“The atmosphere of a basketball game is like nothing else, and it’s a feeling that’s been long overdue…”
It has been 10 and a half months since the last Victorian Junior Basketball League (VJBL) game was played.
This is the time that our young athletes have spent preparing to take the court. Furthermore, it’s a symbol of patience and perseverance for what has been endured.
The reward for the VJBL community comes tonight, Friday 22 January, when hundreds of avid basketballers will be surrounded by the familiar sounds of whistles, sneakers on the court and team spirit.
Tonight, will see the first round of grading begin. A total of 1737 games will be played across the next three weeks of grading, which equates to 579 games of competitive basketball a week.
With COVID-19 lockdowns and basketball put on the backburner for most of 2020, it’s been tough for the basketball community. Despite the challenges presented, associations across the state have expressed delight at the thought of basketball normality returning.
For Bellarine Storm, the idea of seeing the faces of smiling athletes on a basketball court is simply euphoric. Bellarine’s Development and High-Performance Manager, Tim Sanderson, said the excitement for VJBL 2021 is something no holiday can compare with.
“I feel likea kid on Christmas day,” said Sanderson.
“Some family time (when allowed) during the year was great but for someone employed in basketball it was a long time of missing the sights, sounds, emotions and friendships the game provides.
“Seeing the kids back out on court playing the game we all love is what we’re all looking forward to. As someone who really enjoys the coaching and mentoring side of the game, seeing kids on court brings a smile to the face and an opportunity to help someone chase their dreams or improve their game.”
While in lockdown, Sanderson and the Bellarine Basketball team provided as much as they could for their young athlete. However, Sanderson said there was always a barrier that could not be broken down until athletes could be reunited with their team and coaches.
“We did some zoom sessions with them around skills, said Sanderson. “For the group I was coaching we worked on game tactics and personal understanding of our individual games by analysing film as well.
“In the country regions we were lucky we got a little window before the lockdown where we could get back outside and do some skill work with the kids and a few local games against nearby associations.”
Ahead of the VJBL 2021 season, Sanderson believes it is the development and human interactions missed in 2020 that will allow Bellarine to thrive as a team unit.
“I think our connection across different age groups of players and the fantastic collaborative approach to developing players and culture our coaches have is something unique for us at Bellarine,” explained Sanderson.
“The culture of the place is really coming along and starting to show in not just team performance of the past, but the holistic development you can see over time in athletes and coaches on and off the court,
“I expect the 2021 season to be one of further growth and opportunity, and we think we have some really great prospects in our ranks which we’re super excited to show off in the VJBL competition.”
One of these prospects is Jack Davies, who enters his fifth season with the Storm in 2021. With three VJBL titles and a thirst for basketball, Davies said he is more prepared to display new talents this season as he enters the Under-16 age group.
“I have been dying to play since the season was cut short last year,” said Davies. “I have been training hard and improving my game and can’t wait for the Friday night games to return.
“I kept training in the back yard and really wanted to improve my shooting in lockdown. I had some COVID safe one on one sessions with Tim Sanderson and, of course, I watched the ‘Last Dance’ with Michael Jordan.
“There’s nothing like the atmosphere on the basketball court during a game though. I love the crowd cheering, the travelling to new courts and getting together with my teammates after a win.”
Looking towards another premier’s title, there’s a clear sense as Davies outlined his 2021 game plan, that he had put a lot of thought into this season.
“My game plan is to play as the ‘big’ Centre and be a leader and role model for my teammates,” said Davies.
“My coach wants me to play as a strong low post and look for as many scoring opportunities as I can. My team this season has the advantage of four tall players and a crew of great smalls.
“While my association in Bellarine Storm is smaller when compared to other associations, this is what makes it so friendly, and all the staff and coaches are very approachable.
“Our team has made the goal to reach at least Division 3 so we can play with a shot clock. We will be trying our hardest to make the highest division we can and making the most of every game we can play.
“I am just so grateful that Bellarine Storm has given me the opportunity to follow other pathways within Basketball Victoria and help me on my basketball journey.”