FIBA World Cup: A new Boomers hero emerges to keep campaign alive

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Xavier Cooks has been a hero for the two-time NBL champions Sydney Kings and he brought out those same heroics to keep the Australia Boomers alive in the FIBA World Cup in Okinawa on Tuesday night.

Cooks came off the bench to score 24 points and 16 rebounds in 23 minutes while Josh Giddey had 26 points and 11 assists as the Boomers beat Japan 109-89 to seal their place in the crossover rounds.

Xavier Cooks dunks for the Boomers against Japan.Credit: Getty Images

A loss to Germany on Sunday night and Japan’s upset win over Finland meant the Boomers had to beat Japan or they would have been out of the tournament.

The Boomers can also lock in their place at Paris 2024 as early as Wednesday night if Greece beat New Zealand in their final group game. Whoever finishes higher out of the Boomers and Tall Blacks will take Oceania’s direct spot in the Olympics, the other will have to play a winner-takes-all qualifying tournament next year.

“It feels great and I think we had 19 assists at half-time, the ball was really flying around,” Cooks told broadcasters after the game.

“We have kind of a new group and we are starting to figure that stuff out now. It’s looking pretty good.”

Josh Giddey drives to the basket against Japan.Credit: Getty Images

Germany topped Australia’s Group E with a 3-0 record and the Boomers took second place with a 2-1 record. They will form a crossover group with Group F with Luka Doncic’s Slovenia and either Georgia or Cape Verde.

Group F finishes its games on Wednesday night.

The results from the first round carry over to the crossover rounds so the Boomers will need to win both their crossover games to progress to the quarterfinals.

Australia will take confidence from the business-like way they handled Japan who had a roaring home crowd behind them in Okinawa with centre Joshua Hawkinson leading his nation with 33 points and NBA forward Yuta Watanabe had 24 points.

The Boomers tally of 109 was their highest score at a World Cup and their offence was far more balanced with six players scoring eight points or more while as a team they won the points in the paint statistic 68-34 and points off the bench 36-22.

Japan guard Makoto Hiejima (6) and Australia forward Nick Kay (15) fight for a loose ball in the first half.Credit: AP

Cooks won the NBL MVP award last season while leading the Kings to their second-straight title, he then flew directly to the US to finish the NBA season with the Washington Wizards who have signed him up for this coming season as well.

He showed why he is now an NBA player and one that is pushing for regular minutes with the Wizards as he dominated the rebound battles, ran with purpose and threw down several powerful dunks early in the game to set up Australia’s win.

Cooks has been desperately waiting for his chance to play for the Boomers at a major tournament after a knee injury denied him a chance to take his place in the 2019 event. He also missed selection for the Tokyo Olympics and had to settle for being one of the injury reserves.

Cooks, whose dad Eric was a long-time star in the NBL and SEABL, has brought that desperation into this tournament and been a difference in all three games.

Giddey and Patty Mills (13 points, nine assists) both did well to set up their teammates combining for 20 assists while NBA swingman Josh Green came into the starting five and was very efficient scoring 15 points on five of seven shooting and had four steals.

The Boomers will play their crossover games on Friday night and Sunday night with the draw still to be finalised.

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