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'Means a lot': Pan-Am basketball journey five years in the making

Posted: 23-Jun-2019 by PanAm Games 2019

When Australia’s Open men’s basketball team take to the court at the Maccabi Pan-American Games in Mexico next month, it’ll be the culmination of a five-year journey.

Where most contingents come together purely for the purpose of representing at the event, this group of 10 have almost exclusively found their way to the green and gold via Maccabi Basketball’s Youth League program – designed to bridge the gap between juniors and State League in Victoria.

After years of playing side-by-side under NBL championship-winning coach Al Westover, this team will now head overseas to compete for their nation in a truly incredible Maccabi story.

“They’re not just 10 individuals getting on the plane, they’re coming as a team and that really is an advantage to other teams that are making this journey because they’ve got each other’s backs. It really helps,” said team manager Susannah Swiatlo, who has been there for the entire journey.

The Open Men's Basketball Team

“Five years ago, this team wasn’t in existence, three years ago these boys didn’t know each other, and now to create lifetime memories and travel as a group is something that Maccabi should be very excited about as well.”

“It’s been a really nice story for them. Some of them came to the club not having any Jewish involvement going to public schools or non-Jewish schools with the odd Jewish friend here or there, and playing in this league, playing together, being selected and now are traveling together.”

They might not be the tallest group, but they’re a side brimming with spirit. In true Aussies style, our open basketballers simply don’t know when to lie down. And after a journey spanning half a decade, the camaraderie and on-court chemistry between the players is one of their greatest strengths

Amazingly, four of the ten players will wear the same moniker on the backs of their jerseys. The De Bortoli brothers – Hudson, Mackenzie, Bailey and Noah – will all take to the court as part of the same team in another remarkable Maccabi caveat.

They make up four-tenths of a team ready to give their best for their country.

The team features FOUR brothers!

“It’s one of those things where we’ve all got a common interest and that’s competing for a Jewish club, and I think Maccabi means a lot to everyone in different ways,” said veteran Jarred Kieser.

“The beauty of this group, in particular, is we’ve all sort of grown up through the youth league program which was started about five years ago, and we’ve got the same coach [Westover] that’s brought us through all of that.

“So, we’ve had an opportunity as players to be exposed to the same style of play for a number of years now which I think is going to give us a really good advantage in an international competition. Whilst other teams might have bigger bodies or stronger guys we’ve definitely got a togetherness about us that can hold us in good stead over there.”

Kieser, 27, has had a longer journey than most to Mexico having taken time away from the game to focus on coaching, before finding some of his best form upon return. He’s hoping to head home with a medal to show for it all.

Unfortunately, one of his key teammates is still a doubt to even take the court.

Ben Grosman is racing the clock to be passed fit to compete after being struck down by meningitis on the eve of the tournament. Grosman is awaiting clearance to play – a blow to a star of this group.

He’s a former captain of the Youth League program and has even recently been employed by Maccabi Basketball – a true clubman. Fingers are firmly crossed he’ll recover in time.

Kitted out!

Should worst fears be confirmed, he’ll prove a capable assistant coach to Westover – a decorated professional who’s coached all over the world. The former Melbourne Tigers boss has mentored this particular group of boys for a number of years and now has the pleasure of taking them overseas.

“He’s coached all these boys because they’ve all come through youth league,” Swiatlo said.

“So it’s a really nice story. For these boys to come into the club, some know each other some don’t, then to be able to go together and compete and represent their community, country, the club on a world stage is nice.”

The Aussies will take on USA, Mexico, Guatemala and Argentina in a strong field vying for gold.

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