Sport Australia's Boomers approaching basketball's summit after 50-year climb toward Olympic podium, but the US again blocking the path
Boomers tick off first big Olympics test
The Boomers have kick-started their Tokyo Olympics with a big win over an NBA-loaded Nigerian squad.As has been the case for over a decade now, veteran point guard and Australian flag bearer Patty Mills was the star for the Boomers in his fourth Olympics campaign.
The Australian men's basketball team knows this, they've been saying it quietly for months, but not everyone has heard — this is their moment.
They have been trying since Melbourne 1956 and despite boasting some of the best players in the world, playing in the top leagues in the world, the Boomers have yet to win an Olympic medal.
Tokyo 2020 is it. And of the last four teams remaining in the competition, only one goes home empty-handed.
Tokyo Olympics: Australian Boomers dominate defensively, defeat Argentina to advance to Semifinals
The Boomers locked in defensively in this one, holding Argentina to just 26 second-half points to earn a 38-point victory. With the dominant win, Australia is now set for a date with the United States in the Semifinals.Again, it was Patty Mills that led the way for the Boomers as he finished with 18 points (on 7-for-15 shooting) to go along with four assists and two rebounds. With Mills leading the charge, Australia saw five different players finish in double figures, while every player that saw action scored.
You see, when it comes to Olympic basketball, the Australian men's team usually finishes fourth. And they've had enough.
They were fourth in Seoul 1988, fourth in Atlanta 1996, fourth in Sydney 2000 and fourth in Rio 2016.
As discus thrower Matthew Denny said at the National Stadium earlier this week: "Fourth sucks." The Boomers know exactly what he means, and they don't want to have that feeling again.
They've come to Tokyo 2020 not willing to accept anything less than a medal. They have visualised it together, and it's not just 'a' medal, it is 'the' medal. Gold.
What stands in their way? Right now, it's the USA — a team that in the history of Olympic basketball has only once not made it onto the medal podium.
It's not that they weren't any good that year, it's that their government made it extremely difficult for them. It was 1980, the Games were in Moscow, and President Jimmy Carter told them they were boycotting.
Who were the first women to win gold medals at the Olympics?
The modern Olympics started out as an event just for men, but over the past 125 years women have blazed a golden trail at the Games.Swimmer Emma McKeon has made history in Tokyo as the first Australian woman to win five Olympic gold medals.
Australia's then prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, decided our athletes would do the same.
Our athletes decided for themselves. Most of them went against the wishes of the government and competed anyway, under the Olympic flag; Australia's basketballers were part of that team.
Since then, the USA has only been beaten to the gold medal twice: the Soviet Union winning in 1988, and Argentina claiming gold in 2004.
In the cycle of things, it's about time the USA lost a semi again. That is the mission Patty Mills and his men have now accepted.
And there's another twist.
It was in this very city in 1964, when Tokyo first held the Olympic Games, that the wider world became aware Australia really could play the game of basketball.
Legendary coach Lindsay Gaze was a player in those days.
"I think the Tokyo Olympics for us was an emergence ... a new team on the international ranks," he told the ABC before this year's Games began.
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"It basically gave us the belief in ourselves that we could compete at that level."
The team has been competing at that level now for more than half a century. It's time to go to the next level, the only level remaining.
They've got the pedigree, they've got the belief.
Thybulle says team is improving
Matisse Thybulle believes they're also improving with every game.
"We're just getting started," he said after the team's comprehensive take down of Argentina in the quarter-final.
"We're not we're we want to be yet.
"We're playing on the biggest stage in the world, doing what we love, representing our country we love... it couldn't be any better."
It could be better. Beating America, reaching the final, playing for gold.
"Yeah, I mean one game at a time, we've got to win this next one first."
Playing under FIBA rules is not the same as the rules many of them are used to playing under in the NBA. But the Boomers are adaptable.
"At this level it really takes five guys, it takes a whole team because the amount of work you have to do just to score more," Thybulle said.
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The Olympic Games is full of people that come and go. They get one shot at it, but Peter Bol is not one of those. He belongs in this league, writes Tracey Holmes.When you're an athlete and your initials are PB you've got to think it's some sort of a sign that you're going to make it.
"Our ability to come together as a team has really been the biggest difference."
The team celebrated a win over the US while in their pre-Games training camp in Las Vegas, but Thybulle says they're not putting too much stock in that.
"It's cool I guess, but ultimately it doesn't mean much... (the semi-final) is obviously going to be a different game."
The athletes and teams that have performed best here in Tokyo, in testing conditions, have been those that go with the flow, that can make adjustments on the run and deliver what the moment demands.
Thybulle believes the Boomers are that style of team.
"Our ability to adjust and just keep getting better and trusting ourselves and what we do on court is really going to be our true test."
That test arrives on Thursday at 1:15pm local time.
On Wednesday, the team will rest and recover.
"Lots of treatment, lots of Uno... that's about it," Thybulle said of their daily plans.
‘Gold vibes only': How Mills and Ingles set the standard for Boomers .
Brian Goorjian had never been so nervous, so he turned to his veteran stars to make history. Patty Mills and Joe Ingles reflect on the breakthrough in Tokyo.He rushed past reporters, a white towel draped over his head, sobbing like he had backed over the family dog. The only solace could be found in the sanctuary of the locker room and the shared despair of his colleagues in green and gold.