BENDIGO is representing country basketball proudly this long weekend by qualifying both under-16s boys and girls squads for the National Junior Classic.
The boys are touted as a potential Classic contender, especially after the team’s nail-biting win at February’s Country Championships.
Head coach Ben McCauley believes the team has been riding high after the country title.
“It was a fantastic result for the boys and the club,” McCauley told Basketball Victoria.
“We set some goals earlier in the year, and one of them was qualify for the top 20 in VJBL, and the other was to win Country Vic… it was an awesome effort to get the win against Horsham Hornets.”
The Braves defeated their long-standing rival 44-37 in the grand final led by Dylan McCauley scoring 14 points, with Dyson Daniels adding 12 points in the win.
But now the Braves’ goals have shifted, and their new challenge awaits this weekend going up against some of the best youth basketball squads in the nation.
Something McCauley believes his team is looking forward too.
“The boys love getting away and competing at the highest level,” McCauley said.
“They all love to step up and take the challenge of competition.
“I think the boys best can very good, and we just need to be ready to come and play each game.”
The invitation-only tournament gives the young men the chance to test themselves as basketballers at the highest club level.
“The Classic is best opportunity for the kids who don’t make the state teams to play against the highest competition in Australia at their level,” McCauley said.
“It is a great experience for those who are on the fringe of the state teams, who might not make the teams, but they get a great exposure to the quality of competition.”
But at the end of the day, McCauley is thrilled his charges have made it this far and better for the experience.
“I’ve got a great group of kids… the best part is watching them develop and grow, and become better athletes,” McCauley said.
“Working with them, and them being prepared to work hard and get better.
“Hoping we have prepared enough to get a few wins on the weekend.”
The U16G are off to a flying start after a 57-55 won over the Forestville Eagles (SA) in the National Junior Classic.
— Bendigo Braves (@Bendigo_Braves) June 9, 2018
Another coach who is delighted with his team’s performance and invitation to the Classic is Braves under-16 girls head coach Nick Salm.
“It is always an honour to make the Classic,” Salm said.
“As a country association we don’t always have the numbers to field teams in our club level competition, in our domestic competition.
“So, when we get a good group of kids, that play well together and are great athletes… I am very lucky with this particular team full of great athletes all aspire to play at higher levels.”
Bendigo continues to produce elite teams who are again among the favourites this weekend.
“From a country point of view, it’s fantastic… it’s a really nice feather to have in the association’s cap,” Salm said.
The Braves girl squad are continuing to have a stellar season, and a good showing at the Classic would be another incredible achievement in 2018.
“We are halfway through the MUVJBL season, we’ve ticked two of our boxes we identified together as a group,” Salm said.
“That was to make VC and the Classic.
“The second was to win Country Champs, but we finished second.”
Bendigo fell agonisingly short in the final, losing by fours points to eventual champion Southern Peninsula Sharks.
“We lost to a very good in side in Southern Peninsula, who are by far the best country team going around,” Salm said.
“Probably even better than some of the metro sides that are going around at the moment.”
The Sharks are another country team destined for the Classic, but the Braves squad have the advantage of previous Classic winners still lacing up their shoes.
“This group won the Classic as under 14s in 2016,” Salm said.
“We have a very talented group of kids.”
The Braves begin their quest in pool D of the Under 16s bracket, going up against Dandenong, and interstate squads Hornby and Forestville which always brings something of the unknown.
But Salm believes his girls are up for the challenge.
“Make no mistake, those teams have qualified because they are the best in their states, so they are both going to be tough,” Salm said.
“We are up for the challenge and see how we go… we are super excited and feel very privileged to be there.
“The Basketball gods might smile upon us and we will a few games.”
The Braves have a real chance at becoming the first side since Melbourne in 2012 to capture the Under 16s title double.
Bendigo continues to produce elite athletes and is a beacon for basketball in the country.