By Hayley Wildes
Competing at the National Junior Classic (NJC) is one of the most prestigious achievements for teams in Australian junior basketball.
For the second year in a row, the Pakenham Warriors were represented at the NJC as their under-16 boys gave it their all at the invitation-only event over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.
Held at Dandenong Stadium and the State Basketball Centre, the 2019 NJC saw 128 teams compete for ultimate glory in an array of age groups.
The Pakenham under-16 boys qualified for the event by being ranked sixth in Victoria in the Victorian Junior Basketball League (VJBL). With another 15 of the very best under-16 teams from across the nation competing, just being there was a monumental achievement for the Warriors.
They weren’t content though.
After losing their first two games on Saturday against tough opposition in North Adelaide and Bendigo, Pakenham bounced back in a big way on Sunday morning with a stirring win over the Hills Hornets.
The 66-52 win came off the back of hard work and determination, led by Lachlan Smith (15 points) and Drue Maher (13 points).
The team came together at the start of the 2018/19 VJBL season and, with coach Michael Donovan leading the way, it has developed tremendously over that time – both individually and as a collective.
“He’s played high-level basketball in the States, so for our guys to have someone with his experience to be able to show, direct and set them up for plays, it’s providing them an experience that they could only dream of,” team manager Craig Currie said of Donovan’s influence.
With its first game on Sunday starting at 8.30am at the State Basketball Centre, Pakenham’s campaign then shifted to Dandenong later that day where it had two more games – the last of which finished at 10pm.
It was a long day for the Warriors, but they closed out the day in typical hard-nosed Pakenham fashion with a big win over Central Districts, 70-42.
It was Pakenham’s depth that shone through in that encounter, with seven players scoring at least seven points, led by Lachlan Smith and Lachlan Currie (12 points each).
“To have games on Sunday that started at 8:30am and our last game finished at 10pm – a 14-hour day for basketballers is quite massive,” Currie said.
“It’s not just on-court; it’s about having the grit to keep going throughout the whole weekend.”
While the win over Central Districts was a total team effort, in reality, the entire tournament was just that.
Through six games, the Warriors had six players average at least seven points, with Lachlan Smith (8.3 points) and Jak Morris-Burney (7.2 points) leading the way.
“It was a magnificent experience for them,” Currie said.
“You’ve got players from all around the country that are the best in their particular field for their age and just bringing all of them together is really an experience for the guys to go away with.”