The Emus could not emulate the success of their predecessors, falling short of a 2017 U19 World Championship birth – the first time since the tournament’s inception in 1979 that Australia will not be involved.
Held in Suva, Fiji, the 2016 U18 Oceania Championships pits seven teams from the region against each other, all fighting for a single World Championship bid.
In essence, win or bust.
The team had some notable big-name players unavailable for the tournament due to US high school and college commitments, including Harry Froling, Deng Gak, Jacob Epperson, Deng Mayot, Isaac Humphries, Will McDowell-White, Mayan Kiir, Giir Ring, Noah Thomas and Cameron Healy.
Despite these absences, the Emus still boasted a plethora of depth, talent, and experience.
While Australia dominated their way to the gold-medal match, they were ultimately stumped by the impressive New Zealand outfit, who walked away victors after a thrilling final.
Angus Glover (NSW)
Matthew Kenyon (NSW)
Tom Fullarton (QLD)
Jacob Rigoni (SA)
Lat Mayen (SA)
Gabe Hadley (VIC)
Sam Short (VIC)
Sam Froling (QLD)
Ben Carter (SA)
Makuach Maluach (NSW)
Kyle Zunic (NSW)
Vs. Tahiti: 95-14
Angus Glover commenced the Emu’s campaign with an emphatic opening game.
And if there were ever questions over if his recent ACL tear would hold him back, he answered them at the same time.
The first two points of the competition came on a slashing drive for a massive two-handed jam for Glover that set the tone for the rest of the game.
Glover would finish with 14 points on 7/10 shooting, 2 rebounds, 2 assists (including a gorgeous oop to a cutting Tom Fullarton) and 8 (!) steals for the contest, taking out player of the game honours.
From the outset, it was full-throttle, and the Emus ran out to a 32-2 quarter time lead…and didn’t let up.
Tahiti shot only 13% from the field and was forced into 33 turnovers, and couldn’t get any rhythm against the swarming Aussies.
For their part, the men in Gold proved they could get out and run, and execute in the half-court set when they needed to.
Despite his age and playing against some players two years his senior, young Samson Froling flashed that he’s going to be a force at any level, collecting a handy 6 points, 6 rebounds, and a steal. Froling pulled out some nice moves from his bag of tricks – including a back-to-the-basket baseline spin for an easy two – reminiscent of older brother, Harry Froling.
Although his shot wasn’t falling, Isaac White managed to impact the game in other ways, notching 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists during his time on the court.
Perhaps most impressive was Jacob Rigoni, however, who has only progressed from strength to strength over the year.
Posting an easy double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds in just 15 minutes, it was a sign of things to come for the South Australian baller for the rest of the tournament.
Vs. Guam: 117-41
Eventual bronze-medallists Guam lay next for the Aussies in their pool.
While Guam provided stiffer competition than the Emu’s previous game, the boys from Down Under were still able to run away comfortable victors.
Guam came to play, though, as Australia couldn’t find the separation it would have liked in the first quarter as 26-14 leaders.
The second quarter is where the damage was done, however, starting the second period on a 19-0 run, holding Guam to only three points for the quarter.
After shooting only 21% from three-point land in their win the day before, the Aussies went 16/39 from deep – good for 41% – as well as a staggering 60% overall from the field.
Rigoni backed up his impressive first outing with his second straight double-double (16 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal), solidifying himself as a hot prospect for the tournament.
Froling was once again solid – still belying his age – as one of six players in double figures, finishing with 13 points, 9 rebounds, an assist, steal, and block.
It was White and Kyle Zunic who took on distributing duties, feeding the hot hands of Gabe Hadley and Lat Mayen. White and Zunic dished out 6 and 7 assists respectively, while Hadley and Mayen combined for 25 points, each knocking down three triples apiece.
Zunic also chimed in nicely on the scoreboard, hitting four three-balls himself en route to 14 points.
With 33 team assists, the ball was flowing and shots were falling, all equating to a comfortable win and a 2-0 record.
Vs. Fiji: 85-31
The host nation had pride on the line when they faced up vs. the Aussies, and they performed admirably.
