THE Australian Country Junior Basketball Championships started in style yesterday with hundreds of people participating in the competition’s opening ceremony.
It was a packed stadium at Wodonga Sports and Leisure Centre which welcomed close to 700 participants for the week-long event.
Teams from Albury-Wodonga, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, NSW, New Zealand and Victoria each walked into the stadium in a colourful procession with each squad proudly wearing their team uniform.
The winners of last year’s tournament were then acknowledged and asked to hand back their trophies as their competitors looked on hungrily at the spoils of success.
After the Australian national anthem, the New Zealand squad took centre stage and performed the traditional fearsome haka.
Wodonga mayor Rodney Wangman welcomed all the interstate visitors to the tournament, saying the championships had been a breeding ground of international basketball stars in the past.
“I’m very proud to welcome so many future stars to our area,” he said.
“Many people who have played here in the past have gone on to represent Australia and New Zealand internationally.”
Cr Wangman drew comparisons to Albury’s Australian Opal and Seattle Storm star Lauren Jackson, telling the crowd she had been in their position previously.
Basketball Victoria chief executive Nick Honey said the championships presented the chance for players to take their games to a new level.
“This is really the pre-state championship selection tournament,” he said.
“The kids that play in this will be watched if they put their hand up.
“I’m sure the ultimate goal for all of these kids is to represent their country, and this is on the pathway for them.
“From here they can make the representative side and the actual state team, and then the junior championships and from there the national team.”
The Australian Country Junior Basketball Championships started yesterday afternoon, with the grand finals to be played on Saturday.
An estimated 1500 participants and spectators are expected to attend the tournament, which will be held at the Lauren Jackson Sports Centre and the Wodonga Sports and Leisure Centre.