By Rob White
UPDATE Tues., Aug. 3: Australia's Boomers beat Argentina Tuesday to advance to the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympic men's basketball tournament. The Aussies will face Team USA on Thursday in their quest to win an historic first-ever Olympic medal.
Former Roadrunner basketball star Nick Kay started the game, which tipped off on his 29th birthday. He celebrated by dropping a double-double — 10 points and 10 rebounds — on the Argentines.
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Former Roadrunners All-America selection Nick Kay is a key member of the Boomers, and he scored eight points and had a game-high nine rebounds in helping his national team defeat the Americans for the second time in three years in exhibition play.
Australia entered the Olympic Games with a legitimate chance for its first-ever medal in the sport. There’s no doubt which shade they are seeking.
“I think we have a real chance of winning a gold medal,” Kay said prior to the start of the games via e-mail. “It’s what we are going to Tokyo to do. It’s our goal and something everyone in the Boomers camp has been working towards for years.
“It’s our driving force and would be a massive achievement for not only the group but for everyone who has represented the Boomers previously and Basketball Australia as a whole.”
Kay was one of three All-America selections playing for the Roadrunners during the 2011-12 through 2014-15 seasons, helping MSU Denver to the NCAA Division II championship game in 2013 and to a regional title and national quarterfinal berth in 2014. He also excelled in the classroom as an Academic All-America selection.
He is fifth in MSU Denver history in career points (1,766) and fourth in career rebounds (863).
The 6-foot-8 forward has continued to elevate his game as a professional.
Now 28, Kay has been a two-time All-National Basketball League first-team selection in Australia and has also played professionally in New Zealand and Spain.
He has been a regular member of the Aussie national team since 2017.
The Boomers’ contingent includes a number of longtime NBA veterans, mostly role players in the world’s best league. They may lack the glitz and glamour of the Team USA lineup, but the days of the Americans running out their best players for easy victories is quickly fading into the past.
Still, wins over Team USA are worth noting. Australia beat the Americans for the first time in 2019, in an exhibition prior to the World Cup.
“USA Basketball has been, and still is, the pinnacle of basketball throughout the world,” Kay said. “There is no doubt they have the most talented team, and their greatness has resulted in the advancement of basketball within Australia. It’s very special to be able to beat them, especially away from home, but our goal is the gold medal. And if we want that, there is a good chance we’ll have to play them again.”
MSU Denver capitalized on the development of basketball in Australia beginning in the late 1990s, as former coach Mike Dunlap was able to tap into his connections to the country to bring in top-level talent. That led to some of the Roadrunners’ best-ever teams, including Division II national champions in 2000 and 2002.
Since then, multiple Division I programs have joined in the competition for top Australian players, and the level of talent has continued to grow.
With so many talented players to choose from – Kay’s former Roadrunner teammate Mitch McCarron was on the initial 20-player pool for the Aussie Olympic team – making the national team roster is a supreme accomplishment.
“It’s a dream come true, and the feeling of telling your family you’ll be representing Australia at an Olympics is indescribable and something I’ll never forget,” Kay said. “What is describable is the sense of pride that takes over when you’re able to put on the green-and-gold jersey and represent your country. It’s a rare privilege and something I will never take for granted.”
These Olympics, postponed for a year due to Covid-19 and still to be played under unusual circumstances and precautions, still have many things to offer that Kay is excited to experience.
“This Olympics will be different from many before,” he said. “So we might not get the Opening Ceremony, be able to go watch other sports and things like that, but what we do get to do is play for a medal as a team. I can’t wait to do that in the Olympic Games.”
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