The Australians are coming. Or should we say, "more Australians are coming."
If you've been paying attention to the NBA over the past five years, you've probably noticed the influx of international players who have added flair and grit to what had been a predominantly American sport.
Most recently, players from Canada have made a significant impact on the NBA. Toronto native Andrew Wiggins won the Rookie of the Year award. His countryman Anthony Bennett became the first Canadian to be drafted number one overall (by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2013). Brampton resident Tyler Ennis is running point for the Milwaukee Bucks. And another Toronto native, Cory Joseph, just signed a 4-year, $30-million deal with the Toronto Raptors.
Fast forward to the 2015 NBA Draft, which was one big Euro party. Two prominent European players were drafted in the top 10—Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia) by the New York Knicks and Mario Hezonja (Croatia) by the Orlando Magic.
But of all the places attempting to turn the NBA into a modern Game of Thrones, with various territories vying for basketball superiority, the continent of Australia just might be having the biggest impact on a league whose games are played thousands of miles away.
While Australian Andrew Bogut helped propel the Golden State Warriors to the 2015 NBA Finals, his countryman Matthew Dellavedova made a name for himself by hounding league MVP Stephen Curry all over the court. Australians Patty Mills and Aron Baynes both earned rings with the San Antonio Spurs in last year's NBA Finals. Melbourne's Dante Exum is the Utah Jazz's prized possession from the NBA Draft a year ago. Even Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving was born in Australia, though he claims New Jersey as his true home after moving there when he was 2.
More than just talent on the court has Australian basketball bursting onto the NBA scene of late. This off-season, both the Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors hired trainers away from a place called the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), the training center where every Aussie currently playing in the NBA honed his skills.
The 76ers hired David T. Martin, who previously held the position of senior sport scientist at AIS, as their director of performance research and development. On the cutting edge of sports science research in Australia, Martin has published several research papers on topics like the effect of electronic devices on athletes and their sleep patterns. According to a press release issued by the 76ers, he will "oversee all aspects of the [team's] sports science, performance, training, rehabilitation and medical initiatives."
After winning the NBA Finals, the Warriors brought in Lachlan Penfold as head of physical performance and sports medicine. Before joining AIS, he served as a strength and conditioning coach for various Australian rugby teams.
AIS is the common thread—more specifically the Basketball Australia Center of Excellence (CoE), which is housed on AIS's grounds in Canberra. According to its website, AIS was opened in 1981 as the "cradle of Australia's national sports system," and it is "renowned for producing world, Olympic and Paralympic champions by combining high-performance expertise with world-class facilities and cutting-edge sports science/sports medicine services."
Like the organization that houses it, the CoE grooms the continent's best young basketball players into potential Australian national team members to compete in the Olympics. Fifteen high-school-age athletes are picked each year and given one-year scholarships to live on AIS's campus. Their performance and growth determines how long they stay.
All of the aforementioned players, from Exum to Dellavedova, came through CoE. The training facility not only sharpens its players' skills, it also teaches them about nutrition, recovery and the mental aspect of sports. CoE's dedication to sports science—not typically found even in elite high school basketball programs in the United States—is a main reason why NBA teams are scrambling to hire their best minds.
The Australian basketball takeover doesn't appear to be slowing down any time soon.
This year's most-hyped college freshman is Melbourne native Ben Simmons, a 6-foot-9, 225-pound freak of nature who has the handles and vision of a point guard. ESPN ranked him number one among high school player in the class of 2015, and he will play at LSU in the fall—before likely leaving for the NBA in the 2016 Draft. ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas is on record as saying Simmons has a higher ceiling than Wiggins. Simmons spent 2012 at AIS.
And with NBA teams now looking Down Under and embracing sports science more with each passing season, coaching staffs are increasingly becoming populated with Australians. As the NBA becomes more internationalized, don't be surprised if Australia is in the forefront.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock