Australian connection

Can it be possible that Australians have found a new ‘home away from home’ tucked away in San Antonio, Texas?

The City of San Antonio might be more known for the ‘Battle of the Alamo’, but in professional sports the San Antonio Spurs have become known as the hotspot for international basketball talent and to be more specific, Australian basketball talent.

On the surface, the ‘Outback Steakhouse’ is San Antonio’s only hint of Australian culture. However, any Australian who has ventured into the food chain restaurant knows that the Outback Steakhouse is about as Australian as Mick Jagger’s 1970 performance as Ned Kelly.

Yet, on the basketball hardwood at the Spurs’ AT&T Centre, Australians are beginning to make their presence felt, even if there has always been a subtle Australian flavour in the Spurs locker room.

Two giants of Australian basketball, Andrew Gaze (1998-99) and Shane Heal (2003-04), slipped on the Spurs guernsey and indeed, Gaze was a member of San Antonio’s first Championship team.

For the first time in Australian basketball history, two Australian Boomers shared minutes together on the same team in a NBA game. Guard Patty Mills and recently acquired Center Aron Baynes shared minutes in the Spurs’ rout of the struggling Charlotte Bobcats.

In fact, with future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan being forced to sit out the last four games due to knee soreness and other big men like Dejuan Blair and Matt Bonner succumbing to injury, Baynes played an encouraging 17 minutes where he muscled nine rebounds and seven points.

Patty Mills, who joined the Spurs midway through the lockout-shortened season last year, has proved to be a handy ‘energiser’ off the bench, even though he receives sporadic minutes.

Despite some Australians and even San Antonio Spurs fans pleading for more playing time for Mills, Mills could not be in a better position than he is right now.

Mills’ decision to stay patient in San Antonio is far more beneficial longterm for his NBA career. Learning from a top five-point guard in the league, Tony Parker, and champions Duncan and Manu Ginobili, are far more advantageous for Mills than playing for a weak team with little veteran guidance and stability.

Unlike the majority of the league, the San Antonio Spurs’ play, led by arguably the best coach in all American pro sports currently, Gregg Popovich, is an unselfish mix of pushing the ball and swift passing (lead league in assists) which makes less offensively gifted players more effective.

For Mills and particularly Baynes, the Spurs offense is a perfect fit. While there remains in some quarters of the NBA a prejudice against European or overseas players, the Spurs welcome and nurture international basketball talent.

“They definitely have that international influence,” Aron Baynes said of the Spurs.

The value of having former Australian Boomers head coach Brett Brown on the sidelines as one of Coach Pop’s assistants, cannot be understated.

It would not be a far stretch to argue that Baynes, and, to a lesser extent, Mills, would have found breaking into the NBA a far more difficult and arduous task if Brown never had a deep Australian connection.

The fact is, the Spurs’ willingness to pursue international ‘project’ players like Baynes, makes them the most likely and best way for Australians to establish a NBA career.

The Alamo City sure has that Australian feel.


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