Back in the Day: Dr Free-Throw

Back in the Day: Dr Free-Throw

This week, the BA time machine has landed in April of 2001...

- Ansett Australia, troubled by continual restructures and low morale amongst its workforce, suffers a massive blow when the Civil Aviation Safety Authority orders the grounding of all 11 of its Boeing 767’s following the discovery of a host of issues relating to aircraft maintenance. Already struggling to maintain a shrinking share of the market, CASA’s decision could not have come at a worse time for Ansett, with the Easter rush and resulting delays delivering further damage to their tattered brand.

- Relations between the United States and China remain tense following the return of the crew of an EP-3E intelligence aircraft that had become involved in a mid-air collision with two Chinese fighter planes. President George W. Bush, facing the first major crisis of his term in office, talks tough with the crew’s internment being “inconsistent with the kind of relationship we both have said we wish to have.”

- Prime Minister John Howard signals that a major goal of his trip to Washington D.C. in September will be to begin negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement between Australia and the United States. Most analysts believe that an FTA is a pipe-dream, with the former head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Stuart Harris stating that “We do not have enough weight” to force the necessary changes in U.S. trade policy, particularly in relation to the protection of the agricultural sector.

- Former President of the Philippines Joseph Estrada surrenders to authorities after being charged with corruption and perjury. Having already been indicted on charges of accepting over four billion pesos in kickbacks, the new allegations are related to the fate of 130 million pesos in tobacco taxes and unusual tax returns.

- Dateline Birmingham, Alabama: Jury selection begins in the trial of Thomas Blanton, charged with the murder of four young girls via a bomb placed near the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963. The trial is the latest of a series of prosecutions bringing those responsible for various civil rights-era crimes to account.

- The Royal Shakespeare Company prepares to stage “This England” with eight of the Bard’s historical plays performed over a five-day period. In a casting quirk David Troughton, son of the second Doctor Who Patrick, appears in the first scene of the week as Bolingbroke in Richard II while David’s son Sam delivers the last line of the week as the future Henry VII in Richard III.

- The northern NSW town of Bryon Bay, usually the haunt of drugged-out survivors of the 1970’s, is swamped by music fans attending the annual East Coast Blues and Roots Festival, held over the Easter long weekend. Among the acts lighting up the mountainsides were the Reverend Horton Heat, Eric Bibb, Tony Joe White, Don Walker, Midnight Oil and Emmylou Harris, who wowed the audience by performing several numbers with Australian country music powerhouse Kasey Chambers.

- Three great Victorian traditions continue: the Good Friday Appeal for Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital, the surfing carnival at Bells Beach near Portsea and the Stawell Gift. At Bells Beach,  Nerida Falconer become the first goofy-footer (a surfer who leads with their right foot) to win the women’s title while a 19 year old wildcard named Mick Fanning pulls off the upset in the men’s competition. Over at Stawell Andrew Pym, rated as favourite by the on-course bookies, wins by a metre in a time of 11.97 seconds off a 7.75 m handicap.

- Notable deaths during the week included Joey Ramone of the Ramones (at the age of 49) and two great Scots: entertainer Jimmy Logan (at the age of 73) and champion footballer Jim Baxter (at the age of 61).

- “All for You”, “What Took You so Long” and “It Wasn’t Me” sat on top of the single charts.

Firstly, a short note on the play-offs to date: There were three qualifying finals with the highest-ranked loser entering the semi-finals as a ‘lucky loser’.

*Adelaide (6th) shocked everyone by knocking off the powerful Victoria (1st) despite losing the first game of the series at the Dome.

*A high-scoring Second Qualifying Final saw Townsville (2nd) hold off Sydney (5th) in three games.

*Wollongong (4th) produced a result almost as shocking as Adelaide’s by defeating the defending champion Perth Wildcats (3rd) in Perth for the first time in many years.

The finals structure then dictated that the highest-ranked winner (Townsville) would play the ‘lucky loser’ (Victoria) in one semi-final while the two other winners (Wollongong and Adelaide) would play in the other semi-final. As we join the action, the Hawks have built on their reputation as the NBL’s version of the Road Warriors, winning their first game in Adelaide since April of 1990 by the score of 84-83. The theme of criticism of officials is introduced, with referee Mal Cooper roundly criticised for missing an apparently blatant foul by Wollongong’s Melvin Thomas in the frantic final seconds...

Friday 13 April, 2001

NBL 1st Semi-Final Game One: Townsville Crocodiles @Victoria Titans

Final score: Titans 106-Crocs 97

Looking to bounce back from an “incomprehensible” loss to Adelaide in their Qualifying Final, Victoria went into this Semi-Final series severely weakened by the loss of Jason Smith to a knee injury. With only nine fit players and having now lost their home-court advantage Brian Goorjian and his charges would have to battle against a Townsville team that had finished with an equal record in the regular season (22-6). The Crocs under Ian Stacker had a wealth of talent including Robert Rose, Pat Reidy, Andrew Goodwin and the defensive stopper Mike Kelly.

