BULLEEN, Eltham, Melbourne, Hawthorn, Dandenong and Sturt have added their names to the National Junior Classic history books with these associations taking out the eight championships on offer over the long weekend.
Bulleen and Eltham both claimed a pair of titles to cap off an extraordinary National Junior Classic while Dandenong, Hawthorn, Melbourne and Sturt finished the tournament on a high note across the age groups.
The National Junior Classic, held this year at the State Basketball Centre and Dandenong Basketball Stadium, remains the most prestigious junior basketball tournament in the country. With 128 teams – both male and female – coming to Melbourne from across Australia to compete over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend each year, the invitation-only event showcases the best of Australia’s talent and also includes invitational national teams from New Zealand.
UNDER-12 GIRLS – BULLEEN V FRANKSTON
Bulleen proved too potent for Frankston in a 43-28 victory. The Boomers and Blues traded blows early, but in the end the Bulleen charges – led by grand final MVP Akojia George (19 points) and Caitlin Toll (10 points) started to take control of the clash. Frankston was ably led by Waihanea Makiri (eight points), Maddison Carr (seven points) and Marion Hakaraia-Graham (seven points).
Bulleen under-12 girls head coach Liv Frost said her side relished the step up in competition across the weekend and were excited to compete in the Classic.
“It’s really good – it was good to come out here and play teams that we compete against and challenge us,” Frost said. “We had to come out and play big teams in the last three rounds and to come out against Frankston today, the girls just came together and worked hard.
“It’s really exciting for them as they may never get to come back here again so it’s a really good experience.
“They get along really well as a group – they compete, they battle really hard and have some good shooters and have some really good leaders as well, so they’re great to coach.”
MVP: Akojia George (Bulleen)
UNDER-12 BOYS – ELTHAM v NUNAWADING
Trading blows across a fascinating under-12 boys grand final, perennial rivals Eltham and Nunawading battled it out in another Classic finale as the Wildcats emerged triumphant.
Taking the 64-47 victory, Eltham was ably led by MVP Bodhi Stratford, who made a number of defensive plays to help take out the championship. He was joined by Findlay Brown (14 points), Ben Wilson (12 points) and Luca Spadafora (11 points) as the top performers for the Wildcats. Nunawading’s exciting shooting tandem of Jeth Wong (17 points) and James Watt (15 points) kept the tempo up for the Spectres all game.
Eltham under-12 boys coach Carly McMenaman-Stones said the discipline from her side was magnificent and allowed the boys to take out the ultimate crown on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.
“It’s very exciting -to be as disciplined and humble as they are at this age is amazing,” McMenaman-Stones said. “They’re 10 and 11 year olds and had to play a very disciplined, defensive game today while offensively they were very patient as well.
“They’re an amazing group and run very deep – we made sure we ran all 10 through just to make sure everyone developed and we talked a lot about playing from the heart and not letting our head overtake our heart – so that’s what they did and it’s very exciting see them achieve this success.”
MVP: Bodhi Stratford (Eltham)
UNDER-14 GIRLS – MELBOURNE v HAWTHORN
Continuing Melbourne’s mighty time at the Classic over the years, the under-14 girls delivered another championship to the impressive trophy case. Taking a 51-40 win over Hawthorn, Melbourne surged at the right moments to see off the best of the Magic’s late counterattack.
MVP Mackenzie Reddrop (12 points) was impressive across the afternoon in league with Hayley Letts (11 points) and Bonnie Autupuna (11 points) amongst a superb all-round roster. The Magic had stars of their own with Emma McDonald (16 points) and Erinn Mcalary (11 points) keeping the Tigers accountable at both ends of the court.
Melbourne under-14 girls head coach Ray Tomlinson said the Tigers were a strong group on the court this year and it was always exciting to return to coach elite junior players at the Classic.
“They’re working hard and they’re a great group of kids,” Tomlinson said. “I really enjoy what I do – helping kids get better at basketball and love the game with a passion.”
MVP: Mackenzie Reddrop (Melbourne)
UNDER-14 BOYS – HAWTHORN v DANDENONG
In a back-and-forth thriller, Hawthorn managed to hold off a fast-finishing Dandenong to take out the National Junior Classic 61-57. Despite falling behind entering the last phase of the clash, the Rangers surged through Luke Fennell (16 points) and Jett Garnham (11 points), slashing the margin to a handful in the dying minutes. But Hawthorn settled and were able to finish off strongly as MVP Phoenix Windsor (13 points) Tyler Scriven (12 points) and Maper Maker (12 points) dominated in and around the key.
For Hawthorn under-14 boys head coach Dion Jewell, it was a win worth savouring considering the strength of the competition.
“It’s pretty good – we came here on the first day and saw the quality of the competition and knew it was going to be super tough,” Jewell said. “I thought the interstate teams looked really strong and the four Vic sides made the semi-finals, so I was really proud of our guys to fight through the competition.
“We played them yesterday in the last game of the pool stage and got them by about 24, so it shows the quality of Dandenong to turn it around in 24 hours and push us every minute.
