No doubts about it

Brave Fadljevic bounces back from basketball wilderness

CONFIDENCE: Rosie Fadljevic helps the Lady Braves to a home-court win. Picture: BRENDAN McCARTHY

CONFIDENCE: Rosie Fadljevic helps the Lady Braves to a home-court win. Picture: BRENDAN McCARTHY

IN little over 12 months, Rosie Fadljevic went from struggling to set foot on court for the Dandenong Rangers to getting a berth in WNBL runner-up Townsville Fire’s starting five.

Along the way, she has grown in confidence and transformed from someone seriously wondering whether she belonged at basketball’s top level, to a self-assured player ready to take on whatever challenge is thrown her way.

Fadljevic now finds herself in Bendigo, helping the Lady Braves in their campaign to go one better than last year and claim their first national SEABL title since 2007.

“Unless you believe in yourself, you can’t really get anywhere,” says the 20-year-old from Endeavour Hills who spent her entire junior career in the Rangers’ development program but in her final years there battled her own inner doubts as much as she did her opposing players.

“Basketball can be just a mental game,” she shrugs. “It shouldn’t be, but it was all mental for me. And the more you think about it, the worse trying to get out of that rut becomes.

“Now I have the confidence to just go out and play.”

Fadljevic’s dramatic turnaround coincided with her move to Townsville last WNBL season.

While not wanting to elaborate on the details, she admits she left the Rangers on poor terms amid a player exodus and some rather messy off-court politics.

“I grew up thinking I would never leave Dandenong because it was such a great club,” she says. “But then things started to change and it was a lot easier than I thought it would be.

“When I left, I had no confidence. You feel like you’re training really hard and really well and when you don’t get an opportunity to play, you start to think you are not good enough.”

Basketball can be just a mental game... and the more you think about it, the worse trying to get out of that rut becomes. - Rosie Fadljevic

An invitation from Townsville coach Chris Lucas to head north and join his squad came at the right time, just as Fadljevic was contemplating her future.

Lucas had coached the centre during last year’s Emerging Opals tour of China and saw the spark he believed could help ignite the Fire.

“I got to Townsville and had a meeting with Chris and he said he could see right through me, and knew I had no confidence. He helped me a lot and so did all the other girls to develop that confidence so I knew I could do it.

“Suzy Batkovic is such a great player and she told me to stop over-thinking things - that it was just a game of basketball and I’d played it for so long that I could just go out and do it.

“So I stopped over-thinking and just played...

“I went out with a more carefree attitude and thought if I’m open, just shoot it. If there’s a loose ball, just get it.

"I saw Chris getting happier and knew I was doing things right.

“When I got that starting position a few weeks before the finals, I was like, ‘oh god, I’m not ready’. But it was a lot easier knowing that the coaches and the team believed in me.” 

Lucas described the young star as his most improved player and expects even bigger things from her next season, as she recently re-signed with Fire.

Fadljevic grew up in a large family of Croatian background, the youngest of four active children and a confessed tomboy who started shooting hoops at the age of eight. 

“I copied what my brothers did so when they started playing, I did, too.”

She joined Dandenong’s development program while still at primary school and played in Rangers representative squads throughout her junior years before accepting an Australian Institute of Sport scholarship in 2010.

It was only the urging of her parents that convinced her to take up the position in Canberra.

“I was umming and aahing about it because I was still in school and I was young and didn’t want to leave my friends,” she recalls.

“My parents ended up just saying ‘yes, she’s coming’ and there was a bit of blood, sweat and tears at the time. 

“But I am so thankful I went. I really missed home at times, but I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t had that experience.”

Fadljevic went on to play for Australia at the Youth Olympics in Singapore that year, defeating the powerful US line-up by a point in overtime to make the gold medal play-off against China and eventually bringing home silver. 

Her 2013-14 season with Townsville ranks right up there with her career highlights, though she has mixed feelings about the grand final loss to Bendigo Spirit. 

“Nothing comes close to a WNBL final when it’s pretty much a rematch of the previous year. 

“My whole family and all my friends were there as well and it was a great experience.

“I still think about it - it was a fantastic game of basketball and both teams put everything out on the court - it came down to which team scored the baskets when the other missed. 

“It hurt for me to see the girls who had lost the year before falling short again. 

“We were the only team to beat Bendigo and had done twice during the season so we knew we could, it was just a great game that could have gone to either side.”

It is slightly ironic that Fadljevic now finds herself playing at the Lady Braves alongside some of her rivals from that match.

But the move here has reunited her with a leading figure from her junior days. 

“Jono Goodman coached me when I was in under-16s at Dandenong and state teams, so I’ve known him since I was really young,” she says of the man at the helm of her SEABL side.

“To come back to Victoria and play for him was a bonus.

“I’m a homebody who doesn’t like to be away for too long and I’d been in Townsville for six months, and the girls I’d be playing with and the history of the Lady Braves were also factors.

“They won the conference final last year and just to add to the team and get closer to home was an attractive option.”

Fadljevic adds strong defensive skills to a potent Braves attack, but she is also working hard to develop her offensive game.  

“During my junior years, I was a very defensive player and that was all. Victoria had so many great players I didn’t need to be a scorer.

“So I grew up thinking I just had to play defence my whole life. But now I know you can’t do that – unless you have some sort of offensive toolkit, you won’t get as far. 

“I’m also working on my outside shooting range and even on the inside, just little things like rebounds and doing all those one-percenters that not every player does.”

Away from the basketball court, Fadljevic is laid-back, family-oriented and friendly with a broad smile usually plastered across her face - unless you leave her a pile of dirty dishes!

“It really annoys me if people don’t do their dishes,” she says, laughing but deadly serious. 

“I hate cleaning up after people. I feel so sorry for my mum now that she’d wash dishes and then I’d go in and use a knife and a plate and then just leave them there when I was younger.”

Fadljevic has a few other quirks as well.

“I have to start dressing with my right foot first – put on my right sock before the left one, put on the right ankle brace before the left brace. And I always warm up with my training top on, no matter how hot or cold it is.

“I also like to have a daily nap – as soon as it hits 2.30pm, it’s nap time for about an hour.

“That started up in Townsville. (Team-mate) Steph Cumming and I didn’t have jobs when we first got there and we’d be at the beach all morning and the sun would sap our energy, so when we got home we’d have lunch then hit the wall about 2.30. 

“We’d have a quick nap so we had the energy to get up and go to training. It formed into a habit and now I notice if it gets to 3.30 and I haven’t had a nap, I start getting a bit grumpy and have to have a bit of a lie down. 

“That’s probably a mental thing too - but I’ll take that one!”

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