READY AND WAITING: Mildura Heat star Calvin Henry ahead of tomorrow’s first game in the Big V Basketball grand final series. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By MITCH RODD

IT feels like only yesterday for Calvin Henry that he pledged to return to the Mildura Heat after losing the Big V Basketball division one grand final series.

The six-foot-six forward out of Mercer College blitzed the competition in 2013 as one of the Heat’s American imports.

Fast forward five years and the 32-year-old finally has a shot at title redemption.

The current crop of Heat stars have surpassed many expectations to reach the Big V Division Two best-of-three grand final series where they will face the Coburg Giants.

In basketball circles, imports come and go, playing all over the world all year as a professional athlete. Not too many stay for more than two years. It says a lot of how Mildura has embraced Calvin, and how that has been reciprocated.

Much has changed since he flew down on a “little plane” to Mildura. He is now a permanent resident of Australia, meaning he is no longer classed as an import. He also has a daughter, Miyah, who turned two just last month.

What hasn’t changed, however, is Henry’s amazing ability to light up the basketball court.

Fans gravitate towards the big number four who stands almost two metres tall. He can dunk, shoot, rebound and pass with sublime skill and athleticism.

Calvin leads many of the statistics categories in the division, making him a hot favourite for MVP honours, but for him, individual results pale in comparison to team success.

“The individual stuff doesn’t mean anything to me. What means the most to me is seeing my teammates get better every day, especially our young guys, and us just being successful,” he said.

“Since my first year here we haven’t been back in the grand final so right now it means everything to me, especially with how my teammates have stepped up.

“I remember it like it was yesterday, when we lost in my first year here. Jamie Madigan (coach at the time) walked into the hotel room, he said, ‘Are you coming back?’, and I said, ‘Yep’. It was that simple. We knew we had a job to do and my goal since I got here was to win a grand final so it’s been a blessing to be in this position again.”

GIANT-KILLERS

AFTER qualifying in the last available position for the play-offs, Mildura have stormed their way to the grand final.

The run began with a strong elimination final victory over third-placed Camberwell Dragons, before claiming the prized scalp of the top of the table Craigieburn Eagles over three tight games in the semi-finals.

Coburg also needed three games to beat the Melton Thoroughbreds. The Giants have won both games against the Heat this season, but they hold no fears for Calvin and his teammates who are hitting their straps at the right time of year.

“We’re definitely confident in our team,” Calvin said.

“We know it won’t be easy, they were ranked number two for a reason. They’re a really good team and they execute really well. We know we’re going in to a big war with them, we know we haven’t beat them yet this season but we’re looking forward to the challenge.

“Everybody has stepped up during the finals series – from the coaching staff down to the people who haven’t played much all year.

“One of the things we’ve been stressing and talking about all year is everybody contributing, and that’s what they’ve been doing. We feel that this time around in a grand final we have a complete team and anybody can step up.”

WHERE IS THIS PLACE?

CALVIN admitted he wasn’t sure what to make of Mildura when he arrived in 2013 alongside fellow import Terrell Bell. Little did he realise he would spend the next six years here.

“I’m a permanent resident right now so technically I’m not an import any more,” he said.

“I’ve come to love this place. I love my teammates, everybody here has embraced me. I couldn’t say anything bad about the town.

“When I was coming here I was like where am I? I was flying down on this little plane and I didn’t know what was outside, I didn’t see any buildings, and I’m not used to that,” he laughed.

“But as soon as I got here everybody just welcomed me with open arms and I loved it from then on.”

He added that his greatest gift in life, Miyah, has changed his perspective on life.

“She means everything to me. It’s amazing what something like that does to you,” Calvin said.

“Even if we lose a game she wants to play. Win, lose or draw she’s always there as well as the rest of my family. It just changes your perspective on everything.

“She knows all about basketball. When we’re rolling up to the stadium she says, ‘Daddy, ball’, because she knows I’m going to play basketball. She knows what dunking is. She walks around the house tapping the walls like learning how to dunk,” he laughed.

EXTENDED FAMILY

WHILE the Mildura Heat side have their sights set on “getting the job done” over the next two weekends, Calvin said the season will be a success no matter the outcome.

“It’s always a success because we’re together and we’re like a family,” he said. “These guys I’ve been playing with for six years, so even if we got knocked out in the first round it would still be a success because we were out here and we played hard for each other.

“It just makes it sweeter that we’re in a grand final that no one expected us to be in.”