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Hoop lessons from Down Under - Apr 17, 2004

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Eli Rangamar views his recent trip to Australia as a real eye opener in terms of how basketball should be run in the Commonwealth.

The president of the Basketball Association of the Northern Mariana Islands was invited for a coaches' tour of the island continent's basketball program from March 26 to April 9 and picked up not a few lessons from the Land Down Under.

He said Aussie basketball develops its players from a team perspective and its grass roots effort is phenomenal.

"They have basketball clubs with 6,000 to 10,000 members in almost every town. These clubs have teams for different levels of competition - from semi-pro ones, to junior players and even for those just beginning in the sport," he said.

Rangamar said BANMI should implement a similar program for basketball in the island but should adopt it to local conditions.

"For Saipan, Tinian and Rota, I guess the CNMI's basketball population would approximate the number of players in one or two clubs in Australia. But I like how they set up different levels for teams and I believe that could also work here."

He said he would like to see leagues like the Budweiser Cup and Rotary become more competitive by screening the number of teams and players invited. Rangamar believes such a move would make the games more exciting and allow top-tier players and teams to go at it, while allowing developing players and teams more time to improve.

Rangamar also observed that the coaches in Australia worked with one another, and although there are still rivalries between teams, that has not stopped them from sharing information and helping each other out.

"There's just a culture of 'all of us come from the same basketball program' down there. Everyone's accommodating and willing to teach. I watched one game there and the coach of a semi-professional team went out of his way to give pointers to a young mentor of a team from a small club. That's how it works there and I hope we could have that here," he said.

Skill wise, Rangamar noted that the CNMI could also learn a thing or two from the Aussies, who play a hybrid of American and European basketball.

"I've been to one of their games and everyone was just fundamentally sound. All of them are drilled with the basics from day one because of their efficient grass roots program. They shoot like the Europeans but can still hang with the Americans in terms of being athletic on the court," he said.

One player that caught the eye of Rangamar is 7'4" Sam Harris, who plays for the Aussie junior national team. He said the 20-year-old is big and mobile and has a fine touch from around the basket.

But hands down the highlight of Rangamar's excursion to Australia was when he met with legendary Melbourne Tigers coach Lindsay Gaze, a former Olympian and father of the country's best basketball player Andrew Gaze.

"He's the John Wooden of Australia. We were supposed to talk to him for just an hour but it went for three hours because he was just an affable person and we learned a lot of things from him."

One thing that sticks out with his conversation with Gaze, however, Rangamar volunteered was when he said: "Never say try and never hook up with people that are negative or you'll end being negative too."

Rangamar's trip to Australia was paid for by FIBA Oceania. He also got plenty of help from the offices of Lt. Gov. Diego T. Benavente and Rep. Arnold Palacios. Joining the trip were other representatives from the Oceania region, which included two coaches from Fiji and New Zealand, and a coach each from Guam and the Federated States of Micronesia.

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