The Boomers all say they’ve have been waiting for this moment but the fact it’s even arrived is “a shot at the naysayers” and a big tick for coach Andrej Lemanis, according to Andrew Gaze.
The five-time Olympian will be in the Beijing crowd on Friday when the Boomers meet Spain in a basketball World Cup semi-final grudge match three years in the making.
Australia have finished fourth at the Olympics four times, most recently falling by one-point to the Spaniards in 2016 when a dubious foul went against them at the death.
“That was a terrible feeling,” Lemanis recalled of Rio.
“I don’t think it needs to be brought up and spoken about specifically, ’cause everyone’s aware of it.
In many ways I think that hurt has driven just the passion and focus for this particular tournament and the commitment to it.”
That dedication has seen them arrive at that same point for the first time at a World Cup, thanks to a historic 6-0 run in China, and done so without as many as five unavailable NBA players.
Patty Mills is pushing his case for tournament MVP while Lemanis’s preferred nine-man rotation have all chipped in to ensure they remained flawless while the similarly below-strength United States and an imposing Serbia both fell at the quarter-final stage.
The Australian coach copped some flak for overlooking Deng Adel, Brock Motum and Mitch Creek – who later replaced the injured Xavier Cooks – from his original squad, while eyebrows were raised when Ben Simmons and Jonah Bolden were both in-then-out in a stunted Cup preparation.
How they may fit into next year’s Olympic plans, along with fellow NBA pair Dante Exum and Ryan Broekhoff among others, will be the coach’s next assignment once their China campaign closes on Sunday.
Before that though, Gaze thinks Lemanis deserves some credit.
“Their performance has been a bit of a shot at the naysayers who thought it (talking up their medal prospects) was just basketball rhetoric and promoting your own,” he said.
“They’re playing with great spirit and have clearly established their roles and they have the variations to deal with anything that’s thrown at them.”
Spain, powered by dynamic guard Ricky Rubio and veteran centre Marc Gasol, remain favourites on Friday though while France, who Australia beat in the second round, are still favourites with bookies to win the title.
They will play Argentina in Friday’s other semi-final, while the United States play Poland for seventh place on Saturday in what will be the American’s worst-ever finish at a major tournament.
“I see it (the final four) as being really, really even and Australia not being outright favourites but equivalent of everyone else,” Gaze said.
In a place match duel with fellow failed gold medal hopefuls Serbia on Thursday, the US slipped to a 94-89 defeat in Dongguan 24 hours after they were eliminated by France in the quarter-finals.
Appearing frustrated at being out of medal contention, Gregg Popovich’s side produced a disastrous first quarter on Thursday to trail Serbia 32-7. They twice fought their way back into contention but were ultimately defeated.
Serbia’s NBA star Bogdan Bogdanovic was top scorer with 28 points while Harrison Barnes replied with 22 for the US.
Despite the poor performance without headline NBA names such as LeBron James, Stephen Curry and James Harden, the reaction in the US was not overly harsh.
“This was not a disaster for the USA, this was no embarrassment, this was not a lack of effort,” the broadcster NBC wrote in an analysis.
“It’s simply another sign that the basketball universe is changing.”
It is expected the US will fight back emphatically come the Tokyo 2020 Olympics but broadcaster ESPN warned the structure of the squad and participation rate of superstars must improve if Team USA “wants to dominate these tournaments again.”
Australia v Spain 6pm AEST
Argentina v France 10pm AEST