History of Victorian Basketball

Development of Victorian Associations

Victoria was the first state to establish an association, in 1927 (the Victorian Basketball Association, or VBA). The association consisted of the following members: YMCA, Church of England, Military, and Presbyterian Church. South Australia was the next association formed in 1936, and soon after followed by New South Wales in 1938. After the Second World War, associations were formed in the remaining states – Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania. Initially, church and army drill halls were used as venues, but their limited availability, due to the many other functions the halls served, prevented maximum use of these facilities. This greatly restricted the development of the sport in the early stages.

 

VABA

Formation of the Amateur Basketball Union of Australia

In 1939, the National Federation of Basketball was formed – this became known as the Amateur Basketball Union of Australia (the governing body for basketball in Australia). This body did not become fully effective until 1946, when the first Australian Championships were held. The objectives of the Amateur Basketball Union were to promote, encourage and control the game of basketball throughout Australia; to coordinate and supervise National Championships; to select and manage teams to represent Australia; and to deal with any issues that affected Australian basketball at the national level.

In 1949 Australian became the fifty-second affiliated member of the International Amateur Basketball Federation (FIBA) which governs amateur basketball throughout the world. This world governing body was created to satisfy the following objectives:

 

  • To establish uniformity of the rules to be used in international and Olympic competitions.
  • To establish uniform standard on the dimensions and construction of basketball courts.
  • To establish the playing qualifications for players in teams taking part in Olympic and international competitions.
  • To establish the form of competition to be developed in Olympic competitions.
  • The inclusion of a native referee in the delegations of each country in order to control international or Olympic matches.
  • To adopt French, English and Spanish as official languages in international congresses and correspondence.
  • Mutual obligations to apply agreed sanctions to affiliated bodies.
  • To rule that member countries may not engage in international matches with non-member countries.
  • To establish rules for an international federation devoted solely to basketball.
  • To establish the definition of an amateur.

 

History of Basketball Coaching in Australia

In the Victorian Championships played during the 1930s, Ivor Burge, who had completed a physical education degree at Springfield, Massachusetts, coached the leading team YMCA. He introduced several new concepts of the game to the Victorian coaches. One concept in particular, the zone defence, was a characteristic trait of all his teams. During the war, American servicemen participated in many Victorian competitions, and their style of play influenced a movement back towards principles of man-to-man defence.

In 1949, many European migrants from Lithuania, Latvia and Hungary came to Australia, and advanced the general standard of play. Leon Baltrunis introduced the techniques of screening and the use of the weave, which was popular in the early 50’s. Also, several outstanding American Mormon teams played at this time. The Mormon coach, De Lyle Condie, from the University of Utah, indicated what could be done with a well-organised offensive pattern. His team played a practice match against the Russian Olympic team prior to the Olympic Games in 1956, and were level with just one minute to play. Also, at this same time, jump shooting became the new trend, and Bob Skousen of Brigham Young University was a great jump shooter for young players to emulate.

The game of basketball has grown through the efforts of two additional Australians – Ken Watson and Lindsay Gaze. Both men recognised the importance of a well-organised offence, and instilled this philosophy in their junior and senior teams. As a result, their teams have been very successful, and they have provided a model for other coaches in formulating their own philosophies of the game.

Australia’s first basketball coach for the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne was Ken Watson (at the time, Ken was very active in coaching junior and senior players in Victoria; he was the state senior men’s coach at the time as well as secretary for both the Victorian Association and the Amateur Basketball Union of Australia). His teams ran the shuffle offence with great success, which added another dimension to the game. Ken gave a great deal of credit to the American coaches Bruce Drake (early originator of the shuffle offence) and Joe Eves (Auburn coach) for playing an important role in developing his theories on the shuffle offence.

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In 1958, Albert Park Basketball Stadium was opened, and this facility became the headquarters for basketball in Victoria, even though the game was played in many different venues throughout the state. Lindsay Gaze was appointed the stadium manager, and at the time was very active in coaching junior teams within the Church of England Association. He was involved in coaching U18 and U16 state teams during the early 1960s. Also, Lindsay was later to represent Australia as a player in the Olympic Games in 1960, 1964 and 1968. He was appointed the Olympic basketball coach in 1972, 1976, 1980 and 1984. (Ken Watson and Lindsay Gaze have played very active roles in promoting and teaching basketball, not only in Victoria, but throughout Australia.)

