicated...

What is also disappointing to see, is the teams and players promulgating this propaganda. It appears that only the fans are concerned with demanding better standards for women’s basketball from ABC, Basketball Australia, and BA CEO Kristina Keneally.

Women’s basketball simply deserves better. It will be a detriment to the sport if supporters no longer get to see games in full, or in reasonable picture quality.

WNBL fans are loyal to the women’s game. It’s about time that loyalty was reciprocated.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Spirit of the Game

Following two weeks of world class basketball (and other sport, so I’m told), the winners have been celebrated and the excuses have been made.

From a fan’s perspective, it was a disappointing Olympic performance. Not the Australian Opals standing on the third highest podium, or Australia finishing tenth overall on the medal tally, or the underperformance of so many athletes who had been expected to deliver.

No, the most disillusioning aspect of the entire XXX Olympiad was the behaviour of the most noted members of the Australian Olympic team. The entire country watched the swim team react to their failure to meet their own expectations. Not to mention the controversy involving a number of members, before the Olympics began. And to top off this class act, a member of the rowing team going on a post-race bender.

What action did the Australian Olympic Committee decide to take? They sent these athletes home early. You know, so they couldn’t march in the Closing Ceremony. Foot down. Meanwhile, the Brazilian Women’s Basketball team left one of their key players behind for disciplinary reasons, leaving them with a squad of eleven for the Games. St Kitts and Nevis sent their flag bearer home before he could compete in the men’s 100m for similar reasons.

I can’t say whether or not trying to spend time with your family is justified as a disciplinary reason, but I do respect the Olympic Committees for adhering to their principles. They are upholding the spirit of the Games.

The AOC however, is sending the message that as an athlete, there may be consequence to your actions, but nothing that will keep you from representing Australia, as long as you win a medal.

Perhaps the Australian Olympic team managed to inspire a generation. It is a shame that they were unable to inspire a sense of sportsmanship in that generation.

At the 1956 Australian National Championships, Olympic runner John Landy stopped to check on a fellow runner who had fallen during the race. At the 2012 London Olympics, a member of the Australian Opals landed a punch to the stomach of Tamika Catchings, of the US basketball team.

See how far we’ve come.

No, our tally count is not a disappointing performance. After all, what does a medal contribute to society but to inspire others? And if we managed to perform with integrity and sportsmanship, that’s pretty damn inspirational, in my eyes. But when all that we care to ‘inspire’ is the will to win at all costs, and kick dirt in the face of sportsmanship, that’s when we should all feel disappointed.

We have four years until Rio 2016. Four more years to prepare. I hope that we use these four years to instil a sense of sportsmanship in our next representative athletes. To teach them humility. To make them understand that wearing the green & gold doesn’t simply mean you’re the best athlete in the nation. It means you need to conduct yourself in a way that makes the rest of the country want to look at you and think, “I’m an Aussie too.”

That’s worth more than gold.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Rookie Mistake

I dreamt I was living in a bizarro altiverse where mediocrity was rewarded and real stars were taken for granted. Then I heard the news and realised that nightmare had come true.

Some players have all the answers.

They can read the defense and know when to curl or fade off the screen. They make the right decisions in game situations. They know the scout and can defend their match-ups.

A coach can rely on these players. At practice, when the coach pulls up the team to point out a mistake, they already know what it is, and can tell the rest of the team how to adjust to it. In games, the coach can safely expect them to execute whatever they had worked on in training.

They are the go-to players. They are leaders who can show the rookies how it's done; they are selfless when they're called upon as the defensive stopper; and they stand out like high visibility vests when the rest of the team are missing in action.

In a logical world, they would be hailed in all their mighty awesomeness. Or at the very least, recognised for their contribution with a "good work" high-five.

But in this world, they get nothing.

I find it somewhat hypocritical that associations expect only positive things to be said about their players, when you would have a hard time dragging a compliment or acknowledgement out of their own coaches.

Is this why coaches prefer to work with players who need coaching? They get to constantly fix the flaws in their players, all the better if they keep making the same mistake?

I hear coaches reminding players to stay "coachable". To remain humble and listen to what the coach is saying. That's valuable advice. But perhaps some coaches also need a refresher on humility. On giving recognition to players who deserve it, even if it means admitting someone else should be credited with developing that talent.

These players out there, they deserve their props. They do work. They have answers. Maybe coaches should be paying closer attention when they ask the question.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Player Scout: Mikaela Dombkins

Mikaela Dombkins is a triple threat.

She can shoot the lights out from anywhere on the court, she can leave defenders choking on the dust off her rip drive, and she will have them chasing their tails with her passing game.

Dombkins has been the standout for many of the teams she has played on. She represented NSW Country at the Australian Junior Championships in the U16, U18 and U20 age groups. She was awarded a scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport in 2003, and was a member of the AIS WNBL team. On 19 November 2005, she hit 5 treys in a WNBL game, which remains the second most three-pointers in AIS history.

She was selected for the Australian Gems squad to compete at the Junior World Championships in 2005, and was a member of the Australian Sapphires, winning silver at the Youth World Championships in 2007.

