Basketball Aussie-style

Club Kilsyth brings international flare to 15th annual tournament

Posted: Friday, December 30, 2005

A day-and-a-half of air travel in many ways belied the even greater distance the boys and girls basketball teams from Club Kilsyth in Victoria, Australia, traveled in coming to a new world.

Considering that December is the hottest month of the year in Australia, a place that's fairly hot year-round, Juneau can seem like a different universe.

"Right now it gets dark back home around 9 p.m.," said Phil Middlin, father of Kilsyth' girls player Alysha Middlin. "So this is really different."

Throw in the fact that right now in Australia its tomorrow, it's easy to get a sense of how far these adventurous athletes have traveled, all in the name of basketball. The Cobras are currently competing in the Capital City Classic basketball tournament.

Juneau could not be more different than relatively flat, dry and hot Australia, much to the delight of the Club Kilsyth players.

"We love looking out our windows here and seeing all the mountains with snow on them," Kilsyth's Missy Batten said. "But we hear there are bears."

The Cobras' players and coaches are boarded in town with volunteers and families of the Juneau-Douglas boys and girls teams.

"Everyone here is just so friendly and open," Kilsyth girls coach Ben Turner said. "It's wonderful."

The Cobras' Lauren Thompson added, "People here are just so friendly."

Apparently, Juneau's fans are also curious.

The girls' players have said they've been routinely requested to recite Australian signature sayings of, "G'day" and the famous "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi," chant.

For Kilsyth, basketball is an entirely different event in Australia than it is in basketball-crazy Juneau.

Basketball is a popular sport in the southern hemisphere, but in the sports-mad land Down Under, there are simply many more sports to compete with - including rugby and Australian Rules Football.

Consequently, the Cobras have been experiencing a unique thrill with the pageantry and enthusiasm surrounding the Capital City Classic.

"About 50 people at our games back home is usually a lot." Turner said. "Back home, for games we don't really have the bands, or the cheerleaders, or the crowds so this is really exciting. We think how you present the game of basketball here is just amazing."

Many of the players echoed Turner's sentiments about the intensity and atmosphere surrounding basketball in Juneau and America.

"It's awesome," Turner said.

In fact, Australian basketball differs in some subtle ways than the American game.

Unlike the United States, where teenage athletes compete for their high school teams, ballers in Australia primarily play on club teams.

Club basketball in Australia is a tiered system starting with youth teams and going all the way up to Australia's professional National Basketball League.

Levels of play get tougher as players move up the chain if their skills allow. The Cobras currently competing in Juneau are representative basketball squads consisting of elite youth players in the Club Kilsyth system.

While Kilsyth finishes play in the Capital City Classic today against the Wasilla boys and girls teams, the Cobras aren't done traveling.

Following today's games, Club Kilsyth travel and play in Seattle, the Los Angeles area and Vancouver, British Columbia. In addition to playing games, the teams plan on touring colleges, schools and basketball clubs along the way.

According to Kilsyth's coaches, there are only about 25 college athletic scholarships available each year. Therefore players who envision having a future in the game are particularly interested in more than simply playing a few games while on tour. Learning about the American style of basketball is definitely on these players agenda.

In the meantime, however, the players and coaches from Club Kilsyth are experiencing the sights, sounds and people of Juneau just as passionately as they play the game they love.

Or, as Middlin said, "This is just a very friendly frontier town."

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