In 1961 two American coaches, John Bunn and Stu Inman, were invited to Australia to conduct coaching clinics on the various facets of the game. Apart from the direct instruction in offence and defence, they emphasised the important point that junior and senior teams simply did not practice enough. At that time it was usual for the leading Victorian teams to practice only once per week, although the team members might play several matches per week in various competitions. Efforts were made to increase practices to four times per week, although many teams found this difficult to achieve. (By practising throughout the year, it was hoped to make up for the inability to have a daily practice program during the main season.) A program of exchange visits between the US teams (high school as well as college) and Australian teams has been beneficial in showing Australian coaches different methods of play and approaches to coaching.

 

Albert Park Basketball Stadium 1958-1997

The history of Victorian basketball dates back to around 1905, when the first recorded information on basketball being played in Melbourne shows that men and women were playing the sport first invented by James Naismith in 1891 at Springfield University in Massachusetts. Graduates of the YMCA College propagated the game around the world and it quickly became an international sport, first being played in the Olympic Games in 1936, five years after the formation of FIBA, the International Federation of Basketball Associations and coincidentally the formation of the Victorian Basketball Association.

The Second World War reduced participation rates and it wasn’t until 1946 that the first Australian Basketball Championship was held. During this time basketball was played in small church halls, army drill halls and community centres with the best locations being the Exhibition Buildings, the YMCA in Melbourne and the Hall of Industries at the Showgrounds.

The 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne provided the first opportunity for the construction of a venue specific for basketball and the VBA pressed the Olympic Games Organising Committee to build on a site offered by the Education Department, but the proposal was rejected. Instead, the Committee built an annexe to the Exhibition Buildings, which subsequently was of no use to the VBA.

However, the associations did collect some revenue for a building fund and claimed the playing court and backboards from the Exhibition Buildings. After years of frustration without headquarters for basketball and being bumped in and out of the Exhibition Buildings and Showgrounds, the VBA finally completed plans for a two-court stadium in Northcote. A partnership was then formed between the Business Houses Association, Olympic Association and Church of England Association and the VABA Cooperative Community Society (later to be known as Basketball Stadiums Victoria). The first directors were Harold Pickett, Ron Cutts, Jim Marchbank, Jack Carter and Ken Watson.

This was a solid, hardworking group determined to make a business success of the new venture. However, just as they were about to sign the building contract, Ken Watson received a phone call from Senator Pat Kennelly, Chairman of the Albert Park Committee of Management, who proposed the conversion of one of their wartime stores buildings into a six-court basketball stadium.

The offer was hotly debated, but Ken Watson convinced his colleagues that it was too good to refuse and the VBA contributed the $40,000 it had raised for the Northcote project and built its first headquarters at Albert Park. The conversion was completed in 1958, Lindsay Gaze was appointed stadium manager and the official Opening Ceremony match between a Victoria selection and the Mormons was played on the 6 April 1959. Within a few years the Albert Park Basketball Stadium expanded to eight courts and then nine, making it the largest basketball stadium in the Southern Hemisphere.

While the American Connection has always been part of Victorian basketball, it wasn’t until 1966, when the Melbourne Tigers recruited Fred Guy, that a new wave of former US college players flooded the local scene. Until then it was the migrant boom of the 50s that brought new talent and new coaching methods to Victoria. Players like Peter Bumbers, Mintauts Raiskums, Stan Dargis, Peter Demos and the Hidy brothers (John and Les) set the standard.

Fred Guy, a 201 cm forward was the first player recruited specifically by the Tigers to boost playing standards and to assist with coaching juniors. The move proved to be dramatically successful as Guy became the leading scorer in the Victorian Championship and the Tigers also went through the 1967 season with an undefeated record. The impact that Guy had on the game prompted other clubs to follow suit and the Albert Park Stadium was identified as a major venue for top level basketball in Australia.