Townsville led by six at quarter-time but the home side swung the match their way with a dominant second term. Leading by as many as 11 in the fourth quarter, Victoria withstood a determined charge by the Crocodiles to run out winners. Rose led all scorers with 26 points while Tony Ronaldson led the Titans with 22 points. Brett Wheeler controlled the key on his way to a double-double (17 points and 13 rebounds). Townsville still had the advantage of two games at ‘The Swamp”. Crocs general manager Denis Keefe described Game Two as “the biggest in the history of the franchise.” A sell-out would await the Titans as they flew up for an Easter Sunday showdown.

Saturday 14 April, 2001

NBL 2nd Semi-Final Game Two: Adelaide 36ers @Wollongong Hawks

Final score: 36ers 111-Hawks 100

Following their Game One victory in Adelaide, Hawks coach Brendan Joyce talked about his team being able to taste a berth in the Grand Final. A stunning fourth-quarter burst by Adelaide smacked the taste out of Joyce’s mouth and sent the sell-out crowd of 5706 into a deep funk. A 25-12 run between the 10:00 mark and the 2:00 warning, made up of four three-pointers by Darnell Mee, two by Kevin Brooks, three-pointers by Mark Nash and Brett Maher and a Paul Rees free-throw.

Brooks finished the game with 30 points, including 7/11 from three-point range. Mee was also outstanding for the underdogs, tallying up 24 points, ten rebounds, six steals and three blocked shots. For Wollongong NBL Rookie of the Year Axel Dench had an outstanding game ending up with 26 points and nine rebounds. Melvin Thomas continued to be a pillar of strength for the Hawks with 22 points and 11 rebounds. The only point of concern for 36ers coach Phil Smyth was the lack of an inside presence with Rees and David Stiff combining for only 21 points on 9/17 shooting, with Wollongong claiming the battle of the boards 58-45. Now, in the words of The Illawarra Mercury, it was “one game, one win and one heck of an achievement” that remained for the two combatants.

Sunday 15 April, 2001

NBL 1st Semi-Final Game Two: Victoria Titans @Townsville Crocodiles

Final score: Crocs 98-Titans 82

Brian Goorjian was matter of fact and to the point: “Townsville kicked our butts tonight fairly and squarely”. With a crowd of 5752 cheering their charges on, Townsville appeared to have suffered a major blow when guard Brad Davidson fell heavily following an attempted lay-up. After going to the dressing room to have six stiches inserted in a cut in the inside of his mouth, Davidson sparked an 11-2 run at the start of the second quarter that put the home side up for good. Davidson’s Larry Bird-like performance drew praise from his coach with Ian Stacker calling him “the inspiration for the team.”

The Titans not only lost the game, they also lost NBL Sixth Man of the Year Chris Anstey for the decider after he suffered a grade two ligament in an ankle during the second quarter. Goodwin and Rose again stood out for the Crocs, each garnering 19 points and 11 rebounds (Rose also handed out eight assists). Townsville’s solid zone defence also troubled Victoria, who shot only 27/79 from the field (Mark Dickel was particularly ordinary, shooting only 3/18 from the field).

Monday 16 April, 2001

NBL 2nd Semi-Final Game Three: Adelaide 36ers @Wollongong Hawks

Final score: Hawks 109-36ers 108

A rabid chorus of 4216 Hawks fans gave up their holiday Monday afternoon to bear witness to the making of history. Wollongong were looking to become the first team from New South Wales to reach the Grand Final, while Adelaide wanted to become the first team to qualify for the Grand Final from the final play-off position.

The Hawks led 28-26 at quarter-time and led by as many as ten in the second term. The 36ers struck back, however and by half-time had levelled the scores at 55-55. A 9-0 run to start the third quarter gave Adelaide control of the contest. Wollongong then showed the fighting spirit they had exhibited through the play-offs and whittled the lead down. At the start of the fourth quarter it was 80-76 to the 36ers and it was truly anybody’s match.

As the minutes ticked away, the lead swapped with regularity. A crucial point was reached when Darnell Mee used Adelaide’s final time-out with 2:02 remaining and his team up 106-104. On the following possession, Mee was fouled and sent to the free-throw line, hitting one of two: 107-104 36ers. In the end, Adelaide’s struggles from the free-throw line (shooting 19/27) would prove costly. Wollongong took the ball down the floor and set up Glen Saville in the low post. Saville turned around and made the basket: 107-106 Sixers. Quickly Adelaide moved the ball down the court and put it in the hands of Kevin Brooks, who was fouled. Brooks hit one of two: 108-106 36ers. Not even during the halcyon days of ‘The Snakepit’ has a crowd been this loud at a Hawks game.

