Andrej Lemanis on the purest form of basketball
Far north Queensland is just the place for the Australian men’s and women’s basketball teams to defend their Commonwealth Games titles, according to Australian men’s head coach Andrej Lemanis.
Basketball action will heat up in Event Cities Cairns and Townsville at GC2018, hosting the critical preliminary rounds and qualifying matches.
The tropical cities are renowned for their loyal fans and strong crowd support for the NBL’s Cairns Tapains and WNBL’s Townsville Fire, but Lemanis knows there’s nothing quite like international basketball.
When he talks about what it’s like at a major event like the Olympics, or Commonwealth Games, Lemanis keeps coming back to one word.
“It’s just the purity of it all,” he told GC2018.com.
“It’s a pure form of basketball, people aren’t doing it for the money, they’re doing it for all the right reasons and it’s fun and refreshing to be part of it.
“You feel all of it, you feel the pride but you also feel the responsibility to ensure that we play in the manner that everyone involved in basketball can be proud of and all Australians can be proud of.
“It’s a fantastic environment to be a part of, being around the best players in the best environment, playing against the best teams and the best coaches, it’s really challenging but also inspiring, just to see the passion and love that everybody brings to that environment.”
Lemanis has coached over 300 NBL games, was NBL Coach of the Year in 2012 and 2013, and has been coaching the Brisbane Bullets since 2016. He was appointed head coach of the Australian’s men’s national team in 2013, he was in charge of them at the Rio Olympics and he’s now leading the team through the qualifying process for the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
He has a strong connection to far north Queensland, having started his NBL coaching career with the Townsville Crocodiles as assistant coach from 1998 to 2005.
“My time in Townsville was some of the best times I’ve had in basketball,” he said.
“The crowd didn’t just come to spectate the games, they came to participate.
“It was truly their team, they got involved, they understood that they could make a difference to the action of the game, they loved the environment, they set a nice tone to the game and it was always fun to be a part of and it’s similar when you go to Cairns.”
Cairns will host the men’s Pool A and women’s Pool B, and Townsville will host the men’s Pool B and women’s Pool A matches, including the Australian women’s team.
As a coach, Lemanis has seen the talent and success of players coming out of Queensland. At the Rio Olympics, four players in the men’s team were Queenslanders, plus the assistant coach, with many representatives in the junior men’s and women’s teams hailing from the northern state.
He’s looking forward to feeling the impact of the crowd at GC2018.
“It’s a great place for basketball,” he said.
“When the fans are in and they’re passionately supporting their team, that’s great for the game and just reflective of what it means to be involved in the sport.”
When the Australian men’s and women’s team land in Cairns and Townsville, they’ll be counting on the support of their extra team members – the ones in the stands, cheering them on.
The crowd’s participation in the game can make all the difference.
“Getting into the defense chants, getting into it when the opposition is shooting foul shots, making noise, cheering your home team,” he said.
“Supporting players, not just the guys who score but understanding that there’s more to the game than that. So if someone sets a great screen, cheering that, if someone does something great defensively and takes a charge, they get involved in that.
“Talk a little bit of trash to the opposition when appropriate, all good clean wholesome fun of course. Got to give the home team a bit of an advantage.
“You know it when you go in [Cairns and Townsville] that the fans are well educated and they know the game.”
Australia will have a busy lead up to the Games, with the NBL season in full swing and the next FIBA World Cup qualifying window in late February.
They’ll be ready to play, with the home crowd advantage on their side.
“There’s so much more on the line in terms of pride, and playing for each other, as opposed to just with each other, which can happen in club teams sometimes,” he said.
“The honour of wearing the green and gold singlet is something that really inspires players and it’s always inspiring to be around them and in that environment.
“There’s no greater honour than coaching your country and representing all of Australian basketball on an international stage.”
The honour comes with a distinct sense of expectation, with both Australian teams winning gold in the first – and only – time the sport has been contested at a Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006.
It’s something Lemanis and the squad have talked about at length.
“The sense of excitement, opportunity to represent on the home soil at a major event and the opportunity to go and win a gold medal at a major event is something that you could tell was really exciting to the group,” he said.
“Basketball’s only been there [at the Commonwealth Games] once, Australia won it, so to continue to carry the flag is a good challenge for the group.
“Ultimately it’s just that sense of opportunity to play in a major international event, at a multi-sport event on your home soil, there’s just no better experience I don’t think.”
The Australian men's Basketball team:
The Australian women's Basketball team: