AT a high school gym in Cairns, the greatest collection of Australian basketball talent to don the green-and-gold burn through a blistering on-court session.
Collectively, the squad members assembled on Cairns State High School’s court have earned in excess of US $280 million during their professional careers.
Emerging NBA stars like Dyson Daniels and Josh Giddey battle Boomers veterans like Joe Ingles and Patty Mills as part of a 10-day camp ahead of this month’s FIBA World Cup.
Watching attentively is long-time team manager Junior Viranatuleo, the former Cape York truck driver who answered Mills’ call to join the Boomers breakthrough bronze medal campaign at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
Since then, the softly-spoken Boomers stalwart has worked for the Utah Jazz, before joining Mills’ philanthropic foundation last year.
“This is the best team we’ve ever put on the floor,” Viranatuleo says.
“It’s physical the way these boys are going at it.
“They’re competing against each other for those World Cup spots. It’s unreal to watch.”
The Boomers success in Japan, ending a 65-year journey to claim a medal, is cherished and celebrated within the group.
But the quest to stand atop the dais at this month’s FIBA World Cup and the 2024 Paris Olympics means the group’s standards must lift again.
Together with Mills, Viranatuleo helped plan the team’s Queensland camp in a bid to bring back gold for the first time.
A proud Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander man, Mills has helped dramatically re-shape the Boomers culture since joining the national team in 2007.
In 2016, the NBA champion led a team trip to Uluru prior to the Rio Olympics.
This time, celebrating the abundance of life and culture in Cape York, the Torres Strait and Cairns was identified as a priority.
To start, the squad gathered to enjoy a Kup Murri, a traditional First Nations feast wrapped in banana leaves and slow-cooked over hot stones in an earth oven.
Artwork from Daniel O’Shane, whose vinyl carving tapestries reflect his Erub Island roots, is splashed across the team bus and player apparel.
“We’re a national team, we have pride in being able to represent our country and being here has been special for us,” Mills says.
“(This is where) that bond, that camaraderie, that brotherhood and what it means to be a Boomer comes to fruition.”
Choosing the right training venue was important, too.
Viranatuleo personally inspected Cairns State High School’s facilities before giving it the nod.
“We’ve never been in a camp where we’ve had access to three courts, side-by-side, locker rooms, a full storage room five minutes from the team hotel,” he said.
“It’s the best facility we’ve had at camp.
A tireless worker, Viranatuleo meticulously prepares every training down to the soles on each players’ feet for every session.
“We carry all the players’ sneakers for games,” he says.
“They’ve been doing it for a long time in the NBA. We have these shoe bags with 18 slots. Bag one is your game shoe you play in, then we have a back-up bag and a third bag, just in case.
“Almost all our guys play in the NBA now, so it just made sense.
“Now, the players come off the bus in casual gear, finish training, pop their uniforms in the laundry bag before they leave and hop back on the bus.”
The long hours, plus time away from home and family, make the work challenging – but it’s the players that keep Viranatuleo coming back.
“Working in the NBA was an unreal experience for me but nothing beats the feeling of being in a Boomers camp,” he says.
“This camp means a lot to us because this is our backyard and I really want the team to come back here.
“It’s just a special group.”
– story by Samuel Davis