Hoops and heartbreak seemed to go hand-in-hand this year, with Albury’s superstar Lauren Jackson suffering multiple setbacks in her quest to return to basketball. But there were bright spots too, with Trent McMullan and Montana Farrah-Seaton playing on the global stage. Steve Smith looks back on another year of Border basketball.
The Opals captain has been badly hampered by injuries, including five operations on her hip and knee since January. Jackson was forced to miss the Opals’ world championship campaign in September but was finally able to take to the court last week in her return to the WNBL for Canberra.
The Wodonga product was selected for the Australian team for the FIBA Under-17 World Championships in Dubai in August. The 191-centimetre swingman was used off the bench throughout the tournament and enjoyed his best performance in the quarter-final win over Puerto Rico, tallying two points and three rebounds in nine minutes of play. McMullan saw limited time in the gold medal match as the Goannas pushed the mighty US team all the way before falling 99-92.
Albury’s young gun played a starring role for Australia in its gold medal success at the FIBA Oceania Pacific Youth Championships in Fiji. Farrah-Seaton averaged 16 points per game during the under-19 tournament to play a pivotal role in the side earning a spot next year’s world championships in Russia. The 18-year-old combo guard/forward has also been playing for the Lady Bandits at SEABL level since she was just 15.
It was another frustrating season for the men’s Border SEABL outfit. A slow start cost them valuable momentum and despite some bright moments in the middle portion of the schedule, they finished out of the playoff picture for the second year running. A significant off-season roster overhaul has seen two new US imports (Donte Nicholas and Cory Dixon) signed, along with the additions of Hobart star Deba George, Waratah league MVP Daniel Sepokas and Townsville Crocs big man Claybrin McMath.
Meanwhile, the Lady Bandits were once again abysmal, losing 21 consecutive games after a surprise round three win over Sandringham. It was the girls’ worst season since the winless campaign of 2008 and ultimately cost coach James Ballinger his job. Former Dandenong WNBL assistant Michael Brookens has been appointed for next season, the club’s tenth coach in ten years.
The fledgling Border club enjoyed occasional success in its first foray into the Big V competition. Playing in division two, the men’s team finished ninth (of 11 teams) on the ladder with a 6-14 win-loss record . Meanwhile, the women’s team compiled a similar record of 5-13 to sit seventh in the women’s division two. Former Bandits and Lady Bandits players Jon Lindhe (13.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game) and Rachel Jeffery (18.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game) were named respective team MVPs at the end of the season.
It was a season of heartbreak for both Border Country Basketball League teams, falling at the final hurdle to the Shepparton Gators. The men’s Cougars were outclassed 84-69 as Shepparton claimed a hat-trick of titles, while the Wodonga Lady Wolves fell 60-50 in the championship decider after being unbeaten all season. It was the Lady Wolves’ fourth grand final defeat in the space of five years.
After 401 SEABL games, Albury-Wodonga’s record games holder called it a day, still producing the goods for the Border club. The only player to play in both the 2001 and 2012 title-winning teams, Payne became just the fourth player to reach the 400-game mark when the Bandits hosted Nunawading in the penultimate contest of the season. The 190-centimetre guard finished his Bandits’ career in the all-time top 10 of almost every major statistical category and won the Hugh McMenamin medal as best on court in the stunning 2012 grand final upset of Dandenong. Another former skipper, Matt de Koeyer, also became just the fourth Bandit to rack up 200 SEABL games.
The powerhouse Congolese import — who helped carry the Bandits to the 2012 title — ended his three-year Bandits tenure on a sad and deeply unsatisfying note in June when the club released him by mutual consent. Ntumba never properly recovered from a patella tendon injury in 2013 and although medically cleared to play this year, was but a shadow of his former imposing self.
Once again, all eyes turned to Albury for the annual competition, this year featuring 66 teams, 660 players and 90 referees. South Australia enjoyed a hugely successful carnival, taking out the under-14 and 16 boys and girls titles at the Lauren Jackson Sports Centre. An added highlight was the Tasman coaches clinic, with Australian Boomers head coach Andrej Lemanis the guest speaker.
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