Starting Saturday, Australia will face New Zealand in a two-game, home-and-home series with the winner (cumulative score) getting an automatic berth to the 2016 Rio Olympics. There’s a lot on the line.
So when Australian point guard DanteExum went down with an ACL tear that will keep him out of the series (and likely the next NBA season), the Boomers reached out to Patty Mills. The Spurs’ point guard had begged out of the Olympic qualifier, but when coach Andrej Lemanis reached out with an emergency plea after the Exum injury, Mills jumped in.
“I’m looking forward to joining my Boomers teammates for this very important qualification series against New Zealand,” he said. “Playing for my country has always been an honour for me.
“Obviously my shoulder injury last year meant that I had to continue intensive rehab and quality training over the past few months. I’ve done that and will be ready for the Oceania Championships. My focus now is helping my Boomers teammates qualify for Rio 2016.”
He also posted this on Instagram.
The injury he references is off-season shoulder surgery he had after the Spurs won the title in 2014. It took the first couple months of last season for Mills to find his old groove again but the shoulder still bothered him, and the Spurs asked Mills to sit out the series. Which is what he had planned to do.
Mills is the best available point guard the Australians could get (you can argue he’s an upgrade over Exum, he certainly is on the offensive end), and he’s played internationally for the team and coach before, so it’s not like he has to learn a new system.
The downside is he was not the point guard through the team’s four tune-up games, he’s coming in cold to a huge series. That said, Australia has real talent with the Warriors’ Andrew Bogut and the Cavaliers Matthew Dellavedova on the roster as well (plus some well-seasoned international players).