Basketball hype high in Tassie, but JackJumpers success is causing grassroots pain
It is no secret that Tasmanians have a new-found love affair with basketball.
- The runaway success of the JackJumpers, who made the NBL play-offs in their debut season, has seen a surge in interest for basketball in Tasmania
- Basketball Tasmania says the state needs at least 26 new indoor courts to keep up with demand
- The Launceston Basketball Association has seen a 46 per cent increase in the number of players wanting to play
Since the Tasmanian JackJumpers entered the National Basketball League in 2021, interest in the sport has skyrocketed.
Each home game, thousands of Tasmanians don their green and yellow to cheer on the team — but the growing fanfare is creating headaches for grassroots basketball clubs.
In the state’s north, the Launceston Basketball Association has seen a 46 per cent increase in the number of players wanting to hit the court since the JackJumpers played their first season.
Association president Craig Gibson said while it was great so many people wanted to play the game, it now had 500 teams — 300 junior and 200 senior — and was struggling to give them all court time.
“We’re very much expecting to not fit everyone in this year,” he said.
“We’ll have to go back to the clubs and tell them, ‘We don’t have the space, you can only have this many teams’, which will mean there’ll be kids that don’t get to play.”
The reason the association is struggling to accommodate the influx of players is court space.
It is a similar situation across the state, with Basketball Tasmania saying the state needs at least 26 new indoor courts to keep up with demand.
The Tasmanian government has plans to develop new facilities, but basketball organisations say they are still years away.
The Launceston Basketball Association plays mainly at the Elphin Sports Centre, which was developed in the 1980s and has four basketball courts.
The centre is also used for other sports like badminton and table tennis.
Like many other basketball associations, the Launceston Basketball Association hires out nearby school gyms for teams to play on and uses the nearby Silverdome.
But there still is not enough space.
“We put in fabricated byes, so not everyone gets to play every week because we just can’t fit all the teams on the court at the same time,” Mr Gibson said.
“We’ve ultimately gone to competition seven days through winter. Some of the junior games are finishing at 10:30 at night; some of the senior games can be anywhere out to 11pm.”
The association has also introduced a summer competition to “give ourselves some breathing room”.
“I’ve been with the association six years now, and we’ve tried really hard to make sure no one misses out, everyone gets a go at it, but this is the first year where we might not be able to,” Mr Gibson said.
“It annoys me, particularly when you talk about the amount of money we’re going to spend on major event venues.”
He fears if a solution is not found quickly, kids’ interest in the sport will start to wane.
“The minute people can’t play, they start to lose interest,” he said.
‘We’re going to have to be a little creative’
Debate has centred strongly on AFL and large stadiums in Tasmania in recent months, with the government this week unveiling a $65 million stage one upgrade of York Park in Launceston.
Rod Graham, from the Glenorchy Basketball Association, said apart from a private investor developing three new basketball courts in the state’s south in recent years, no other indoor community space for basketball had been developed.
“If it wasn’t for that private enterprise, we would be 100 per cent turning kids away,” Mr Graham said.
He said the state needed to look at growing at the grassroots level.
“You have to look after the participation level if you want to have the elite level,” he said.
Basketball Tasmania chief executive Ben Smith believed the state had, in some ways, “put the cart before the horse” when it came to growing basketball.
“The JackJumpers have been awesome, and kids all over Tasmania are excited about playing basketball, but in a lot of ways, we knew that was going to happen, so we probably should have built the courts we needed first. We’re now playing catch up.”
Mr Smith said solutions were needed quickly, and Basketball Tasmania was in the process of developing a regional strategy to look at ways to service demand.
“It’s important for kids to go along and watch sport and be inspired by elite level competition, but fundamentally you then want them to be able to go along and play the game.
“We’re going to just have to be a little creative with how we develop competitions and venues for kids to play in. We know the demand is there, we’ve just got to find ways to service it.”
Tasmania’s Sports Minister Nic Street said a northern suburbs community recreation hub at Mowbray is planned to help with the lack of appropriate indoor sporting facilities in Launceston.
Mr Street also said an “indoor, multi-use sporting facility” would be developed as part of the as-yet unfunded stage 3 of the UTAS Stadium redevelopment.
“We have invested $1 million through Basketball Tasmania to support the state’s three NBL1 clubs to deliver school basketball clinics across Tasmania to support grassroots basketball,” he added.
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