The U16 Australian Junior Championships (AJC’s) are always intriguing. For many athletes and coaches, it’s their first taste at the elite level and often confirms their passion for the game. It’s also, in most cases, the first time that the best athletes from around the nation all come together and compete against each other, working out who else is around the country and how they sit against the best athletes in their age group. The Under 16 AJC’s is where lifelong friendships are formed, bitter rivalries between states and territories are started, and where future super stars of the game are born.
Both the Queensland North & South girls struggled early on in the tournament, losing hard fought games in the pool rounds. The North girls played with relentless determination and spirit despite having 7 bottom age players, pushing their rivals to the final whistle with some crafty defensive strategies and energetic offensive play. An injury to star point guard Chailee Ward further hampered the young group, rounding out the tournament with a 3 win, and 5 loss record to finish in 10th place. Shaneice Swain battled hard all week for the North girls, finishing the tournament with 18 points and 4 rebounds a game. Look out for this group at next year’s U16 AJC’s, the future is bright for these young hoopers.
The South girls finished the rounds with a gritty win over South Australia Country to narrowly keep their playoff hopes alive. Other results also needed to go their way to help them progress to the quarter finals, and with a lot of praying to the Hoop Gods and a whole lot of luck, the South girls got the results they needed to finish in 4th spot in their pool and cross over against the number 1 seed in the other pool, an undefeated NSW Metro team. However, the run of good luck did not extend to the quarter finals, with the South girls going down to a clinical NSW Metro team. A further loss to NSW Country put the girls in the play off for 7/8th. The last game of the tournament saw the South girls looking for redemption against WA Metro, a team that they lost to in the rounds and also the host team. A dominant second half defensive effort and some brilliant team offence saw the South girls silence the home team crowd and come away with the win, finishing 7th with a respectable 4-4 win loss record. Chynelle Marama & Grace Ellis were the consistent performers over the week, both achieving three double doubles.
On the boy’s side of the tournament things went a little differently. Both North and South teams progressed through the round stages relatively unscathed, both only dropping the one game each to finish top of their pools.
The South boys were relentless in their approach from the outset, dominating teams with contributions from multiple sources making them a nightmare to guard. Riley Curtis, Blake Jones & Mo King all proved to be hard to handle while Lachy Blackburn was a beast on the boards throughout and David Eltima’s on ball defence was next level. The South boys were pushed in the quarter finals by a hungry NSW Country team looking for an upset, but a captain knock by Blake Jones (16 points, 9 rebounds), ably supported by Riley Curtis (22 points, 8 rebounds) ensured the South boys prevailed victors. The semi-final win against NZ was a real team effort, with 5 boys reaching double digits, 2 of which also achieved double doubles.
The North boys were the team to watch early as they also moved through the round stage with ease, answering the question on everybody’s lips – are they a one-man band or a team to contend for the title? Setting the tone early with large margin wins over WA Metro, SA Country & ACT on the back of some ridiculous play by NBA Academy scholarship holder Tamuri Wigness, it was evident that these boys were a team to be taken seriously, and they were following their fearless leader Tamuri to the Championship game. The North boys knocked off tournament stalwarts Vic Metro in the semi-finals in an emphatic victory to book their place in the final, making it an all Queensland affair – a State Performance Manager’s dream!
The boy’s final was greatly anticipated, with both teams in electrifying form coming into the final showdown. How were the South boys going to negate Tamuri’s impact on the game? How were the North boys going to disrupt South’s offence? Who would prevail as National Champions? Tournament statistics indicated that the South boys had the slight margin, beating North in every statistical category bar steals. Stats and past results however all fly out the window when the trophy is on the line.
The North boys shot out of the gates to an early lead, with the South boys struggling to convert offensively and contain a determined Tamuri. The South boys found some offensive rhythm in the second half and went basket for basket with the North boys, however the damage had already been done. Tamuri was difficult to contain all game, converting a blistering 10 from 16 shots taken to finish with 23 points. But it wasn’t Tamuri’s scoring ability that was most impressive, it was also his ability to draw second defenders and drop dimes, involving his team mates who were ready and able to knock down shots. In the end, the early margin proved too great for the South boys to overcome and the North boys were crowned the 2017 Australian Junior National Champions in a classy 25-point victory.
Overall, the Under 16 results, along with the 4 teams at U18 Nationals all achieving top 5 standings, cements 2017 as one of, if not the best, cycles of Queensland state team performances. However, it is the way in which our Queensland teams conducted themselves both on and off the floor that is most pleasing to this State Performance Manager. Basketball in Queensland is alive and well and I can’t wait to get started on the next cycle and continue our quest for GOLD.