MELBOURNE, Australia -- "Welcome to the club."
Those four simple words were Andrew Bogut's typically wry reaction after Australia's history-making win against Team USA in the second of their two-game exhibition series at Marvel Stadium.
Speaking minutes after the Boomers' 98-94 victory in front of a 52,079 capacity crowd, Bogut said the performance was one of the highlights of his illustrious career. The Boomers big man also signalled that the victory was a huge moment for the psyche of Australian men's basketball, with the team -- world basketball's longtime bridesmaids -- now firmly believing they can beat anyone they lock horns with.
Bogut -- whose bragging rights among the playing group was being a part of Australia's Under-19 World Championship-winning team in 2003, which included victory against the U.S. -- said he was thrilled his teammates were able to experience the joy of defeating the best team on the planet.
"[That was] huge for us," he said. "It's a friendly, so we want to keep that in context, but we did create history tonight -- the first senior Australian men's team to beat an American team. I was fortunate enough to do it in juniors so I told the boys, 'welcome to the club.'"
The 34-year-old said Australia's growing presence in the NBA was starting to pay dividends on the national stage, admitting some players were previously "starstruck" against the best players in the world. He added Saturday's win over Team USA would be a turning point among the group.
"We feel like we can beat anyone in the world ... this [is] the first time I've felt that with the Boomers. In the past, we'd be going to an Olympics or Worlds and not so much making up the numbers but [thinking], 'We'll give it a fair shot and what happens, happens.'
"We were competitive in the past but it wasn't like we were [thinking], 'We're trying to win a gold medal and beat anyone we come across' and I think this group genuinely has that belief. And I think a lot of that comes from having guys in this squad who are playing with those Team USA guys on a nightly basis [in the NBA] and not just warming the bench, but playing against them. In the past we have had guys who were a little starstruck about playing against [the big names], but that's not the right mindset."
Boomers teammate Chris Goulding, who starred in Game 1 before a quieter outing on Saturday, was pinching himself after the win. But he was also trying to retain perspective with the World Cup only a week away.
"It was a great day for Australian basketball," he said. "We feel like we're starting to play to our potential, but I think we can play even better, which is so exciting.
"We wanted to enjoy it and make sure the crowd enjoyed it but we have bigger goals -- to keep it [the excitement] under wraps and use it as a stepping-stone and hopefully be better again ... and if we have to play [Team USA] again, we'll be ready."
The two-game exhibition series didn't come without its controversies, with stars withdrawing from both squads, and ticketing and seating issues at the venue, but Bogut and star teammate Patty Mills -- the matchwinner for the Boomers in Game 2 -- were both thrilled at the growth of basketball in Australia.
"We just had 52,000 people twice come to a football stadium for a game of basketball -- if someone would have told me that five or six years ago, it just wouldn't happen," the Melbourne-born veteran said. "On top of that, we won, so I've never seen basketball at this height in this country. I couldn't be prouder to be an Australian basketballer right now. To win a game against the USA in my home city is something I never would have thought was realistic as a kid ... to beat them is a whole other ballgame.
"Having 52,000 people here tonight, with kids everywhere who have supported the NBA for so many years to come and see this and then see the Dellys, Pattys, Joeys of the world, taking it to the United States .... hopefully gives them [inspiration] that anything is achievable. Hopefully we have 50 NBA players in 10-15 years. The support has always been there, but [this result] is huge on many levels ... this is just an exhibition game, but to see so many people come out in full force, it shows the support is there and we can hopefully feed off this for years to come.
"We're trying to build to an ultimate goal of winning a medal at a major championship, and this is the process to get there. This is one step and [we're] growing and building as a group. ... We're locked into creating history as a group, and we're not satisfied yet."