The Albury-Wodonga Bandits have taken steps to ensure basketball remains alive and well on the Border.
In collaboration with Albury and Wodonga basketball associations, the Bandits have formed two youth league sides to contest the NSW Waratah League competition in 2019.
The introduction to the under-22 competition will see players train with the Bandits' senior men and women each week.
Bandits president Steve Wright admitted the concept had been talked about for a number of years.
"There's always been a massive step between Albury and Wodonga under-18 rep basketball up to the Bandits senior level," Wright said.
"What we're trying to do is lessen that gap a little bit and give kids an opportunity to come into the Bandits setup at a younger age and better prepare them to play at the elite level.
"It's an exciting concept and it gives a whole bunch of local kids the opportunity to train with our senior squad, be coached by our senior coaches, find out what it takes to play at that level and take their training to a new level as well.
"The teams are playing in the NSW Waratah League youth competition, but next year we're hoping to transition to Victoria so it's more aligned with our senior program.
"The NSW competition is under-22s and the Victorian one is under-23s, so that's where we'd like to end up as it opens it up to players who are a little bit older."
Players as young as 14 have been selected in the men's and women's youth league squads.
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"They'll be really well prepared training in the elite environment and learning from people like Brad Chalmers and Lauren Jackson will be great for their development," Wright said.
"It's great to have some extra numbers at training, and for a young 14-year-old girl to be guarding Nat Hurst at training and the guys to be mentored by Deba George is a massive thing for them.
"It's a full partnership between the Bandits, Albury basketball and Wodonga basketball, which is really important.
"All three bodies are working really closely together just to do what's best for kids in the area."
Youth league players remain eligible to play with the Bandits in NBL1.
"There will be quite a few games where our youth league teams will play before our senior teams, so we'll have four games back to back," Wright said.
"It will give them a chance to play in front of bigger crowds and they'll be pretty huge days of basketball."
The Bandits men play a practice match against Diamond Valley at 3pm on Saturday at Lauren Jackson Sports Centre, before the youth league men face Camden Valley Wildfire in their season opener at 6pm.
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