It was around this time that the stadium directors developed a policy of supporting the promotion of top competition and funded national invitation tournaments as well as visits by international teams. A vision of promoting a Pan Pacific Basketball Championship was overly ambitious, as one by one Asian and Pacific countries withdrew their nominations, leaving only one team from the Philippines to join top Australian clubs in the first international tournament at Albert Park in 1963. San Jose State University was the first US college team to visit Australia in 1965 and many great college teams have followed since then.

Even in an era when top games are played in venues like Melbourne Park, fans still say that the atmosphere at the Albert Park Stadium was something special. Among the special visits to Albert Park were the Big Ten Conference All Stars in 1971, which included future NBA stars such as Jim Brewer, Kevin Kunnert, Clarence Sherrod and Bill Franklin.

The Big Ten team of 1972 also had several great players but wasn’t quite so overpowering. It was common in those days for the top US college teams to travel through Australia with undefeated records. Cincinatti and Oregon were fine teams, which went undefeated, and Kentucky lost only to the Melbourne Tigers and the national team. Kentucky returned home to finish second in the NCAA Championship the following season.

The tradition of the Albert Park Stadium hosting international matches ended on 24 May 1997, appropriately with a match between Melbourne Tigers and the Arizona Wildcats – the 1997 NCAA Champions – before a capacity crowd. The packed stadium with its typical Albert Park atmosphere, witnessed another thriller with the Tigers winning by four points in overtime.

There have also been many great teams from Europe that have visited Australia through the auspices of the Albert Park Stadium. Slavia Prague, the champion team of Czechoslovakia, brought the best of European basketball in 1996 and the visit by the Maccabi Tel Aviv club produced another thriller, which was highlighted by the antics of the Israeli referee who accompanied the team and the security guards who were more than zealous in their protection of the players.

Teams from all of the republics of the former Yugoslavia visited Albert Park during the 70s and early 80s with perhaps the most memorable being the Cibona club of Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade.

During the history of the Albert Park Stadium there have only been five chairmen of the Board of Directors – Harold Pickett, Jack Carter, Maurice Pawsey, Malcolm Speed and Henry Cooper – clearly demonstrating a remarkable stability in sports administration and business management. The policy of the Board has always been to maximise the use of the facility at the lowest possible fee for participants and spectators to support the policies of the VBA and to encourage the development of new facilities in the metropolitan and country Victoria.

After the ninth court was added to Albert Park Stadium in 1965, further expansion here was impossible and the task of convincing other municipalities to support the construction of basketball stadiums began. A two-court stadium was constructed in Coburg in 1968 and it was later expanded to three courts. The success of the Coburg stadium meant that convincing other councils was less difficult and through the 70s a mini boom in the expansion of facilities and participation took place.

The state government adopted a policy of funding municipal sports facilities and this, combined with the construction of what became known as ECCA Centres (phys ed buildings) in schools, created the largest growth rate for basketball during the decade. In almost all cases, staff of Basketball Stadiums Victoria were involved in consultation, construction and management. As the number grew there was also a need to develop facilities that could cater for larger numbers of spectators.

In 1970 an ambitious plan to develop a 5000-seat multipurpose stadium by converting the Badminton Centre, which was located adjacent to the Albert Park Basketball Stadium, was set asie when the state government was lobbied by environmentalists and other special interest groups. The plan was fully funded without requiring government subsidies, had the support of the Victorian Olympic Council and a wide range of sporting organisations which were crying out for a venue to promote their major events, the South Melbourne Council, the Albert Park Committee of Management and of course the Badminton Association. It is a matter of history that the project was rejected by the state government and according to Lindsay Gaze the decision set back the redevelopment of the sport 15 years.

In 1997 the government opened the new Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre (MSAC) at a cost of over $50 million. The mission to develop a 5000-seat stadium specifically for basketball remains on the agenda.

While the failure of developing a large capacity stadium was disappointing, the stadium directors maintained enthusiasm for promoting major events and supporting the construction of new facilities. National tournaments such as the Australian Club Championships were initiated and became a feature event on the calendar of many events promoted at Albert Park. Ken Watson once again showed his vision for the needs of the sport when he introduced the Melbourne Junior Classic, a club championship for U16 and U18 men and women which has evolved into the most important national club championship for junior club teams in these age groups. He then introduced the Melbourne Classic for U12 and U14 club teams for boys and girls, which is also now recognised as a national club championship for these age divisions.

