Boomers and Opals clashes loom large

It’ll be the first time for some, and others their last.


Either way, playing under the lights at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday will be memorable for both the Boomers and Opals.

Not since the 2000 Sydney Olympics has Australia boasted a basketball crowd as big as the 14,000-plus expected in Melbourne.

While the number falls short of the record 17,800 fans that watched the Sydney Kings take on the West Sydney Razorbacks at the tail-end of the NBL’s heyday in 1999, it’s a mighty achievement in 2015.

Beat New Zealand and they’ll be halfway to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.

Lose and they face a tough battle across the Tasman for their second leg early next week.

“I don’t get many opportunities to play in my home city,” NBA superstar Andrew Bogut said.

“I get very jealous in the NBA when teammates of mine are from Chicago and New York and go back there and they get 30 or 40 extra tickets.

“I’ve never had one of those opportunities, but this is one of those and I’ll cherish it.”

For his coach, Andrej Lemanis, seeing the court laid down on Friday brought back memories from 1992 – his last game for the South East Melbourne Magic and beating the Melbourne Tigers to win the NBL championship.

“Back then, it was a real buzz and a fantastic atmosphere,” he recalled.

“I hope to see it full again with green and gold shirts and singlets, it’ll be nice.

“Hopefully the crowd gets into it as well.”

A game-eve visit also triggered flashbacks for his Opals counterpart Brendan Joyce, who remembered his time as an NBL coach.

“In the 90s, the Magic and the Tigers obviously had full houses in the finals,” he said.

“One of my memories isn’t real good, though. I was coaching the Wollongong Hawks and Mum, when she was around, came all excited – and then we lost by 40.

“But Melbourne people love sport and they’d go to see two flies fight for a championship.

“It’s just magnificent we’ve got a fullhouse. For me, it’s special because it’s my hometown as well.”

She’s been to the Olympics three times and won as medal Games medals, but until Friday morning Opals forward Laura Hodges hadn’t been inside the famed arena.

“To be able to come in and actually play a basketball game here is just so exciting,” she said.

“I think once we walk in there’ll be those nerves, but after a good warm-up we can run them out and I think we’ll be ready to go.”