It was the biggest game on Australian soil in fifteen years. A packed house full of energy had poured into Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, but you could cut the air with a knife.
With 6:48 to go in the third quarter, the Boomers had not been able to shake the pesky Tall Blacks. They led 39-32 and the murmurs of discomfort emanated from the nervous crowd.
Coach Andrej Lemanis inserted David Andersen into the game, replacing Cameron Bairstow. Plenty in the crowd let out a collective sigh of disappointment; they’d come to see Australia’s NBA talent and Bairstow’s a Chicago Bull. Andersen’s, well… you know… he plays for some team in Europe somewhere.
Andersen got to work right away on the low block, drawing a foul and making both free throws. Nine point lead.
Thirty seconds later, he saved the ball on the baseline off a broken play, got it back with three seconds left on the shot clock and hit a trademark turn-around fade away, right in the face of Tom Abercrombie. Eleven point lead.
Later in the 3rd with the margin back to 7, Ando went to his bread and butter, working the pick and pop with Patty Mills. The 6-11 big man nailed it from deep to make it a ten point game again.
It’s nothing new for David Andersen. He’s been doing that stuff for twelve years with the National Team, since first being selected for the 2003 Oceania Series as a 23-year old.
The former Frankston junior has played in three Olympics and two World Championships (now World Cup) for the Boomers. He’s played as a back up and a starter and been called on to score and rebound depending on who he’s playing alongside. In London in 2012, he started at Centre with Andrew Bogut out.
Now, with Bogut back for the first time since 2008, Andersen is enjoying having the big fella around again.
“It’s been great you know, it’s always a fun culture being around the guys,” Andersen told Downtown ahead of the first game. “It’s been good [especially] having him around. I think he really enjoys it too. He’s been away from it for a while and I think he’s come back in with a renewed enthusiasm and all the boys have reacted well.
“Obviously my range has increased over the years and last time we played together was back in Beijing so it’s a little bit different now. It does help having a big body like him behind you. It makes it more fun I’ve got to admit. He really will help us and hopefully he’ll make it even better going forward to Rio.”
Andersen’s range was on full display on Saturday night and he certainly benefited from playing alongside Bogut, especially in that second half.
Late in that 3rd quarter, Saturday’s big crowd started to warm to Ando. They sensed that his experience and versatile skillset may just help the Boomers win.
And that’s exactly what happened in the 4th quarter as he continued to trouble the Kiwis with an array of jump shots, drives, offensive rebounds and money-for-strawberry-jam free throws.
Then, with 40 seconds remaining, Andersen put it beyond doubt with some silky pick and pop action in transition with Patty Mills, nailing a 15-footer.
Andersen finished the game as the Boomers’ equal top scorer with 17 points in less than 20 minutes of action off the bench.
Following the win, teammate Brad Newley had this to say when asked about Andersen’s impact, not only in this game, but to the Boomers in general and why he doesn’t always get the recognition or respect he deserves.
“Dave’s had an incredible career. Not many people in Australia know what he’s done overseas. He’s been one of the best foreign players, I’ve been over there 8 or 9 years now and he’s always been known as one of the best big men in Europe.
“When we put him in a position where he can do his thing, he’s close to unstoppable with his fade away.
“He gets a little bit of curry from the fans, but I think today he showed in his home town what he can do and I’m pretty proud for him to do that today.”
Newley’s not playing around… One of the best big men in Europe.
We’re talking about a player who has won three Euroleague titles, seven national league titles across three of the top leagues in Europe, made the All-Euroleague First Team and has won numerous MVP awards.
If you attached the equivalent accolades to a Soccer player, they’d probably have been named Australian of the Year and have a statue somewhere by now.
Former Boomer and European pro David Barlow was highly complementary of Andersen when speaking with Downtown yesterday.
“When I first arrived in Spain, everyone was saying he’s the best player in Europe and for the majority of his career he was on one of the best teams in Europe. To get a contract with one of those teams is a huge accomplishment in itself, let alone to do it for over ten years with multiple teams in different countries,” Barlow said.
“Not only that, he won with those teams – a lot. He’s won three Euroleagues, he’s gone to heaps of [Euroleague] Final Fours and won Championships everywhere. He’s had an amazing run.
“As for his international career, if he goes to Rio, that will be four Olympics. To be at that level for that long is really hard to do and illustrates how much of a professional he is.”
Andersen has played for European powerhouses like CSKA Moscow, FC Barcelona, Fenerbahçe and Kinder Bologna across the best leagues in the continent. As Barlow stated, you don’t get to play for those teams if you’re not talented. Scan a CSKA Moscow roster and you’ll be sure to find 3 or 4 ex-NBA players year in and year out.
The other thing Barlow made abundantly clear was that Andersen made a conscious choice to play in Europe rather than pursue an NBA career earlier, despite being drafted by Atlanta back in 2002.
“To put that comment about him being the best player in Europe into perspective. That was at a time when guys were choosing to be in Europe rather than the NBA because they were getting paid way more. It was around the time [Josh] Childress gave up huge money in the States to sign in Greece.”
Andersen finally made the move to the NBA in 2009 after his draft rights were traded to the Houston Rockets. He played 63 games as a back-up Centre in a year that Yao Ming sat out with a foot injury and he played better than many expected, again because they didn’t know his talent.
On a per-36 minute basis, Andersen averaged 14.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.1 3ptm and had himself some nice moments.
The following year saw him traded to Toronto and then on to New Orleans where he played sparingly, but still contributed.
In the summer of 2011, Andersen had a choice to make. Pursue another NBA contract, (which was no certainty given the impending lockout) and continue to play back-up minutes or return to Europe for probably less money but the chance to play a major role.
Andersen had only one thing on his mind at that stage; the London Olympics.
“I had the Olympics around the corner and figured it was more important to be playing,” Andersen said when reflecting on the conscious decision he made to return to Europe.
He returned to one of his former clubs in Montepaschi Siena for the 2011/12 season. There he won his 3rd Italian Pro-League Championship, capturing Italian Cup MVP honours in the process. You might say that was much better preparation for London.
“There’s nothing like representing your country,” said Andersen. “I’ve tried to be around the Australian team as much as I can.”
And he’s done just that.
Now 35, the man known as “GQ” because of his stylish wardrobe, Scandinavian good looks and the way he’s stayed in shape over the years, is the elder statesman on the Boomers team for this latest campaign.
Those who’ve been watching the Boomers closely over the past month were unsurprised by Andersen’s outstanding play in Saturday’s Game 1. He’s been in terrific form of late, highlighted by the 20 points he dropped on the Lithuanians two weeks ago:
“He’s very professional,” said Barlow when talking about Andersen’s influence on the team. “He takes great care of himself which sets a really good example.”
Barlow wasn’t surprised by Andersen’s heroics on Saturday night either. When discussing the big fella’s greatest on-court impacts, it was pretty clear that what he delivered at Rod Laver was exactly what he’s there for.
“His ability to score, in a variety of ways; in post ups, pick and pops, trailing for three or just spotting up. Also his experience, especially in Europe, helps the team a lot. He’s been in so many big games.”
There’s been no bigger game played in Australia this century and while all the talk before the game was about Bogut, Delly and Patty, the man no-one was talking about was all of a sudden a name on everyone’s lips as they filed out towards Swan Street after the game.
Tucked away ‘somewhere in Europe’, David Andersen’s talent has long been something of a secret kept away from Aussie fans.
Perhaps now, after playing so well for his country on home soil, the cat is finally out of the bag.