Bogut: Our Boomers' mentality bothered me

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August 24, 2019 was a climactic day for an important chapter of Australian basketball.

That evening, the Australian Boomers defeated Team USA in a FIBA World Cup exhibition game, in front of a 50,000-strong crowd at Melbourne's Marvel Stadium. The win was a validating moment for the program, after years of Boomers players trying to convince the Australian public that seeing a gold medal as a realistic goal wasn't so crazy.

The reason why it was such an important moment was because that sentiment wasn't always widely held within the Boomers. Just ask Andrew Bogut, who remembers a program that had wildly repressed expectations of itself, and showed it.

"I think the program, for the first eight or nine years I was involved in it, it was just... I wouldn't say guys were just happy to be participating in an Olympics, but a lot of guys didn't have that mindset of: 'we're going in to try and win a medal'," Bogut, a three-time Olympian and NBA champion, told ESPN.

"Guys didn't think that was realistic, and maybe rightfully so, but I thought it was the wrong mentality. It really bothered me going to some of those tournaments.

"We'd be playing against the USA team and we had guys on the team that were asking to get their shoes signed before a game. For me, being an NBA player, and hating those guys, trying to beat them, you've already lost the game before the game starts."

Bogut pointed to the 2014 iteration of the team as the time when the program's mentality shift began. Australia was coming off a Round of 16 finish at that year's World Cup, but was staring down the barrel of what would end up as a turning point for basketball in the country.

Danté Exum had just been selected with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, right after Patty Mills and Aron Baynes won an NBA Championship with the San Antonio Spurs. Bogut would then go on to win a title with the Golden State Warriors in 2015, before Matthew Dellavedova helped his Cleveland Cavaliers to a championship the following season. Throw in the fact that Ben Simmons was on the trajectory to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, and the future of Australian basketball was looking as bright as ever; Boomers players were becoming more prominent in the NBA, and a level of confidence organically spilled over to the national program.

"That's what I'm most proud of," Bogut said of the mentality shift. "That's changed now."

"That shift's changed now to where... we're gonna come in and try to win this thing. Our goal isn't to get a medal, our goal isn't to just beat the USA; our goal is to win a gold medal. Obviously if we get a silver or bronze along the way, we'd take that in stride, but our goal is to win a gold medal and I think it is an achievable goal now, whereas 10 years ago if you said that, it probably wasn't an achievable goal."

With that newfound confidence - and the lofty goal of gold alongside it - comes an important mixture of sacrifice and self-awareness.

The Boomers have played an enviable brand of system basketball for nearly a decade, where Mills is the man, and ball and player movement is the modus operandi. Going into any Boomers campaign, the expectation is that egos are to be left at the door as you take your place in that system.

"The hardest thing in a national team is you have 12 guys that are probably the first, if not second option, on their club team, wherever they play in the world," Bogut said.

"You, all of a sudden, come into a situation where, even if you're an NBA player, coach may say: you don't need to do that for us, we don't need you to handle the ball 30 minutes a game, we want you off the ball, be a lockdown defender. That's the huge part of the puzzle for a national team coach, and all the national teams that struggled don't have that.

"Human nature becomes a big problem, because you might have a free agent in Europe or the NBL, or even the NBA, and they (think), 'I'm gonna use this national team campaign to get my value up'. You're here for the wrong reason, dude. Like, get out of here. We don't want you here with that mentality.

"That's the hardest thing a coach has to deal with, and I think, for the most part, we got it right the last four or five campaigns. Like, dude, leave your sh*t at the door for two or three months, suck it up for the national team; you might not get minutes, you might, you might be in and out of the lineups. We were competitive for the most part doing that."

On that famous Saturday evening in Marvel Stadium - coincidentally, the same venue this ESPN interview with Bogut took place - the Boomers got that crucial level of buy-in. That only comes with an immense level of mental fortitude and security, which only exists within a program whose members understand that reaching a desired outcome is more important than individual glory.

Bogut played a significant role in the Boomers' mentality shift, but his recent retirement means he won't be afforded the opportunity to continue the chase for that gold medal. The 36-year-old was offered a position on Brian Goorjian's coaching staff ahead of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics - he politely declined - but, at the very least, he has August 24, 2019.

"Not on Australian soil; not for Australian basketball, on Australian soil," Bogut said, when asked if he'd been part of a prouder moment over his storied basketball career.

"Even the first game, we didn't play that well, and we were right there until the end, so we came in with a great confidence into game two, that we could win that game. We were just the better team from one through twelve; we played more team orientated basketball.

"We knew they were more talented than us, when you put individual vs individual, so to do that on Australian soil, a record crowd for a basketball game, I think even potentially for Marvel Stadium. I think just, to be forever in those books of being the Australian team to beat the USA team and, on top of that, do that in my home city.... (it) was really special."