PROFESSIONAL, relentless in your work-rate, fiercely competitive, detail-oriented.
If you put these aspects into play, you can become a Victorian basketball representative. Most importantly – you can potentially win a national championship.
With the Helloworld Australian Under-16 Junior Championships just around the corner, we asked someone who knows what it takes to pick up the trophy after a week of extraordinarily challenging basketball.
Meet Gerard Hillier, the Victoria Country under-18 girls coach, who did just that this year in Townsville.
Part of that extraordinary, drought-breaking side that headed to Queensland in April, Hillier was thrilled to bring the trophy back to country Victoria with his supreme roster.
“Yeah it’s a pretty special feeling, more so just really happy for all the players as they have worked so hard over the journey, and to see them get the reward at the end of a tough process, and the smiles on their faces, it is really pleasing,” Hillier said. “That final buzzer feeling is really surreal, to be completely honest I don’t know what was going through my head at the time but receiving our medals and the trophy was a really proud moment, not just for the team and staff, but for our entire program, a lot of people put in a lot of work to make that moment happen.”
How did they do it though? There’s a lot that goes into practice to become a Victorian representative in the first place, but once you’ve earned your jersey what needs to happen?
Managing your body as a player – the little things that pay off handsomely over the week with recuperation and recovery – is challenging. That’s a task the individual must want to excel in – there is no substitute for proper rest, recovery and preparing yourself for the next game.
“This area is just as important, if not more important, than the actual Xs and Os,” Hillier said. “Listening to your team physio and making sure you conduct your prehab and rehab with as much detail as possible is crucial.
“This is an area I know our team really took seriously, we had a great physio and team manager who looked after the team really well and the girls took it all on board and made the most of having such great staff.
“Come game time during the medal rounds, if you’ve taken short cuts in your preparation or recovery sessions, you’ll get found out.”
Slotting all those pieces into place, balancing the minutes, giving the starters the right amount of rest, getting the entire team up and about… it’s not easy. Managing a roster and everything it entails -all play a massive part in a week-long tournament with little recovery time.
What does a coach need to do to juggle all these aspects as well as pick up the wins along the way?
“Tournament play and minor injuries, physical fatigue, mental fatigue all go hand in hand, it’s a tough 10 days for the players,” Hillier said. “That’s why it is so important for every player, 1-to-10, to do their job within the team and contribute in any way possible.
“Trying to get through the tournament with six or seven players is not ideal, you need all 10 players ready to go and be on board with what the team is trying to achieve.
“It gives the coaching staff greater flexibility to be able to rotate the bench freely when all players can contribute, having your key players out on the court for 30 minutes or more every game is taxing, and ultimately does not set you up for success when those final games roll around.
“No matter what amount of court time you receive or what your role within the team is, remember it’s an honour to be there and you need to be ready to go when the coach puts you in.
That’s not a conversation the coach wants to have with the bench… but it’s all part of a bigger ideal that Victorian basketball requires from its players.
“It’s tough for coaches too, no coach wants to see a player sit out for extended periods of time, so don’t give them a reason to, know your role, work hard, earn their trust,” Hillier said. “A big part of our success this year was having players who could come on and have an immediate impact in small bursts, it was absolutely huge to have that throughout the week, it gave us greater flexibility and more chances to rotate the bench.”
But it’s not all serious – the week away is a chance to make lifelong friendships with new players from across the state. The value in that experience is just as worthwhile as the court-time and the exposure a national championship can bring.
Hillier valued the down-time for his side alongside the serious moments. A mountainous pile of ribs from Townsville being the highlight.
“Yeah… so I think the whole ribs thing was more about me than it was about the team,” Hillier said jokingly. “Joking, it is a really fine line between being so focused and concentrated all week, and going a bit crazy being locked up in the hotel room all week.
“At the end of the day you have to remember that they are kids who are normally really active, so sitting in the rooms all day is not ideal, but on the other hand you don’t want them to lose focus on the reason we are here.
“For our team personally, the coaching staff had a huge amount of trust in the team, we knew that they were all responsible athletes, so heading out for dinner a few times, ten pin bowling, our just for a walk wasn’t a big issue.
“I also believe it is important for the players to see that their coaching staff are human too, and having a casual chat with the players away from that intense setting can really help build those player-coach relationships… that and I actually just wanted some ribs.”
It’s not an easy task to bring home a national championship – nor should it be considering the strength of junior basketball in Australia currently.
The grand balancing act coaches, players and the entire Victorian team set-up undertake to bring home an Australian title is a precarious task everyone associated with the team relishes.