While Australia was ultimately outscored 16-12 in the final quarter, the damage was already before, as the men in Gold held Fiji scoreless in the third quarter and only four points in the opening period.
And who else would pace the way for the Emus except for Rigoni, who put up 17 points to go with 8 rebounds on 8/15 shooting.
White was the only other Aussie to join him in double figures, notching an impressive double-double of 15 points, 10 rebounds (and three steals).
The Aussie starters were given a well-deserved rest, with Glover, Matt Kenyon, Tom Fullarton and Makuach Maluach all playing less than 10 minutes.
In those 10 minutes, though, Maluach made an impact – going 3/3 from the field for 7 points and 6 rebounds.
Mayen again found his stroke from beyond, knocking down another three triples for his 9 points.
With another cruisy group stage win, the Emus were poised for a semi-final matchup with New Caledonia.
Vs. New Caledonia: 121-30
New Caledonia was the only thing stopping Australia from a blockbuster showdown with New Zealand in the gold medal game.
This one was over early, and White made sure of it.
You can’t hold him down for too long…not with his “get-hot-quick” ability.
The South Australian gamer torched New Caledonia to the tune of 28 points on 9/12 shooting, including four triples, with 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 5 steals just for good measure – a true all-round performance.
And all of this in only 18 minutes.
Not wanting to miss out on the fun, Gabe Hadley got in on the action, going one better from deep than Isaac for 19 points, 2 rebounds and 3 assists.
The Emus were all sharing the ball, piling up 37 assists for the game as eight players had 3+ dimes, including 5 each from Glover, Kenyon, and Zunic.
Froling continued his great tournament, demonstrating his soft touch around the rim for 12 points on 6/7 attempts.
With New Caledonia done and dusted, an epic matchup with New Zealand awaited.
Vs. New Zealand: 51-57
This was the game everyone wanted to see.
New Zealand posted wins in similar blowout fashion to romp their way to the gold-medal showdown, winning each game by a margin of 88 points over their three games.
Spearheaded by the star duo of Quinn Clinton and recent Miami Hurricane commit, Sam Waardenburg.
And boy, did they come up big when they were needed – especially Clinton.
Defence dominated the early stages of the game, evidenced by the 8-12 quarter in favour of NZ.
The Aussies went 0/13 from deep to start the game; however, some stingy defence ensured that the game was always within reach, trailing by 7 at the half.
When Clinton knocked down a pair of triples to take the lead to double-digits, it was make or break time for the Emus.
They responded accordingly, as Rigoni and Sam Short’s three-balls, coupled with a pair of Froling swats led to a 10-0 run to keep NZ’s lead in check.
Only down by three entering the fourth, Australia would quickly take the lead on the back of a Glover deep ball and Froling breakaway jam.
Froling was instrumental in the game, racking up 8 points and 4 blocks all the while being tasked with checking four-star recruit, Waardenburg.
Australia would enjoy an 8-point lead with over 4 minutes to play, which Clinton would evaporate.
After big man Waardenburg exited the game due to injury with 11 points and 12 rebounds with 2:30 to play, NZ would have to rely on their cool-headed guard.
With the game in the balance and a strong move inside by Maluach, Clinton responded. Two huge Clinton triples in the final 90 seconds would result in a 53-51 NZ lead. The second of Clinton’s three was an unbelievable banking three on which he was fouled by Short, giving one free throw with 40 seconds left.
Clinton finished with a major 14 points and 7 rebounds in the game, none bigger than those three in the waning seconds.
On the ensuing free throw, Australia gave up a back-breaking offensive rebound in which Taane Samuel cleaned up for his 8th points of the game to send NZ up by 4.
Still alive, the Emus came up empty on four possessions before Samuel iced the game to send NZ to the World Championships and their first Oceania gold medal.
Rigoni again was key for the Emus but could only do so much, finishing with 11 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 blocks.
Glover finished with a team-high 12 points and 6 rebounds.
Rigoni and Glover were both rewarded for their stellar play throughout the tournament with All-Star 5 honours, rightfully joined by New Zealand’s Waardenburg and Clinton, and rounded out by Guam’s Michael Min.