KARA Tessari’s third national basketball title was tinged with sadness.
Captain of the Victorian Under-20 Women’s team, which scored a historic ninth straight title last month in Gosford, NSW… the realisation sank in after the match that it would be the last time Tessari would step on the court in a Victorian jersey.
“It makes me feel a bit old to be honest,” she said. “It didn’t sink in until our last game of the national under-20s. “It’s been surreal, it’s gone so quick…. but it’s been really special to put on that jersey and represent Victoria.”
While it may have felt like time has flown during her years in the Victorian representative program, it’s been on the back of a lifetime’s hard work.
Growing up in a small country town called Monegeetta, near Sunbury, Tessari started playing basketball when she was four, but it wasn’t until under-14s that she began playing at the representative level.
Not sure what it took to make the next level, Tessari worked hard with her coaches and mentors at the Bulleen Boomers and just a couple of years later she was selected for Victoria Metropolitan as a top age under-16 player in 2014.
It was a rare occasion that the Vict Metro team missed out on a medal, having to settle for fourth.
And so Tessari had to wait two more years for another opportunity when she was selected as a top age player in the under-18 team and after that, she was selected in the under-20 Victorian team for the next following two years.
She won gold in all three of those teams.
She says each one of those teams – the players, the coaches, the team staff and the atmosphere of being around those groups – was remarkable and a feeling that she’ll definitely miss now her time playing for Victoria has come to an end.
It’s those friendships that Tessari believes is the greatest thing to come out of the program in tandem with the development of her game.
Among those great friends she’s stood alongside in the state singlets are Ezi Magbegor, Monique Conti, Kiera Rowe and Rebecca Pizzey.
“You go up against these girls in juniors and we’ve got these little rivalries between us and then you come together as a team,” Tessari said. “You develop these friendships… so to win gold with your friends and teammates makes it even more special.
“There’s a lot of great talent out there and Victoria has been a great place to develop.
“To be able to play with the best girls in the country, there’s not a better way to develop our game.”
As well as her state honours, Tessari captained the state on two occasions, with those teams winning gold both times.
She said she prided herself on being a good leader and pushed herself to let those qualities show through.
Basketball Victoria’s Grant Wallace said Tessari’s leadership skills showed through most when they were really needed on the court at the recent under-20 championships.
Having lost a game early in the competition to Queensland, after a gruelling schedule pitted the Victorians in four matches in two days, Tessari and the other experienced campaigners had to step it up in the latter stages of the competition… and she did.
“I got to see her play at the tournament and she hit the big shots at the big times,” Wallace said. “She averaged 9.1 points per game and nearly three assists and she led on and off the court and in a side with quite a few young players they wouldn’t have won without her.
“She really levelled headed.”
Wallace has overseen a lot of her development as she’s progressed through the age groups. He said while many players develop late and don’t always play for Victoria in their younger days… Tessari was an exception.
“My sister actually played with her mum,” Wallace said. “Kara’s body type isn’t usually condusive to basketball, but when she’s on the floor her lateral speed can see her defend anyone and she’s got a nice perimeter game.”
Wallace said the Victorian basketball system proved an exceptional pathway in a day when there’s more and more sporting options.
The number of players progressing from Victorian teams into the WNBL and further shows the success of the pathway.
Like many who lined up alongside Tessari in the Victorian colours, she has already tasted basketball at the highest Australian level. A few games as an injury replacement for Bendigo Spirit in the WNBL early last year were quickly followed by a contract at the Spirit for the 2017-18 season.
Tessari said believes that her Victorian success played a major part in earning her a place in the WNBL.
“I’ve been lucky to involved with Bendigo and playing SEABL with them this year and played in their WNBL program,” Tessari said. “It’s been really good [playing in the Victorian teams] and I like to think it did help me as well and it’s a great stepping stone for people to get to that next level.”
Tessari’s focus now is on the upcoming South East Australian Basketball League season with Bendigo Braves.
It’s the first time she’ll play in that competition, having featured for Bulleen in the Big V competition.
“I love Bulleen and they’ve been great for me – It’s about taking that next step with SEABL and hopefully I go well with Bendigo,” Tessari said. “The sky is the limit – After SEABL, I’d love to play in the WNBL again and keep developing my game and who knows we’ll I’ll go.”
Tessari has one similar piece of advice to anyone coming through the Victorian system… don’t give up.
“My journey wasn’t all smooth and there was knock backs,” she said.
“You have to keep persevering and try and stay positive and work hard to take your game to the next level.
“Don’t take no for an answer and make the next team, the next camp, the next tryouts and keep trusting in your own game.”