“These guys – the bond is really strong; this group won the same tournament two years ago as 12s.
“To come back and add some pieces around themselves is great – I challenge them every session and we try to get one per cent better and they’ve responded really well.”
MVP: Phoenix Windsor (Hawthorn)
UNDER-16 GIRLS – NUNAWADING v DANDENONG
Starring on centre court, the Dandenong under-16 girls were superb in their 55-42 triumph over Nunawading. The Rangers surged early through the likes of MVP Dallas Loughridge (11 points), Myah Healey (15 points) and Nyadiew Puoch (13 points) to build a handy buffer. The Spectres stayed in touch throughout the clash as Olivia Morris (14 points), Evie Curtis (12 points) and Yoshika Cook (10 points) toiled for their team.
Dandenong under-16 girls head coach Lloyd Klaman said the side’s defensive prowess stood out across the weekend as the side toiled to make a big impact.
“Everything starts and stops with our defence – whether we’re playing man or zone – we get a lot of offence off our live ball turn overs.
“When we get a run on we can score in bunches and that’s what tends to happen – we weren’t shooting the ball real well, we finally hit a three late in the game, we didn’t hit a lot of threes but it worked out well in the end.”
MVP: Dallas Loughridge (Dandenong)
UNDER-16 BOYS – ELTHAM v BULLEEN
Battling it out to the buzzer, Eltham managed to take out the National Junior Classic with an exciting 64-62 victory over Bulleen. The Wildcats surged to victory with an incredible performance by MVP Kristian Ferronato (14 points) alongside Zahn Agosta (18 points) and Brad Moorey (15 points). Joel Foxwell (16 points) and Daniel Johnston (15 points) were impressive for Bulleen in the gallant defeat.
Eltham under-16 boys head coach Chris Cameron said the hard grind suited the Wildcats well this weekend as they worked their way to the National Junior Classic title.
“It’s been a really hard weekend for us, trying to take it one game at a time and I’m immensely proud of them,” Cameron said. “They’ve done everything I’ve asked and basketball is a great game but it goes both ways – there are always going to make runs and I thought we were really good at negating that.
“We knew Bulleen beforehand, we played them and they are amazing. We knew we’d have to be on it so I guess we talked about runs and tempo of the game and time and place.
“I thought we did a good job of knowing when to shoot it, when to hold it and how to play some D.
“Seeing them evolve over the weekend it makes you really proud.”
MVP: Kristian Ferronato (Eltham)
UNDER-18 GIRLS – BULLEEN v FORESTVILLE
Going down to the wire, Bulleen found a path to victory despite trailing for most of the clash against Forestville. A slow start was tempered by an explosive finish as Bulleen surged back into the clash after half-time.
Maeve Chaplin (16 points), Ally Keating (13 points) and Erin Riley (eight points) toiled alongside MVP Casey Valenti-Paea (28 points), who literally stole the show. Valenti-Paea made an incredible play to steal the ball back and make the match-winning lay-up in the dying seconds.
Battling the Eagles’ talented roster – including Forestville’s Kelsey Rees (19 points) and Montana Briggs (16 points) – Bulleen under-18 girls head coach Sam Thornton said it took a lot to get by them, but in the end the Boomers stuck to the game plan.
“We knew that we were playing a classy club – they’ve been in the last four Under-18 Classic finals and have won three of them,” Thornton said. “The point I made to our group beforehand is that we have to have the utmost respect for the way they play. They come over here really well prepared – but we knew it was going to be tough.
“The girls had played a tough game yesterday against Dandenong, we had a different game plan against Dandenong,
“I’m just proud of our girls that they stuck to the game plan – it’s a very proud moment.”
MVP: Casey Valenti-Paea (Bulleen)
UNDER-18 BOYS – MELBOURNE v STURT
Saving the best for last, the under-18 boys grand final delivered in spades. A shootout to match the might of the under-18 girls thriller just before, the crowd was given an absolute spectacle as Sturt emerged triumphant in the 64-62 victory.
Sturt’s MVP Joel Dyer had a field day from beyond the arc, nailing seven treys in an extraordinary performance alongside team mates Keanu Rasmussen (13 points) and Seb Griffin (10 points). Melbourne was ably led by Josh Giddey (30 points), who was gallant in defeat alongside Patrick Twigg (16 points).
Sturt player Seb Griffin said the challenge of coming to Victoria and battling the state’s best is always exciting… as is winning the National Junior Classic.
“We pulled it out in the end,” Griffin said. “(Sturt talked about) just to keep doing what we were doing – we had a tough loss Saturday night but we pulled it out yesterday and we kept going on that.
“We get a challenge every game – Victorian teams play hard ball for 40 minutes every game and we don’t get that a lot in SA (South Australia), but it’s good to come out as champions.
“They (Melbourne) got us in under-14s and we know they’re going to bring the challenge and it’s good to bring it out in the end.”
MVP: Joel Dyer (Sturt Sabres)