THANKFULLY there was no blood, but there was plenty of sweat and a few tears.

Mildura Heat sent 12 groups of basketballers to the Bendigo Classic last weekend, an event known as one of the most competitive on the Victorian basketball calendar for juniors.

As my son plays in the Under 12, Division Two team, I attended five games from Saturday to Monday and witnessed not only the highs, but also the lows, the tournament gave them.

The highs were ample, the lows, few, but crushing at that moment.

The first was when the team went down to the Shepparton Gators by just one point in the dying seconds of the game, the second came after their fifth game and a solid victory, when they learned they had finished equal second in their pool on points, but had missed out on finals because of that earlier loss. It was the Gators who went on to play finals, and ultimately made the grand final.

But let’s not let this get in the way of their achievements over the weekend.

At the start of the season these boys came together to form a team.

Most unknown to each other, a larger proportion having never stepped on court together.

In their Under 12s team, there are more than a couple of eight and nine year olds, and height and size, physically, isn’t something that a lot of them possess. To my knowledge, only two of the boys have been part of the Heat program before, with six newcomers to group.

But what they all have in common is their love of the game, the passion they share and their desire to be the best they can be. To do the best for each other; to do the best for their team.

Game after game these boys faced off against teams bigger or taller, in some instances from metropolitan suburbs with great depth within their basketball programs. But our boys more than held their own.

It was their second tournament together, the first being in Shepparton in December, and not once on court have I witnessed anything but encouragement and enthusiasm towards one another.

You get the feeling that example is set from the top, with their coach, Nick Staker, who despite being direct and firm, has aced the craft of working out how each basketballer needs to be coached, and is never short of praise or recognising good effort or play at the right time.

No matter what the result, Nick always addresses the players at the completion of the game, recognising the positives and giving the boys the belief in themselves to get out there again next time and give it their best shot.

At their first tournament, the boys were able to win one game. In Bendigo on the weekend they loss two, competitive in both of these and won three.

I have only witnessed first hand the journey of this season’s Under 12, Division Two team, but I’m sure with the culture fostered within the group at large, the case within the other Heat teams isn’t much different and there is no doubt, the future of Mildura basketball is bright.

– ZOEY ANDREWS