It was a night of a once in a decade deluge of rain in Perth, in the heart of the city an invading football code featuring the Darren Lockyer farewell tour ended in tragedy when all the footballers drowned on field. Somewhere in another part of town an Asia-Pacific basketball friendly was going down.
The Youyi Games (featuring only one sport in a two game series, just so there can be no outright winner in the event of a tie,) which roughly translates to friendship games, was having its curtain raiser between the Australian Boomers and as far as I could tell from the advertising for the event the Chinese Giant Mechanised Panda’s.
Possibly in an attempt to not distract from the Giant Mechanised Pandas, the pre-match entertainment was watching the Under 16’s Western Australian boys team playing with (or against, depends on whether you like puns) itself.
Unfortunately, it was a bunch of young behemoth’s not getting the ball from selfish point guards who never learned it’s actually illegal to carry the ball and that it doesn’t go in the hoop when you shoot as a flat as a handgun on a table.
I also don’t think I’m critical enough on these guys considering they’re supposed to be the best in the state and thus potentially Australia.
This was just a warm up for the warm up for the warm up though. There was more pre-match fun by a group of 8-12 year old girls in a display of dance which had dangerously been mixed with gymnastics that sound like kinaesthetic (but definitely isn’t kinaesthetic) all to the happening sounds of top 40’s pop chart music.
This however was not going to eclipse the Mineralogy girls, our main entertainment for the night as it would soon turn out.
In a State where everything is seemingly sponsored by mining, the unpronounceable Mineralogy was confused by the gentlemen in front of me who thought “isn’t that what they use to tell the weather?” Anyway, the Mineralogy, or as they will now be known, weather girls ranging from the ages of 14-16 got the biggest head turns of the night as every man over the age of 18 had better mind than to look.
To the game itself though and here come the teams, with a handful of respectable claps for Wang Zhi Zhi (who some gamers might remember from such classics as NBA Live 2004, NBA Live 2005 etc.) and Sun Yue (so both former NBA players) the real applause was reserved for an exciting Australian team… or should I say third tier Australian team.
Flanked by the pompom waving weather girls the PA nearly broke under the weight of such big time names as Ben Magden, Luke Neville (He had a 20-13 game but was still useless) and Rhys Martin.
The severe lack of top level international talent on show for Australia felt like an even bigger insult to the crowd with Boomers heavyweight Matt Nielsen and to a lesser extent Shawn Redhage watching the game at their leisure amongst the crowd.
The reason this apparent trial game for roster spots reserved for towel waivers at the upcoming London Olympics didn’t start with a riot was because home town favourites Damian Martyn and Jesse Wagstaff were getting some burn in this young team.
Marvelling at how the Chinese “warm-up drills” resembled a team of under-14’s having a shoot around, I barely noticed when the game had suddenly started.
China jumped out to a quick lead after some smooth shooting that would elude them for most of the match. Australia spent the rest of the quarter reeling it back in and trading baskets until they lead at the end of the first quarter 19-14.
The scoring would never rise to dizzying heights as each period was as low scoring as the next. Behind a surprisingly decent Boomers defence, the Chinese offence was just as rag tag as their warm ups.
It seemed to consist of dribbling around until there was no time left on the shot clock, before just heaving it up, hoping for the best and not bothering to go in for any second chance baskets.
The lack of play by China would suddenly be thrown to dogs once they were down by more than seven points, only to rise again once they were leading.
Much to the chagrin of an incredibly feisty Wang Shipeng, who managed to score 22 points during the course of the game, who was always berating his teammates and making the big shots himself to keep China in contention.
His intensity which at times rallied his team was not aided by a series of tough calls which never went seemed to go against Australia.
There were three crucial moments that obviously favoured China but went the other way, including a bogus travel call that would have tied up the game late in the fourth and a pushing incident that was instigated and finished by Wagstaff yet went against the Chinese even though it was right in front of the referee.
It was certainly not the only time it looked like the entire Chinese bench was about to pour onto the court.
Actually the whole stadium was against China, it kind of annoyed me how all the Australian supporters would boo whenever the Chinese took free throws, especially when the pretty darn large contingency of Chinese supporters didn’t do the same to our team.
They applauded their team through the highs, moaned through the lows, and gave their claps to the Aussies on their highs as well in a pretty decent display of sportsmanship.
So on and on this game went crippled by broken play, multiple offensive fouls and turnovers it was not a happy viewing experience. It was a dogfight between a team of youngsters who were truly trying to impress their coach and win, against a more talented established team who never seemed to care.
Then the biggest cheer all night came which funnily enough was at the end of the game, not because the Boomers had won, but because the game was finally over at least in my mind.
A 67-65 overtime victory will be reported as a tight thriller in most media, the truth was it was a painful low-scoring affair that should have ended in the end of regulation time draw that it was.
China was obviously the superior team in this match. It was something that was only apparent a few times in a lethargic performance, probably best embodied by how Chinese captain Wang Zhi Zhi played.
Half the time after missing a shot he wouldn’t crash the boards despite being one of the biggest/most experienced rebounders after which he’d jog slowly back on defence, this in direct comparison to the times in which he’d completely take control of the defence and offence of Team China.
Standing in the middle of the key repetitively commanding a rather shell shocked looking point guard to stay put whilst he directed the other 3 players with their orders, before demanding the ball be put in his hands to start the play.
To sum up long periods of playing offensive sets with indifference to the result, against a few seconds of awesome play.
One possible answer stems from Team China to not allow the One HD broadcasters from letting audiences listen in on team huddles so as not to give away any of their secrets before the upcoming Asian Championships. Perhaps they just played this badly so no one would be prepared for their real game plan come the tournament.
So what was learnt from this outing?
First that the entertainment and hype music sucks at challenge stadium, there was a severe lack of music and sound effects, an easy fix if they’d included such patriotic songs as Great Southern Land, Ganjagang’s Sounds of Then, and the quintessential Land Down Under by Men at Work which were obvious tracks sure to have gone down a treat.
The court announcer didn’t help here since it took a whole half before he started initiating “D-FENCE” or “Aussie Aussie Aussie” chants.
Second the court announcer assumed anyone rooting for China couldn’t understand any English, I’m not going to repeat what he said here.
Thirdly, I’ve got to give props to Damian Martyn who made some awesome alley-oop passes and made a legitimate play for a spot with the boomers.
Finally that Australian basketball shouldn’t be watched on TV, hear me out here.
The only good basketball to watch on TV is the NBA playoffs, March Madness or World Cup basketball, unfortunately this international friendly laments around the same area as the desirability to watch an NBL game on TV.
NBL games are usually great to watch in person, but this friendly was probably one of the most ordinary games of basketball I’ve ever watched and I watched it in person and it wasn’t an NBL game.
In the end I was making side bets with myself for a very unfriendly (non-Youyi) brawl to end the game, which didn’t end up happening, but there’s always game two.