Lavey returns home eager to learn from Bendigo's best
BUT for a humble icy pole, Bendigo Spirit young gun Tessa Lavey may well have been lost to basketball.
As an eight-year-old, she was champing at the bit to follow in brother Daniel's footsteps and shoot hoops... until the day her dad finally took her to the Swan Hill stadium to register.
"I changed my mind and said I didn't want to," Lavey laughs. "Dad said he'd buy me an icy pole if I went in and signed up and I was like, 'OK, let's do it'."
So began a journey that has taken the point guard around Victoria, interstate and overseas, plying her trade for country clubs, association rep teams and various elite basketball groups.
She is presently touring Hungary for two weeks with an Australian development squad.
But she is based here in Bendigo - the city where parents Annette and Geoff Lavey settled when their talented daughter was 15 and where she completed year 11 before heading to Canberra to take up a basketball scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport.
Lavey made her WNBL debut as a 16-year-old with the AIS and was part of the Canberra Capitals' playing roster last year.
At 20, she has returned "home" to live with mum and dad, to study primary teaching at La Trobe Uni, and to learn all she can from her experienced Spirit team-mates.
"Teaching is one of the main reasons I came home, because I couldn't do it in Canberra.
"I had to pay for things and work a lot more than I will here - living with mum and dad, there is free food! They were so excited when they knew I wanted to come home.
"I got an offer from Bendigo, which was great. I took some time to think about what I really wanted to do and in the end it came down to coming back home to family, and getting the opportunity to work with Kristi Harrower.
"She's one of the best point guards in the world and I think I've got a lot to learn from her.
"Then there's Kelly Wilson, who is up and coming with the Opals, so I can learn off her as well.
"I definitely want to help the Spirit get back-to-back championships and develop my game as much as I can while I am here."
I definitely want to help the Spirit get back-to-back championships and develop my game as much as I can while I am here.
Ironically, Lavey has reunited in Bendigo with a player she describes as one of her best basketball friends - Sara Blicavs, who joins Spirit this season from the Dandenong Rangers.
The pair met as children through their other sporting passion: running.
"Sara and I have known each other since under-12s because we used to run against each other at state level," says Lavey, who ran cross country for Victoria.
"I always beat her though! We went through running together, moved into the Victorian Junior Basketball League together (me at Eltham and her at Melbourne Tigers), then we both eventually chose basketball over running.
"We went to the AIS at the same time, left at the same time and both came here to Bendigo Spirit at the same time. It's pretty crazy but we've known each other a long time and have got some stories."
Pressed to spill the beans, Lavey reveals: "We used to fake wrestle when we were at the AIS and at one stage, I shoved her right through one of the walls.
"It wasn't meant to happen but the walls were so paper thin and Sara and I thought we were going to be in so much trouble. We went straight over to athlete manager Barry Barnes and he said it was all right, we'd have to pay the cost but at least we'd gone and told him.
"All the other girls saw the big crack in the wall and were like, 'you two, we've had enough'!"
Other experiences the dynamic duo have shared include being members of the Australian under-17 team in 2009-10 and winning bronze for their country at the World University Games in Russia in July this year.
Lavey credits growing up with four older brothers - Nick, Ben, Tim and Daniel - as being fundamental to her development as a fierce competitor on the court.
"I think that's why I have got that little bit extra, having to chase them around and compete with the boys," she says.
"I used to get bashed up a lot, that's for sure, so I don't mind roughing it up out on the court.
"I was a tomboy. I didn't play with Barbie dolls, I'd want the boys' trucks and toys. I was riding motor bikes around and I learnt to drive when I was pretty young, sitting on dad's knee changing gears in the paddock bomb."
Lavey moved from Swan Hill to Casterton at the start of secondary school, then to Bendigo in 2008 when travelling four and a half hours from the Western District to Melbourne for VJBL games every Friday night became too much.
A year later, she was off to the AIS after some initial misgivings.
"At the start, I told mum I didn't want to go. But I went up and had a look and did a tour and met some of the girls," Lavey says.
"I was 16 and didn't know what it was going to be like. I had no idea the place even existed until a year or so earlier, because we were out in the country and I didn't know everyone wanted to aim to get to the AIS. All of a sudden it happened and I moved up."
There were tough bouts of homesickness, but her three years in the elite basketball nursery provided Lavey with some of her best sporting memories.
"It was so good to have Phil Brown and Kristy Flores and Peta Sinclair as coaches, because they were easy to get along with and Kristy and Peta virtually acted as our parents and looked after us. The girls were great and we are all like family now," she recalls.
"One of my biggest highlights was being coached by Phil Brown, who is one of the best coaches of women's basketball. I have never had anyone like him and he had so much to offer all the girls, regardless of their positions."
At the AIS, Lavey was part of the youngest WNBL side to take the court, with the oldest just 17.
"I was freaking out and didn't know what to expect," she says. "We played Lauren Jackson's Capitals in one of our first games. At one stage I switched on to Lauren on the three-point line and I was like, oh my god, I don't know what to do and I froze.
"She ended up passing it off and I switched back, so that was lucky."
Lavey's arrival at Spirit drew big wraps from coach Bernie Harrower, who said he believed she had the potential to be one of the WNBL's best point guards.
It's a position she is comfortable taking on.
"I enjoy being a point guard, but the bigs have a massive task getting rough down under the rim and finding the right position.
"Good bigs are hard to come by and we have four greats in Gabe Richards, Kelsey Griffin, Elyse Penaluna and Chelsea Aubry. Being a point guard, it makes it a lot easier if your big guys know how to play and we are very lucky to have that at the Spirit."