Now Wollongong has the ball, needing two to tie and three to take the lead. There’s still time for Adelaide to have the last shot as...the Hawks miss! Less than thirty seconds left, and the 36ers can run down the clock and get a high-percentage shot. The ball’s in the hands of Brett Maher, who to this moment has been well-held by Mat Campbell. In a team full of go-to guys, he’s the one you want with the ball in hand. Maher drives to the bucket, but the shot clangs off the back and spills into a corner. Glen Saville grabs the ball and time is running out. He makes a pass down the score bench side and finds Damon Lowery. Lowery, who had spent years toiling away in the SEABL before Hawks coach Brendan Joyce gave him a chance at the big time, had already finished second in voting for both Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year (not a double one should be proud of). Lowery grabs the pass and Mee is right there to block the prayer. Lowery shoots and Eddie Crouch blows his whistle...

Gary Fox, the NBL Referee’s Manager at the time: “Mee blocked the shot... and pulled his arm back before he returned to the floor. It was a foul. It was a gutsy and courageous call by a senior referee. That is why you want senior referees in that type of game.’ (The other two referees that afternoon were Bill Mildenhall and Ian Watts). Time had expired and Mee had broken the first law of end-game defence: never foul the jump-shooter, particularly behind the three-point line! The multitudes in the stands and press row oscillated between shock and excitement while present NBL General Manager Chuck Harmison, then holding the same position for Wollongong was captured almost hyper-ventilating. Brendan Joyce, sensing that Lowery needed some time to prepare for the moment, asked for and was awarded a time-out despite there being no time left for play. Joyce’s only instruction was to the point: “Just like high school basketball, go out and win the game, baby.”

The equation was simple: hit one, Adelaide win; hit two, overtime; hit three, Hawks win. Michael Cowley of The Sydney Morning Herald describes what happened: “The first hit the front of the rim, climbed over and fell in. The second bounced off the front onto the back and it too fell... Then came the winner. It bounced on the rim, nudged the window, sat on the iron momentarily, then dropped.” A study of the footage shows the final free-throw took eight separate bounces before finally falling. 

Adelaide assistant coach Steve Breheny slumped in his seat, stunned to his toes. Lowery suffered the pleasurable pain of being jumped on by his team mates as the fans exploded. In the most dramatic finish to a play-off game in the history of the NBL, the Hawks became the first team from NSW to reach a NBL Grand Final. Tears flowed easily from all eyes as the Wollongong players went into the stands to share the moment with their supporters. The Hawks’ mission to win the title for themselves, their town and their manager David Leske (who had passed away in February after a valiant battle against cancer) was still on track.

After the game Phil Smyth and his players were fuming, believing that they had been robbed. Smyth said in the post-match press conference: “The club will pursue two incidents in the play-offs (a reference to the Mal Cooper no-call in Game One) and we expect an interesting answer... We don’t want to take anything away from Wollongong but there is a disturbing trend there.” For the record, the Hawks had 22 fouls assessed against them while the 36ers were assessed 18. Adelaide also had 27 free-throws compared with Wollongong’s 13 (of which they connected with 12).

For the home side, Melvin Thomas was ‘a tower of strength’: he scored 28 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, made four steals and two blocks while playing with a strained groin muscle. Lowery himself scored 20 points off the bench while for the visitors Brooks was their leading scorer with 26 points. An interesting side-light: Paul Maley, in his last NBL game, finished with 21 points for the 36ers.

Tuesday 17 April, 2001

NBL 1st Semi Final Game Three: Victoria Titans @Townsville Crocodiles

Final score: Crocs 101-Titans 97

Being in the invidious position of having to follow on from the drama at ‘The Sandpit’, the Titans and Crocodiles turned on a thriller of their own. Going into the game with only eight fit players, Victoria showed a great fighting spirit to go into the main break with a ten point lead. The third quarter saw a complete shift in momentum with Rose and Kelly making major contributions after quiet first halves. A minute into the final term Townsville led 81-65 after a 40-16 run.

The Titans then decided that a script re-write was in order. Runs of 10-2 and 8-0 saw the lead shrink to 88-87 with 5:00 remaining. It was then basket for basket until Rose hit a clutch three-pointer with 12 seconds left to make the score 100-97. On the ensuing possession, Darryl McDonald had the ball stolen off him by Kelly and the chance for overtime was gone. After the match, Rose was nonplussed about his heroics “It was a play we run a fair bit for me, a little step back and I cashed it.” The NBL was now guaranteed its first champion from a regional centre since Launceston in 1981.

Next week, we will be stopping off in April of 1982.

This is another in a regular series of articles that will take note of the historic events of the modern era of Australian basketball (1979-today). If you have memories to share, or topics that should be discussed, send an email to and put in the subject line ‘Back in the Day.’