GAME FACE: Andrej Lemanis, sporting the beard look back in 2011, will guide the Australian Boomers at this year’s Olympic Games in Rio before moving permanently to Brisbane. Photo courtesy of Livingly Media.
It’s still several months away, but the Brisbane Bullets are more than ready for the 2016/17 NBL season.
The club’s long-awaited return to the NBL is not only set to finally bring basketball back to Brisbane, it’s going to make an immediate impact on the competition.
And there is key a reason why the Bullets managed significant roster movements early in the off-season … it’s the outstanding basketball pedigree that exists in the club’s coaching ranks.
Australia’s national coach Andrej Lemanis makes his return to the NBL alongside esteemed assistant Mick Downer and NBL icon CJ Bruton, and there couldn’t be a clearer recipe for success.
Lemanis’ name is synonymous with basketball.
His association with the NBL dates back to 1985, and he has since won four Championship trophies – three as a coach and one as a player – along with two NBL Coach of the Year Awards for the mantelpiece.
His four-year NBL absence has been dedicated to national duties as the head coach of the Australian Boomers, with the huge assignment of the Rio Olympics fast approaching.
“I couldn’t be happier to be a full-time national coach,” Lemanis said. “Being able to coach your country is a tremendous honour, and something I certainly don’t take for granted.
“While it has been fantastic, a lot of my passion lies in being on a court on a daily basis, helping athletes achieve their goals and continuously being in an environment where you are working towards something as part of a team.”
For Lemanis, the relaunched franchise is integral for the growth of basketball in Queensland and believes his involvement is an important contribution he can make to the sport.
“I’m looking forward to helping the League establish the Bullets and I’m very proud to have the responsibility of bringing them back,” he said.
“We all remember what they meant to the Australian sporting landscape and I’m taking my involvement very seriously.
“I like where the NBL is heading. Larry Kestelman’s [NBL Executive Director] refreshing vision is exciting and you can finally feel the energy again.
“This is something I really wanted to do for the sport, re-introduce it back into Brisbane, and help CJ with what he wants to do with the sport in the region.”
CJ Bruton joins the Bullets after a decorated playing career spanning 516 games and an equal League-record six Championships.
The last time Lemanis worked with Bruton was in a player-coach capacity, but Lemanis always knew that Bruton would one day join the coaching ranks.
“This was something that was under-appreciated by general fans and in basketball circles, because everybody just saw how talented CJ was on the court.
“But the reason why he won so many Championships was because of his ability to connect with his team mates both on the court and in the locker room.
“So much of coaching is being able to put players in a position for success and CJ is so strong in that area.
“He is able to connect with people on all levels, and that matched with his basketball IQ is a perfect combination.”
Bruton couldn’t be happier to be reunited with Lemanis at the Brisbane Bullets, a team he played for in 1998, and also in 2006 to 2008 as he embarks on his first coaching position in the NBL.
“My plan is to help this team be successful on the floor, and more importantly off the floor,” Bruton said. “As a former player, I have that understanding of what can be done better, how clubs can accommodate more.
“It’s a very special opportunity, to get in on the jump and build this club from ground zero.
“I believe in the Bullets brand, it is a part of my heart, and with Andrej at the front, I know that we can take this team in the direction that it needs to go.”
The first move Lemanis made at the helm wasn’t targeting his playing group, but to complete his coaching trifecta with respected technical assistant Mick Downer.
Downer currently serves as the technical coach for the Australian Boomers and recently finished in his role working as the Coach Development Manager for Basketball Queensland.
Lemanis said: “I was very eager to get Mick on board at the Bullets. Of course he is an expert in his field, but we also have limited time before the season starts.”
“Mick and I have been working on and off as a coaching team for the last four years, and we’ve known each other much longer than that.
“We already understand how each other works, how to communicate with one another, and we’re both familiar with systems we’ll be looking to implement.”
Downer is no stranger to the NBL either, having served as an assistant at the Cairns Taipans from 2009-2015. Like Lemanis, he will join the Bullets in Brisbane full-time after the 2016 Olympics.
“Andrej is well-prepared for our return from Rio, which will give us seven weeks ahead of the NBL season,” Downer said.
“Basketball Queensland have been fantastic at ensuring I’ve got time to prepare for Rio with the Boomers, before leading into the Bullets pre-season,” he said.
“Being busy and multi-tasking is all part and parcel of coaching – we’re confident that there will be ample time for each program. We’re fortunate to have CJ holding down the fort while we’re away.
“Thanks to the long history between us three, there is an existing trust and faith in each other. CJ is so familiar with Andrej’s practices that we should all re-integrate smoothly after the Olympics.”
While history will be an advantage for the Brisbane Bullets brains trust in their first season together, it’s the history that will make the weight on Lemanis’ shoulders even heavier.
“Every team in the competition wants to win a Championship, that’s just a byproduct of being in it,” Lemanis said.
“For the Bullets, it’s going to be about process. If you get the processes right – the outcomes will follow.
“We won’t get too high on the highs or get too low on the lows.
“By definition, seven teams are going to fail this upcoming season, so we’re going to establish what success looks like on a day-to-day basis.
“That’s how you build winning program. And that’s what we’ll be doing at the Bullets.”