IF NOT for some stern words to an ex-coach from one of his former teammates, Chris Hogan could have been lost to the Bendigo Braves years ago.
There's every chance the 33-year-old would never have become the Braves' all-time games record holder and certainly might not have been leading the proud club into SEABL grand final battle at Bendigo Stadium this weekend.
But that's what he'll be doing on Saturday, alongside co-captain and great mate Taylor Bell, against east conference rival Nunawading Spectres.
Now his 14th season and with 376 games under his belt, Hogan has experienced plenty of basketball's highs and lows.
Born in Ferntree Gully in 1983, just after the Ash Wednesday bushfires, Hogan moved to Bendigo - more specifically Axe Creek - with his parents Jill and Phil, when in grade five.
His introduction to basketball came a year later as a grade six student at the newly opened St Francis of the Fields in Strathfieldsaye.
It was basketball or nothing for Hogan, with the school having no football team.
While his passion for hoops quickly grew, his luck in earning a place in Bendigo squad teams through his teenage years could best be described as hit and miss.
It wasn't until state under-18 tryouts alongside his future Braves teammate Warren Randall and eventual NBL players Aaron Bruce and Shane McDonald that Hogan thought his love for the game might lead to something more.
It wasn't long before the Braves came calling.
Hogan said it was Braves legend David Flint who in 2003 extended the invite for him to do pre-season training.
He can still recall the nervousness and excitement of stepping on to the court in the Braves' blue and yellow.
"It was garbage time at the end of the game - I launched a shot at the end of the game which went in," Hogan said.
"For that year, I was 100 per-cent from the three point line - I will never match that again."
While Hogan remains eternally grateful for that early and ongoing support of Flint, who in 2010 was the Bendigo Advertiser's choice as the number one player in Braves history, he said it was the deeds of another former teammate Justin Cass that he was most indebted.
"He's probably the reason I have stayed in Bendigo and continued to play," he said.
"In one particular year he told a certain coach that if you don't sign that kid and keep him here - refrerring to me - he (Cass) was going elsewhere.
"I owe him a lot ... he's a very impressive fellow.
"There's not too many former NBL rookies of the year and club legends getting around like that. I really appreciate it."
Truth be told, Hogan is not the only player to have benefited from the odd word here or there from the former Braves champion.
Pushed on the subject, Cass, who played 306 games for the Braves and also forged a six-year NBL career, admitted he did have "a fair bit to say about the local guys" late in his career.
"It's a local team, so obviously we wanted to keep the good young players in town and give them every opportunity to grow," he said.
"There was a couple of guys I used to go in to bat for to keep them here - Ben Hunt was another."
Like many who have followed the Braves this season, Cass is convinced Hogan is playing near career best basketball.
"It's the best I've seen him shoot the ball in years," he said.
Those claims are backed by statistics that show Hogan averaging 11.1 points per game and 4.8 rebounds in 2016, opposed to career averages of 7.6 and 4.3.
He might have long shed the "Mr 100 per cent" tag given to him by Flint in his debut season, but Hogan is shooting at a healthy 47.7 per cent from beyond the three-point line, ranking him second in the league.
On July 24, he shot a career-high 30 points against Ballarat Miners.
Hogan put his improved form down to several factors, including one particularly close to his heart.
"I was incredibly lucky to have a daughter (Grace) this year and I think that is something that has inspired me to play a bit harder and work on certain things," he said.
"It's also put a lot of things in perspective.
"On top of that, (coach) Ben Harvey and our coaching staff have put tremendous faith in me to do my job.
"And then I have guys like (teammates) Kevin White and Damian Johnson delivering the ball exactly where I need it."
The Braves' 2005 national championship rates as an obvious highlight, while Hogan refers to the "double-edge sword" of the 2010-11 conference championship wins, which were followed by national final losses.
I was incredibly lucky to have a daughter (Grace) this year and I think that is something that has inspired me to play a bit harder and work on certain things.
"I've been very lucky in that the majority of teams, bar a small handful I have been part of at Bendigo, have been successful and played playoffs," Hogan said.
"That's a credit to the organisation and the local talent that the club has had for so very long."
The modest sharpshooter says his good fortune extends to his family and professional life.
He has been married for two years to Kym, with daughter Grace arriving this year.
The 202cm small forward also gets to play alongside his brother David, whose "work ethic, dedication and resilience" he admires.
"It's taken him probably five or six years, playing an inconsistent amount of games per year, but each year he comes back more determined than ever to improve himself," Hogan said.
"He does it because he loves the game, but he wants to prove a point."
By day, Hogan is employed at Bendigo South East College, where the leadership and mentoring skills honed on basketball courts across Australia are put to outstanding use in the Athlete Development Program.
He said he relishes the chance to work alongside some "impressive colleagues and even more impressive athletes."
It is in the classroom – or more more specifically the school’s gymnasium – where his former teammate, friend and now coach Ben Harvey says Hogan’s “true leadership and mentoring” capabilities can be seen in most valuable player proportions.
As grand final tip-off approaches, Hogan took time to praise one important group who had made his basketball dream possible - the Bendigo fans.
"There are a very high number of people who are there week-in, week-out, whether we win, lose or otherwise," he said.
"At the end of the day, you play your game and there are still kids who come up and want autographs and want photos, which is very humbling.
"But if that situation inspires them to be active and be part of sport or basketball, it's pretty satisfying."
Coach praises Braves skipper
BENDIGO Braves coach Ben Harvey has heaped praise on skipper Chris Hogan ahead of tonight’s grand final.
Harvey said Hogan was enjoying arguably his finest season yet in his 14th year in the league.
"I have been involved with Chris as a player and now as a coach and he is just a great leader, he said.
"He just works hard on and of the floor, he's a great role model and obviously his position at Bendigo South East (College), he's exactly what those students should be looking up to.
"Chris has a tremendous will to win. Whether he's averaging 11 points a season or four points, he just wants to win
"(But) sometimes it's not all about points - he's the ultimate team guy."
Hogan enters the grand final clash against the Nunawading Spectres at Bendigo Stadium averaging a career-high 11.1 points and 4.8 rebounds.
The three-point specialist looms as a key playmaker for the Braves, who can advance to a national conference grand final with a win.
Hogan, who is lining up for his 377th career game, said he was not one for getting ahead of himself, but was quietly confident the Braves could get the job done.
"I think we have guys that won't not let it happen," he said.
"We have enough confidence and faith in each other that if one guy doesn't play well, two others will step up.
"Ben has done a brilliant job of balancing our team and hopefully everyone has enough confidence to continue doing what we've done all year."