She played for Maitland and Manly Warringah in the Waratah Championship League. In 2006 she was awarded the Waratah Most Valuable Player, named to the All-Star 5, as well as the leading point scorer and steals leader, averaging 26.2 points and 3.3 steals per game, in addition to 10.9 rebounds (third overall) and 3.9 assists. She scored a massive 41 points in a game against Parramatta during that season. In 2007 she was fifth in points scoring, averaging 19.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game, in 2008 she was third in points scoring, averaging 21.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, and in 2011 she was second in points scoring, averaging 21.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.

She was equally outstanding for Sandringham and Frankston in the South East Australian Basketball League, winning Game MVP and Player of the Week and Player of the Month awards, and leading her teams in scoring in 2009 and 2010.

She signed with the Sydney Uni Flames after graduating from the AIS, and had an outstanding season in 2009-10, averaging 11.2 points and 5.2 rebounds for the season. She stepped up her performance further when Sydney made the finals, averaging 13 points and 9.5 rebounds in the postseason. She was named the Southern Design Impact Player award, and deservedly so.

You really can’t say enough about Dombkins as a player. She has incredible anticipation on defense, that court vision and decision-making you just can’t teach, and plays every game with heart and determination. She’s positively bursting with talent, but her success has grown from her willingness to work as hard to get on the court as she does once she’s there.

In 2010 she suffered a back injury that threatened an end to her bright career, forcing her to miss the entire 2010-11 season. She recovered from her injury and most admirably, worked her way back to stellar form. She’s currently shining at Canberra, who was lucky enough to sign her for the season.

Besides her long list of accomplishments in basketball, she keeps herself busy with her successful career as a fashion model and designer, as well as holding the office of the CFO of NPIRE Australia.

And in between games, training, fashion shows and photo shoots, Dombkins still finds the time to save lives at the RSPCA.

On second thought, Mikaela Dombkins is much more than a triple threat.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


The top women's basketball coaches certainly deserve to be the coaches of national teams. For the Australian Opals, that title currently belongs to Carrie Graf, and her assistant coaches Phil Brown, Peter Buckle and Michele Timms, while Tom Maher is the Head Coach for Great Britain. Karen Dalton helped Cheryl Chambers take the Australian U19 Gems to the World Championships in 2011, and Chris Lucas is assisting Marissa Fillipou with the Australian U17 Women at the 2012 World Championships.

This is great for Australian basketball, to have so many coaches in the WNBL who are involved in international competition at various levels.

And it’s a boost for club teams when they're coached by a national coach. Not only having a coach of international calibre, but suddenly the club is able to attract international calibre players. Not to mention players who are looking to be coached by national coaches, in hope of adding their name to the hat when selection time rolls around.

It’s a tricky job for these national coaches to juggle international obligations with club gigs. When they're coaching their teams in the domestic league, they’d have to keep track of their national players as well. There are players in Australia to watch; any injury to them might affect their international chances. There are the players overseas; you need to keep a constant eye on their form. And then there's all this young home-grown talent, sprouting up from grass roots in every state. That's a lot to look out for.

It's important though, not to overlook the world-class talent on your own home court. Perhaps it’s easy to miss, because some players consistently deliver their high standard at every scrimmage. They are elite players who never make the same mistake twice, who understand exactly what the coach needs of them, and who execute during games everything they drilled in practice.

These players deserve to be considered for national teams. They have the skill to ball with the best; they stand up when you need a leader; they play every single possession with the heart and determination of a winner. They would make the most of any opportunity, to prove that they belong in the international arena.

They are players who have been right in front of your eyes all along.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Player Scout: Brigitte Ardossi

If you didn’t know any better, you might be forgiven for saying that Brigitte Ardossi is a rising star.

She was outstanding as a junior; she led the Victorian Basketball League in rebounding in 2004. In 2005 she was the leading scorer and was named the Big V MVP, Rising Star, and All-Star 5 Forward. She was an All-Star at the 2005 Pacific School Games, where she helped her team to win the gold, and represented Victoria again at the 2006 U20 Australian Junior Championships, where they won silver.

She studied at Georgia Tech, where she played for the Yellow Jackets, racking up 1001 points and 559 rebounds during her career. She had a standout senior year when she made the All-ACC Second Team, and was named the State of Georgia Women’s Basketball Player of the Year. Following her college career, she was drafted to the WNBA by the Atlanta Dream, and played for Cote D’Opale Basket Calais in Europe.

In 2011 she debuted in the WNBL for the Canberra Capitals. She flashed her college ball skills, and quickly became an integral member of the team, slipping into their post rotation. She finished the season with 189 points and 143 rebounds, earning the team’s Player on the Rise award.

Ardossi is a talented post, with an inspirational work ethic. She has strong moves under the basket, and a skilful outside game. She rebounds with determination, and defends with intensity. She has the competitive spirit of a champion, and the strength of character of a leader.

She brings to the Capitals exactly what they need, and while she has already shown that she can stand out on any stage around the world, she is certainly talent that should be kept in Canberra. Not only for the Nation’s Capital, but Australian basketball will benefit by having her experience in the competition.

Ardossi is already a superstar in her own right, and if you haven’t realised this by now, you must be Dreaming.