The Melbourne United NBL basketball Community Camp succeeded in its goals of bringing elite sport to Ballarat, showcasing Ballarat to the nation, and demonstrating that Ballarat is capable of hosting large-scale events.
The week was packed with community events, school visits, junior basketball sessions, and of course the gruelling training, preparation and recovery requirements for a professional training camp and game.
Three dual-Olympians were in the United squad; players Mark Worthington and David Barlow, and head coach Chris Anstey.
The camp culminated in the former Tigers’ first game as Melbourne United, against last season’s grand finalist the Adelaide 36ers, who incidentally eliminated Melbourne from the same finals series.
Over 1,200 people from as far as Sydney and Adelaide converged on the MARS® MINERDOME to see Melbourne United, adorning Basketball Victoria uniforms, earn a hard-fought 101-93 win over the 36ers. Home town hero Ash Constable hit the court for Melbourne alongside his former Ballarat Miners teammate Lucas Walker.
Melbourne United CEO Vince Crivelli was thrilled with Ballarat as the location for the camp.
“We really want to make Ballarat a base outside Melbourne for us. Why Ballarat? That’s easy; Ballarat has an amazing basketball history, some of Australia’s greatest coaches and players come from here and there’s an excellent culture and understanding of the game,” said Crivelli.
“Ballarat is one of the most professional organisations and with the vision and support of council to financially support something like this, the question is more ‘why wouldn’t we be here?'”
Melbourne United arrived in Ballarat on Monday and hit the court for a training session immediately, before a meet-and-greet with local fans. A team dinner at the Minerdome was followed by a video session using the Minerdome’s video resources.
Tuesday saw Anstey and the NBL’s Most Improved Player Nate Tomlinson interviewed on Power FM and 3BA before another on-court training session. The team then visited iconic Sovereign Hill and learned about Ballarat’s early history. Players then dropped into a PE class at Ballarat High School before having a chat with disengaged youths in Ballarat Secondary College’s LinkUp program. Another video session followed before the Melbourne team visited the Miners and Rush training sessions.
On Wednesday the squad made some new friends at Delacombe Primary School’s Breakfast Club before conducting a basketball skills clinic for students. Another United training session took place at the Minerdome before the Civic Reception at Town Hall. Players then put some elite St Patrick’s College basketballers through their paces in a training session before returning to the Minerdome to conduct the Aussie Hoops program for beginner basketballers. A weights session was then shared with the Under 18 Miners at On Track Fitness, thanks to Ballarat Basketball Strength & Conditioning Coach Scott Talpey.
Thursday began with more on-court training before a delightful lunch at Ballarat Specialist School which was prepared by the students. Melbourne United Assistant Coach and NBL legend Darryl McDonald along with Melbourne United General Manager of Basketball Excellence and former NBL coach Frank Arsego conducted a training session with 50 of the top Under 14 basketballers from across Western Victoria at the Wendouree Sports & Events Centre, before Melbourne United players ran Ballarat Basketball’s Primary School Competition.
Friday, the last day of the camp, began with on-court training before a Sports Forum Lunch with local businesspeople and the Adelaide 36ers in the Minerdome Sovereign Room. The big game tipped off at 7:30 with over 1,200 people in attendance. It was an exciting game which showcased a talented Melbourne squad with many new fans in the crowd, but the highlight was undoubtedly local player Ash Constable making his debut for United – the roar from the crowd when Constable hit the floor was matched only by the roar when he scored with a lay-up just a few minutes later. The team stuck around until every fan had all the photos and signatures they needed, and Melbourne United departed Ballarat, leaving behind hundreds of new fans.
Chris Anstey acknowledged Ballarat Basketball’s standing as an elite organisation which produces high-quality athletes, coaches and administrators.
“I’d heard so much about the event a few weeks ago celebrating the 25th anniversary of when the Ballarat Miners beat the Melbourne Tigers – the history of the place dictates that the facilities are going to be great because the city demands nothing less,” said Anstey.
Anstey also expressed how impressed he was by Ballarat youngster Ash Constable who trained with United for the week.
“It’s been great to have Ash. He came and trained last week and he deserves to be here. He’s a great learner.”
Mark Worthington rated the week in Ballarat highly against experiences internationally.
“We’re really happy to be a part of the community and give back a little bit,” said Worthington.
“You get a sense of how close the community is. I’m a country boy from WA and there’s a similar sort of feeling and I think it’s great that everyone gets behind the Miners and the Rush and there’s a real pride and they’re really happy to see you.
“I think it’s humbling for our group more so. Sometimes you take for granted what sort of lifestyle we live, and to be able to put a smile on a kid’s face when you’re just dribbling a ball with them or if you’re having lunch with them, answering a question, I think it snaps the guys back to reality a little bit with how good of a life that we have and sometimes how much of an influence we can have on kids.”
Ballarat Basketball and Melbourne United hope to bring the camp back to Ballarat in 2015.