Aim low, shoot high

South Australia was for years a leader in basketball as a sport throughout Australia, forming the first state association in 1936 in our centenary year of proclamation, hence the naming of the Adelaide 36ers in today’s national league. We can boast the first indoor stadium was at Forestville.

Later we had Werner Linde, rated by many as the purest shooter in Australian basketball history, and legends Phil Smyth and Jan Stirling inspiring little kids to play basketball in the 1970-80s. The sport was huge right across the state.

Fans packed local grand finals played in big tin sheds, and each year thousands converged for the country carnivals in places like Bowden Stadium. The sport was humming alright, but so often things change, and compared with those halcyon days basketball at local level has suffered a huge decline in popularity.

However, against the trend for some time now our Great Southern Amateur Basketball Association, the home of its representative sides, the Slammers, has flourished.

In fact, the GSABA’s ability to be one of only three of 28 country associations to actually grow incredibly strong through this widespread decline in a Play Station world is a lesson for some other sports.

From a humble beginning on mid-week mornings in 1975 when ladies from churches formed four teams and played in the old Port Elliot Showgrounds hall, our local basketball has gone through its own lean times, but by looking outside of the zone it emerged much healthier a long time ago.

It’s not about money, or placing success ahead of overall participation and enjoyment.

And when you have 950 registered players representing 126 teams across five clubs in stadia in Victor Harbor and Goolwa nowadays, we need to sit up and listen.

Behind this success, alongside association and club committees, is GSABA business administrator Dennis Earl. He receives a token fee for his role, but he’s been worth every cent for turning everything upside down – literally.

There has always been this belief in sport that your best coaches coach your best teams and players. After Dennis took on his role in 2003 the approach was to have the best coaches going to the bottom – coaching the under 10s and 12s to give them the proper grounding so when they reached the highest level they were easier to coach.

“I just think that our ability to run a successful competition relates to each of the clubs having been able to put their best coaches in the lower grades,” Dennis said. “They perform well. They develop the techniques and basic skills very early. Their footwork is always good, which is so important in basketball.

“Having their better coaches down in the lower grades rather than up higher has over the years helped to raise the overall standards. We are just really motivated.

“All of our association teams in the summer play above their age level – the under 10s are in the under 12s and so on. They get used to playing alongside each other; the coaches get time to develop the game plans. Every club supports that.

“When I first came down here we weren’t that strong at SA Country Basketball Association level, but because the clubs turned the focus to developing players from a junior level we have finished in the top five every year. We won the men’s senior title in 2013 for the first time, and we won it again the next year.”

When you enter the recreation centre off George Main Road, Victor Harbor, there is a sign highlighting that everyone makes mistakes – coaches, players and umpires. It’s an obvious thing really, but when a player touches only the ball going for a rebound and gets pinged for a foul the message is often forgotten.

The association, especially through its president Rod Walker and secretary Fiona Haynes and other committee members, has worked well with Mike Richards, the referee development coordinator, to maintain a positive approach to controlling games. Overall, the local competition has moved forward because of this mutual respect.

“We have a umpires panel,” Dennis said. “It means we have people who want to umpire and so the quality of the umpiring is better. And because of good umpiring the standard of the games improves with it.”

Having an excellent junior program has seen some of the better players move to the bigger district clubs in the city. No one minds though; it’s part of their creed to encourage players of all ages to be the best they can. Since 2013 there have been 12 players selected to represent national teams – Matthew Stock, Daniel Stock Brooke Basham, Hannah Stewart, Oscar Bloomfield, Tom Cleggett, Ashlyn Menz, Max Scott, Shanika-Anne Barr, Taylah Levy, Lewis Ridley and Caitlin Rose. This speaks volumes for local basketball.

Also setting the GSANA apart is that it is the only country basketball association to establish a competition for people with special needs. It’s not a token thing; the effort by Gus Telfer to provide healthy recreation and sport for people who simply love the game and just happen to have a mental and/or physical disability has been remarkable. Again, it’s about the sport being bigger than anything.

Dennis came from a strong basketball background in Mount Baker, where regrettably the sport has declined considerably over the years. He genuinely loves basketball; his rewards include watching nine-year-olds enjoying themselves and in time being the best they can with some aiming incredibly high.

“I like the contest that basketball offers,” Dennis said. “I like the involvement of the kids. They keep you young; they also give you a new perspective in life. You learn from them, and through basketball they learn values. The main thing for me is that the kids not only learn how to play basketball in a healthy and safe environment, they develop life skills which helps them become impressive young people.”

Local basketball has also brought Dennis enormous frustration relating to building a new stadium in Victor Harbor. With almost 1000 people playing the game every week, the sport has long out-grown its current tired centre. It can barely cope with the number of games scheduled.

There have been serious discussions between council and other sporting groups since 2010, especially in recent years about redeveloping the Encounter Bay Oval precinct, but they have remained as just that – talks. Dennis will believe it when it happens. “It’s been long haul,” he laments.

The new summer season started on October 9 and everyone is out to bring the Pistons, our new men’s top division titleholders, down to earth. In the women’s competition the Wildcats are out to win it again, while the Saints will go through the season thinking they surely wouldn’t lose their sixth grand final in seven seasons. They wouldn’t, would they?

And come the season after that the powers-to-be will no doubt still be talking about a new stadium. The GSABA deserves one.

That’s basketball. Get past the dribble and for hundreds of our young members of the community a marvellous sporting life is in their court.

If you are interested in playing basketball the club contacts are on the website: