By Ron Reed for the Herald Sun

The big guys flew out for Europe for a five-game Olympic tune-up against Croatia, Greece and Brazil after creaming the New Zealand Tall Blacks 94-57 at The Cage in most impressive fashion.

“We’ve got a lot to prove – not only in Beijing, but down the track basketball has got a bright look,” coach Brian Goorjian said.

It was the veteran mentor’s 55th birthday, which helped add to the cheerful mood permeating a positive few days for hoops.

Goorjian’s team is travelling well enough that he was able to narrow it down to 13 players – 12 will make the final cut for the Games – without calling on the game’s latest good-news story.

Nathan Jawai, 21, became the first Aboriginal – and only the 10th Australian – to be drafted into one of the biggest and richest competitions in the world, America’s National Basketball Association, late last week.

This softly spoken but physically formidable novice has learned the game quickly by playing with the Cairns Taipans in the National Basketball League. A big tick for that controversial competition.

And a very welcome one. The NBL has acquired a worrying image problem in recent weeks that has proved contagious.

Because two of its biggest and most successful clubs, the Sydney Kings and the Brisbane Bullets, have collapsed financially, the game itself is perceived to be in deep trouble.

With an overall world ranking of two, plenty of Australians starring in US colleges and a thriving grassroots scene, that would be an exaggeration – if not plain wrong.

But it is – as Basketball Australia chief executive Scott Derwin told the crowd at the Boomers game – being reborn.

More evidence of that is expected to become available immediately. The final stage of the long-awaited administrative review commissioned by the NBL, Basketball Australia and the Sports Commission will be completed today.

And while its recommendations will not be ratified until October – although one huge step forward has already been taken, with the NBL and BA agreeing to merge – the league’s new look should come into focus tomorrow.

“We have two healthy, strong consortiums applying for the Sydney licence, and one in Brisbane, and by Tuesday we should be able to announce what is happening,” said Melbourne powerbroker Seamus McPeake. “It is 100 per cent certain that at least one of them will be approved by then and every chance that both (drop-outs) will be replaced.”

McPeake also said negotiations were well advanced with a lucrative naming-rights sponsor.

McPeake owns the very successful Melbourne Tigers franchise – it won the championship last season and recorded a $700,000 profit – and is part of the interim board appointed to oversee the review process.

“There has been a lot of negative publicity in the last few weeks, and the public think we are done and dusted,” he said. “But the sport is alive and healthy and this is a very exciting time for the league.”

McPeake says the new-look league – due to tip off on September 17 – may still have fewer than last year’s 13 teams, and that all franchises, old and new, will be required at some point to lodge guarantees of at least $1 million to avoid any more situations as painful as the demise of the Kings.

But perhaps the key issue will be to ensure that the elite and grassroots levels connect properly.

To understand the importance of that, you only had to be at the Kilsyth sports centre on Saturday morning, where four courts were humming with kids of all ages – as usual.

This goes on all day and well into the night, and every weeknight, too.

“Basketball at this level is booming,” says Ben Turner, development manager for the Kilsyth and Mountain District Basketball Association.

He oversees 1000 teams with as many as five grades for each year-by-year age group from seven to mid-teens, meaning that every kid can get a game regardless of ability or maturity.

Several other suburban associations at Knox, Dandenong and Nunawading are almost as big, he says, and nearly as many girls – about 45 per cent – as boys play, which is something that sports such as footy and netball cannot achieve. And it’s a similar story out in the country.

Turner, 23, says the review “hopefully will allow the sport at national level to get back to the community”. Which is what McPeake was preaching.

“It’s no good saying if they get on TV they will have a profile. It won’t be done through the media. They have to get these kids to games,” Turner said.

“Basketball wants to be up there with football, cricket, rugby and netball, but it has to work out how to get there and where it sits. If it wants to be like the AFL – or the NBA – it needs a plan in place and community support.

“It’s here, they just have to make the connection.”

Although it’s pitched beyond the kids as such, the search for young talent has been intensified by the announcement of the inaugural NBL Prospects Camp, to be run at the Waverley Stadium in Melbourne from July 21-23.

Endorsed by both the league and BA, the project will bring together “Generation Next” – the top 60 players aged from 18 to 24 from all over Australia.

“This is an exciting initiative,” says NBL interim chief executive Chuck Harmison.

“We have barely scratched the surface of the talent pool and we need to continue to provide pathways for our best young players or we will lose them to other sports.”

Ian Stacker, the veteran coach who will oversee the project, said: “We have players falling over themselves to get their hands on an invitation so they can get a shot at the big league.”

With Jawai’s achievement and the Boomers and the world champion Opals both heading for Beijing in good shape, the outlook is optimistic.

Stand by to have that message reinforced.