The development of the Victorian Country Championships at Albert Park and subsequently Victorian Country Premierships for both seniors and juniors created new opportunities and incentives for those in country Victoria seeking higher levels of competition. Administrators and players alike recognised the Albert Park Stadium as the Mecca of basketball and the annual tournaments for each division became the highlight of their seasons.

As the headquarters of the Victorian Basketball Association, it was not surprising that the Albert Park Stadium became the focal point of the administration and the place where there seemed to be a never ending schedule of meetings. The VBA Council and Executive are at the peak of a pyramid of committees comprising volunteers who have directed basketball in Victoria from a minor sporting / recreation activity, with a registration of about 2000 participants, to major sports status with over 200,000 registered players.

There are many examples where something is not appreciated until it is no longer available. This was the case in 1987 when a fire destroyed the offices of Albert Park Stadium and much of the documented history and memorabilia was lost. For almost 12 months the administration of the VBA was conducted out of portable huts located adjacent to Court 9 and if ever there was a time to confirm the dedication and commitment of the staff to carry out their duties in adverse conditions, this was it. There was a similar disaster with the destruction by fire of the Coburg stadium in 1990 and once again the directors of Basketball Stadiums Victoria set about the task of re-construction and further development. History shows that the Albert Park Stadium provided the stimulus to get basketball moving in Victoria. Competition, coaching, administration, referee training and facility development has grown out of the vision of those original directors who set the foundation for a successful future. We did not have to wait until after it was gone to appreciate the contribution Albert Park Stadium made to Victorian and Australian basketball. The Celebration of Albert Park held on 10 July 1997 marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new and spectacularly impressive MSAC. If the next 40 years are as productive and exciting as the last, then the future of Victoria basketball is assured.

 

Epic Albert Park

 

The Players

During a 40-year period it would be impossible to name all of the fine players who have featured at Albert Park and the many great games and national, international and state finals. Peter Bumbers was probably the best of the Latvians who dominated in the late 50s. He was a key player in the 1956 Olympic team and continued to star for his Daina club through 1960. In one Australian Championship match he scored 50 points missing only one shot for the game. Bill Wyatt and Lindsay Gaze virtually commenced their international careers with the opening of Albert Park Stadium and their combination provided the foundation for the Melbourne Tigers tradition of championship success. Among the former US college players who followed in the footsteps of Fred Guy, Bill Palmer, Ken James, David Lindstrom, Rocky Smith, Rocky Crosswhite and Cal Bruton would be prominent when considering the all-time greats. Bill Palmer was a graduate of Stanford University who joined the Bulleen Spectres in 1972 after a season in Canberra and together with college team mates Fred Green and Dennis O’Neill, collected state titles in 1973 and 1974. Injuries cut short Palmer’s playing career but he then went on to become a leading administrator for the VBA and the National Basketball League (NBL). Ken Cole was probably the most controversial player and coach during his era of the 60s and 70s. He played with the Melbourne East Demons in 1966 and then with Melbourne (Church) Tigers before becoming player/coach of St Kilda in 1970, when he led them to their first Championship.

David Lindstrom, a fine scoring guard from Puget Sound University put Cole out of business in the final of the 1971 grand final with some great defence ,while scoring 40 points himself and restoring the state title back to the Tigers. It was a sign of the times in 1969 when Willie Anderson, a former Harlem Globetrotter, joined the Dandenong Rangers as player/coach. He led the Championship scoring with an average of 28 points per game but upset officials by running private clinics for personal profit – he was declared a professional and banned from the competition. He subsequently tried out with North Melbourne in Australian Rules football and although he showed promise, the game was too much for him and he returned home to the United States where he continued to praise Australian basketball.

