THERE’S nothing quite like receiving your Victorian state jersey… especially if your first comes right at the end of your junior journey.
For Victorian Under-20 Men’s representatives Puoch Puoch and Malik Meunier, their trip to Gosford early next month will be their first in the Victorian gear after earning their spots in the roster for the Australian Junior Championships.
There are multiple avenues into the Victorian high performance basketball system… it’s not just for the elite 12 year olds to ride it from start to finish.
Some people progress at different levels. Others rise fast and fade just as quickly. We don’t pick on previous form or only those who has been before; it’s on the merit of that tryout. The strength of your last season. Your effort in front of the latest group of coaches and those who are determined to pick our best 10 for the upcoming championship.
For Puoch, from Dandenong Basketball Association, earning his shot after a couple of near misses in under-18s and bottom-age under-20s is an amazing accomplishment and one he’s ready to grasp as the side heads off to Gosford.
“It’s a great feeling it took some time though, having made emergency at top age under-18s and getting cut at the last tryout of bottom-age 20s, so it’s a big accomplishment,” Puoch said. “Just going out there to represent the state is a big deal for me.”
Congratulations to our four Victorian Under-20 and Ivor Burge teams on their singlet presentations. Amazing occasion and something we love to host every year. #TeamVic https://t.co/PoYQziK2DY pic.twitter.com/bgUZCqzp3w
— Basketball Victoria (@Basketball_Vic) January 21, 2018
The team dynamic has Puoch keen to hit the court, considering after two sessions the side is already dialled in and on the same page.
“Our team chemistry – seeing how that comes together at nationals – it should be really interesting as we’ve only been training together for two days now,” Puoch said.
“It just seems unreal – our team bonding is crazy – so it should be really good… being able to make the top 10 has been my highlight.”
For Meunier, from Knox Basketball Association, the chance to don the big V is remains the most fantastic experience and one he’s ready to take on.
“It’s surreal to be able to represent my state and be able to play against the best players in the country – I’m really excited,” Meunier said. “Just excited to play really – can’t wait to see how we all go together.
“It’s been such a new experience and I’m now part of a new team where I haven’t played with many of these guys before so it should be a great week.
“Just getting the opportunity to pull on the Vic singlet is awesome really.”
Victorian Under-20 coach Chris Anstey knows better than most the joy of earning that Victorian jersey at the last possible attempt.
As a player Anstey is remembered as a NBA draftee, an Australian Boomers mainstay and an NBL icon… but that was his meteoric rise through his adult career.
He started life in basketball later on and it was the last chance at making a Victorian side – the 1994 Under-20 Men’s team – that Anstey made it in.
But that was the start of incredible times on court for the Victorian icon and Basketball Victoria Wall of Fame member. To see two young men earn their opportunity and savour the chance to represent the state shows their commitment to the game.
“It was great and I suppose you still have that sense of enjoyment for the entire crew, but making one team is no guarantee and there’s no expectation if you make one that you’ll make the next,” Anstey said. “I guess the one thing that really stood out with Malik and Puoch were their improvement over the last 12 months since we’d since them in a Victorian basketball capacity.
“They’re both part of exceptional programs and I’m a big believer that everyone is at different stages of their sporting careers so they’ve continued to work and it’s a great reward for effort for both of them.
“I think they’ve got a point of difference – Malik’s speed and some of the things he’s able to do and the risks he is willing to take are different to the other guards we’ve got.
“Puoch is the same and brings a bit of an x-factor within the group and when you bring guys into a reasonably established team, guys who have been there before, often you’re looking for something different.
“You don’t just want to go to the bench and bring in more of the same.
“So certainly those guys have an x-factor about them and we can’t wait to see more of them going into the tournament.”
It can be a demoralising process to narrowly miss out on #TeamVic duties, but Anstey believes it’s always worth putting your hand back up and trying out as the reward for making a team is beyond comparison.
“The only time I represented Victoria was at the top age under-20 and for me it still holds a pretty special place in my heart as it was the only one I had and I remember how important it felt to me and those I played with,” Anstey said. “Without that and without the success we had I wouldn’t have had a junior basketball Victoria experience I suppose so I was very grateful for that.”
Anstey said there is plenty to watch out for at the upcoming championships with an NBA Select team entering the competition to bring more eyes and more interest to the under-20 tournament.
“We’ve got the NBA Select team there and that will create an extra level of excitement and get some different eyes watching the tournament and I think the tournament will be a very high level,” Anstey said. “It will be a great opportunity for the players, not just at the tournament itself, moving forward if they’re able to play well collectively and individually.”
The Victorian under-20 team heads off to Gosford, NSW for the Australian Junior Championships from 7-11 February and for Anstey it’s a chance to see the strongest, most-committed Victorians take a shot at the title after months of hard work through tryouts and selection.
“We certainly did a lot of thought and consideration to past performance and what we’ve seen over the last 12 months – what we’ve seen in the past forms just one part of the selection process,” Anstey said. “It was a really robust three weekends and we learned a lot about the guys and it became very apparent, very quickly as to who had been doing the work and some who had fallen away a little.
“It’s that age group where athletes start figuring out their priorities and we understand where basketball sits in the pecking order of a lot of athletes… but the group we’ve put together certainly prioritise basketball and want to go somewhere with their basketball careers and it’s exciting to work with athletes like that.”
Basketball Victoria will be up at the championships bringing you all the reports, pictures and videos from the first Australian Junior Championship of the calendar year.