The Invisible Emus

7 July 2011

Written by: James Rosewarne

The Australian Men’s Under 19 Basketball team, the Emus, are currently engaged and excelling at the most prestigious youth basketball tournament on the planet. Yet you’d hardly know.

Latvia is currently playing host to the FIBA Under 19 World Championships, a two-week tournament contested by 16 of the world’s strongest basketball nations and their most promising young talent.

Yet coverage of the tournament in Australia is virtually non-existent; there’s no television coverage and  very little print media covering their achievements..

This  is unfortunate becausethe Emus are shaping up as one of the genuine contenders to win the competition, or at least bring home a medal-a feat rarely achieved in men’s basketball in this country.

By virtue of an increasingly healthy and consistent soccer media, Australian fans have been treated to significant coverage of major tournaments in recent times and know precisely what’s happening where both the national team and overseas based players are concerned.

Each of the Joey’s Under 17 World Cup matches in Mexico was shown live, as will the Under 20’s exploits in Colombia early next month. The Matildas in Germany have received unprecedented exposure recently with all their games broadcast, in addition to a nightly highlight package of every other World Cup match.

In the coming weeks SBS will increase its live coverage to incorporate the final stages of each competition. For good measure they’ll also be screening the last phases of South America’s premier tournament, the Copa America, currently being staged in Argentina.

The broadcaster’s commitment is a key and profound element in aiding the development of the sport. With moving pictures of the best players in the world’s biggest competitions the game will flourish. Without them, the sport runs the risk of stagnating. Which is precisely what’s happening to basketball right now.

Its popularity in youth ranks is equal to soccer in Australia, yet Basketball Australia has been sitting on its hands for too long and now seriously runs the risk of missing out on a major opportunity for the game to grow in this country.

As Australian soccer success has produced a number of players talented enough to play overseas so too has our appreciation and interest in the foreign leagues they inhabit and covet.  The Australian audience is now much more proficient in its knowledge of international leagues and continental competitions as well as the characters who contribute to them.

The popularity of basketball in Australia, at least at youth levels, isn’t too dissimilar to soccer, nor is the international achievements by its players. The US college system contains many of our players, as does the NBA, while the bulk of successful Australian basketballers ply their trade in Europe.

Yet TV or press coverage does little to illuminate the public’s understanding.

For the college game we can thank ESPN for showing us pictures. Ditto the NBA where the exploits of Andrew Bogut are concerned, yet we know very little of the countless Australian faces based in Europe. The leagues they play in and the teams they play for remain essentially anonymous. Without the internet, international basketball in Australia would be a virtual ghost sport.

If the Joeys or the young Socceroos achieved anything similar to what the Emu’s are doing in Latvia there’s no way whatsoever, and thankfully so, that they’d go unnoticed in the media. Furthermore you can be sure they’d be live on TV.

For a team like the Emus to be doing so well without any media attention is a real shame and a golden opportunity missed to enhance and fortify the sport’s future in Australia.

At the World Championships the Emus cruised through their first round of matches with strong wins over Argentina and Taiwan, squeezed in between a narrow loss to the hosts.

The second phase of the competition has proven even more successful for the Emu’s with a stirring come from behind win over Russia followed the next night by gritty six point defeat of Brazil. In the Emu’s final group game they triumphed over Poland by 20 points to seal top position in the group.

The Emus will now enter the quarter-final stage split from the US section of the draw, thus increasing the chances of a possible final against the world’s strongest basketball nation.

Unfortunately Australian basketball fans will likely have to scrounge around for a result on the net or through box scores at FIBA’s website throughout the elimination process. Which is a shame, but one which Basketball Australia clearly isn’t too concerned about.

Basketball fans in this country should know that Anthony Drmic has lit the tournament up with 17 three point baskets and is second in scoring only behind the recent fifth pick in the NBA draft, Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas.

Fans should know about Jackson Aldridge from Ryde in Sydney who’s been running the point for the Emus all tournament and who’ll next year be playing for the Butler Bulldogs in the NCAA.

Bosnian-born Igor Hadziomerovic has provided a great second-scoring option to Drmic, while Adelaide 36s Mitchell Creek has arguably been Australia’s most important player. The Horsham born youngster is top of the pops for boards, assists and steals while he’s second only to Drimic where scoring is concerned.

Then there’s Will Sinclair. The 206cm centre form Lilydale who’s getting more minutes as the tournament progresses and who will be crucial to the team’s success in the final stages.

The Emu with the most potential however is Hugh Greenwood. The Tasmanian represented Australia at the last World Championships when he was just 17. He’s since grown into a more mature, well rounded basketballer and was recently signed by to the New Mexico Lobos NCAA team. In the Emu’s most recent win over Brazil, he top scored with 17.

It’s been an amazing tournament for the Emus which from an Australian audience perspective would have been all the more wonderful with the some pictures or at least some enthusiasm from Basketball Australia and the relevant media networks.

Instead the tournament continues, as does the scrounging around for box scores on the internet.

James Rosewarne is a Masters of Global Communications student at La Trobe University and upstart’s sports editor.