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Perry ‘Rocky’ Crosswhite was a graduate of Davidson College who married one of Victoria’s star female players, Jan Steele, shortly after settling in Australia – he subsequently became a triple Olympian in 1972, 1976 and 1980. He became head of the Department of Sport and Recreation, serving for the first state Minister of Sport, Brian Dixon, Deputy Commissioner of the Australian Sports Commission, and now is CEO of Commonwealth Games Committee.

Eddie Palubinskas was the first Australian to make an impact on the college scene in the US. Originally from Canberra, Palubinskas had his first season in the Victorian Championships in 1970 where he helped St Kilda to win the title. He was the second leading scorer in the 1972 Olympics and led all scorers in the 1976 Olympics. Palubinskas accepted a scholarship to Ricks Junior College in Idaho and later transferred to Louisiana State University where he became recognised as one of the finest shooters in the country and the nation’s leading free throw percentage shooters. He was in the fifth round of the American Basketball Association (ABA) and the seventh round of the NBA draft but did not gain a contract. He held the honour of most points scored in a championship game hitting 66 for Caulfield Spartans in 1976.

Andrew Gaze also made and impact on the college scene in the US. When he played with Seton Hall University in 1989 he became the first Australian to play in the final of the NCAA Championship. He later had a brief stint with the Washington Bullets in the NBA. Like Eddie Palubinskas, Andrew Gaze was the second leading scorer in the Olympics in 1984, and the leading scorer in 1988 and 1992. A five-time Olympian, Andrew Gaze literally grew up in Albert Park Stadium and was a regular selection in the Victorian All Star team from 1984.

 

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Michelle Timms is possibly the highest profile player in Australian womens basketball since growing up through the junior ranks of the Bulleen Association. Her exploits in Victorian Championship matches at Albert Park provided a pathway to prominence in the National League and the Australian Opals. Many people think that Michelle was the first female player to make the professional ranks in the US, playing for Phoenix Mercury in the recently formed Women’s NBA. But the Saints Jan Baker turned down a college scholarship offer in favour of accepting a spot on a team called the Dallas Diamonds, which was a member of the womens professional basketball league back in the late 70s. Court 9 at Albert Park was the main arena for the highest level of women’s basketball in Australia and players like Dandenong’s Julie Gross and Maree Jackson took their talents to the US and became recognised as among the best in the country. Jean Kupsch was the first great exponent of the jump shot while playing with the Comets alongside Elinor McKenzie, and Midge Nelson is often mentioned as being among the finest all-round female athletes Australia has produced. The next generation of Comets which included Karin Maar, Jan Smithwick and Jan Morris, maintained a long traditional rivalry with the Telstars, which included Sandra Tomlinson, Candy Ferris, Dana Polis and Gai Smith.

 

The Referees

The early years of Albert Park Stadium were the latter years of many referees who could only be described as pioneers of Victorian basketball. Paul Wiltshire was the first President of the Victorian Referees Association and he along with stalwarts such as Henry Perazzo, Charlie Jones, Jack Smith, Wally Patterson and Jim Boatwood provided the foundation of experience and guidance to a new army of referees required to staff the stadium seven days a week. The new referees adopted the same approach to their duties as their predecessors, accepting very modest compensation (70c per game) working six games a night and sometimes several nights per week. Stan Ingram, affectionately known as Sleepy for many years, worked five nights a week and asked stadium manager Lindsay Gaze to retain his expenses and settle with him at the end of the year. It is understood he paid off the mortgage on his home and then disappeared from the sport.

One of the most important initiatives in the 60s was the plan to invite John Bunn, the referee rules interpreter from the US, to visit Australia, and conduct referees clinics and to offer advice on administration. Bunn was also a top coach and his advice proved to be a major factor in Australian referees becoming recognised as among the best in the world. Paul Wiltshire, Charlie Jones, Henry Perazzo, John Holden, Eddie Crouch, Ray Hunt and Bill Mildenhall gained Olympic honours, while other referees such as Dick Mason and Les Dick gained international recognition. Basketball Stadiums Victoria directors supported other initiatives aimed to recruit overseas experts to assist referee development and visits by Chuck Allen (Referees Commissioner of the Big Ten Conference), Chuck Osborne and David Turner were all positive steps in maintaining Victoria as the leading state for referee development.

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