The Emus are Australia’s U19 national men’s basketball team, representing the country’s best basketballers under the age of 19. The team is named after the largest bird native to Australia. The inaugural FIBA U19 World Championships were held in 1979, and the Emus have participated in every tournament to date.
The first ever FIBA U19 World Championships, held in Brazil in 1979, were introduced as an opportunity to help develop rising stars by giving them the chance to test their skills against the best from around the world. The Emus had a rough start, losing their first game to Yugoslavia, but bounced back to defeat host Brazil. In the next round, they won a close one against Panama 64-63, then won convincingly over Egypt, but after tripping up to Canada, Australia was knocked out of medal contention. Overall, the Emus managed a 4-4 record, good for ninth place out of twelve teams.
In 1983, the Emus headed to Spain for the second U19 World Championships. Australia suffered losses to a tough German team and eventual bronze medallist Brazil, but also defeated Angola by 27 and Canada by 30. The Emus played to a respectable 4-3 record, but finished tenth in the expanded field of fourteen.
The Emus featured an improved roster for the 1987 World Championships in Italy. The squad included future Boomers players Mark Bradtke, Shane Heal, Luc Longley and Andrew Vlahov, and future Emus coach Marty Clarke. The Emus hung tough with eventual silver medallist USA, attempting a second half comeback before falling by a mere four points. Australia strung together three victories to end the tournament, including a 78-76 nail biter over 1983 silver medallist USSR, to place fifth, their best finish to that point.
The 1991 World Championships in Canada were a chance for Australia to build on its fifth place finish in 1987. The Emus featured future Boomers Brett Maher, Pat Reidy and Tony Ronaldson. The team began with a convincing victory over eventual bronze medallist Argentina, but losses to Romania, Syria and the USSR left the Emus a disappointing 11th place despite their impressive 4-3 record.
The Emus left for the 1995 World Championships in Greece with high hopes. Featuring future Boomers Sam Mackinnon, Glen Saville, Simon Dwight and Frank Drmic, the team had a goal of medalling. In their first game, the Emus defeated the United States by the razor thin margin of 71-69. The Emus then rattled off victories in each of their next six games, including an impressive 76-53 win over Croatia in the semifinals to send Australia to the gold medal match. There they faced Greece, where, despite Aaron Trahair’s 27 points, the team only shot 36.2% in a 91-73 defeat. Nonetheless, the Emus had plenty to be proud of as their second place finish achieved the goal of earning their first ever medal.
At the 1999 World Championships in Lisbon, Portugal, the Emus looked to reaffirm their silver medal from Greece with a high finish. The team featured future Boomer David Andersen, and was led by Andrew Rice’s 15.5 points per game. Early victories over Venezuela and Japan put Australia into the quarter-final round, where they lost their first game to Spain, as well as their next, a nail biter, 58-56 to Croatia. Their backs against the wall, Australia squeaked out a 72-70 win against Greece, pushing them into the semi-final round, where they won against Brazil. In their final game, the Emus defeated Russia 63-51 to exact revenge for a first round loss and finish in fifth place.
In 2003, the World Championships returned to Greece, and Australia sent one of their finest squads yet. Featuring future Boomers Andrew Bogut, Steven Markovic, Aaron Bruce and Brad Newley, and led by Bogut’s 26.3 points per game (third best in the tournament), the Emus breezed through the early competition, winning all three of their first games. Their fourth game was against a tough Lithuania team starring high scoring forward Linus Kleiza. Australia fell behind early before mounting a second half comeback; but it wasn’t enough as Lithuania prevailed 96-87. The Emus bounced right back, however, rolling out wins against Puerto Rico, the United States, and Croatia to set up a rematch with Lithuania for the gold medal. The Emus came out strong, leading 71-50 at the half, and continued the dominance in the second half, winning 126-92. Andrew Bogut led the way with an outstanding performance of 35 points, 14 rebounds and one blocked shot. The gold medal was the Emus’ first ever, and their second FIBA medal.
As reigning world champions, the Emus headed into the 2007 World Championships in Serbia as one of the favorites. The team was led by Andrew Ogilvy’s 22.3 points per game (third best in the tournament) and future Boomer Patrick Mills’ 14.9 points per game. Victories in all of their first six games (including an impressive 135-79 win over Korea) had the Emus looking like frontrunners to repeat. However, in the quarterfinals, Australia came up against a strong Brazil team. After a well fought game throughout, the Emus just barely lost as Brazil escaped with a 73-72 victory. Despite their hopes of repeating as world champions being dashed, the Emus shook it off to defeat Turkey and Argentina and finish in fifth place.
Following the 2007 World Championships, FIBA announced the U19 tournament would become bi-annual, meaning the next championships would occur in 2009 in New Zealand. To qualify, the Emus had to win the 2008 Oceania Championships in a three game series against New Zealand. Australia won the first game easily 94-67, but New Zealand fought back to make the next game closer, as the Emus won by the smaller margin of 84-71. Australia won the final game as well, 81-60, to sweep the series and guarantee their spot in the 2009 World Championships.