What do a former Olympian, an NBA player, a three-time SEABL Championship winner and NBL journeyman, a group of NBL Championship winners, NBL players, SEABL players, the nations best basketball talent, district and social basketball players and people who’ve never played basketball before have in common, they’ve all played in this annual tournament which is not what you think.
Jason and Darren Smith, Todd Fuller, Erik Burdon, Mark Nash and a host of others on a list too long to name have participated and been actively involved in all aspects of the National Baptist Basketball Carnival.
The tournament has been running as early as 1972 and as this feature piece describes is one of the most inclusive and dynamic tournaments in Australia, a tournament that is just as much fun off-court as it is on-court.
Talking to players in the past, It’s clear that they’ve never seen a week and a half tournament talked about with such passion, enthusiasm and love, the tournament brings together such diversity and creates friendships that will last a lifetime.
How can one basketball tournament do this on a consistent basis, well it appears amazing considering the sporting landscape.
The basketball event runs like any other basketball event except there is an opening ceremony in which players have an opportunity to meet each other before competition or reacquaint with interstate past players, the player oath is taken and players engage in a supper together as the week kicks off in a casual fashion.
The next day trainings for each state are conducted then its straight into competition with men’s and women’s A grade (featuring NBL, SEABL and State league players mainly), A reserves and B1 and B2 grade fixtures tip-off catering to any skill level of baller including a first time hooper.
Those not playing are encouraged to chant and cheer for their state regardless of skill level, never will you hear of a top level NBL player cheering on a first time player so hard and passionately for their every little involvement in the game.
Then before or after a day’s play, they all gather for a bit of fun ranging from a BBQ in the park, beach or pool social hangout and a chance to not only catch up with their new team-mates but other state players as well.
During the middle of daily competition they stop as a whole tournament for a message from the tournament Chaplain that has everyone even those who aren’t use to hearing this kind of “word” intently listening, a three point and dunk competition are also run which reportedly have been very popular and hotly contested over the years.
Along with the Chaplain for the tournament, each state gathers as a squad in their own time known as the “Team Time” as they get to know each other better and learn more about life and how to grow as individuals.
State team-members discover there is someone who can do magic card tricks, is a professional clown or travelled all over the globe to someone who’s endured many challenges in their past life or currently still does, it’s clear that it binds the basketball family closer together.
The week concludes with a presentation dinner where the achievements of teams and individuals are celebrated including special presentations to those involved in the longevity of the tournament over many years and a last chance to enjoy each others company before the journey home.
Many South Australian players from Perth 2015 echo the thoughts and feelings of many players, supporters, spectators and on-lookers.
“I had a truly amazing time and I feel that this was because I was with a terrific bunch of people” says one of the SA participants in Perth 2015 this year.
“I had so much fun with all of you wonderful people! And not just the basketball was fun but the whole team time, the highlights, the chanting, the activities and just getting to know all you was fantastic. And I’m so lucky to have met you all. I felt like I’ve learnt a lot off and on the court.” describes another first time traveller.
“Just a huge shout out to all of you SA crew at the WA Carnival. Thank you so much for being so inclusive of my little one, it was fantastic to see so much love for him from all of you” glows one of the playing Mum’s as the culture of the group helps looks after even the smallest supporter.
These thoughts and more are shared by a large number of people in this large basketball family from people who played their first carnival in Perth in 2015 to the most experienced current player coming up-to his 17th carnival in John Baynes, equalling the current record held by original squad member John Dyer.
“He’s known as the gentle giant, he actually played for Queensland when they were short on players in the Adelaide 2007 Carnival that’s the kind of player he is, he’s the ultimate team player, he does whatever needs to be done” stated many of the basketball family during his celebration of 15 years of playing back in 2012.
Many players like this are unsung legends of this long standing and continuously growing week of each year, that forges friendship and family for life.
The National Baptist Basketball Carnival next runs in Gawler at Starplex Basketball Centre on the 9th January 2016 to the 16th January 2016.
Written by Tristan Prentice