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Laura Hodges: ‘Adelaide has always been home’

PHOTO: WNBL

GH: Coming back to your start in basketball, was there a moment you can remember where you thought ‘I’m pretty good at this, I might be able to take this to an elite level’?

LH: I think for me the big thing was when I got offered a scholarship at age 15 to go to the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) in Canberra.

Because I was a kid who liked being around my family and home, I think my parents were quite shocked when I said I wanted to go.

Every other time when I started something new, they had to convince me, but it didn’t stop me at all (this time).

I think what helped was when I was about 12 or 13, we went on a family holiday through New South Wales and stopped by the AIS and did a tour.

I thought it was such an amazing place to be, so I took up that scholarship (a few years later).

It was coming into the year 2000 so the Sydney Olympics were on at the time, and the AIS then was this hub of teams and athletes.

You got to see the swimmers come through, like Michael Klim – originally as a kid I wanted to go to the Olympics for swimming, so I just loved being around all these athletes.

We were actually really fortunate that our AIS team got to go to the Sydney Olympics as floor wipers, as volunteers.

They thought it would be a great experience for us to be there, so we got to sit courtside wiping up the sweat of other athletes, basketballers, my heroes, and that’s when I was like ‘I don’t want to be wiping up the sweat anymore, I want to be out there’.

That’s when I realised, I really wanted to make basketball a career.

GH: How valuable was your time at the AIS?

LH: During those periods we would have Brazil come through, or Korea, and they would just want to do practice match games and they couldn’t always get the Opals to play against them, so they would play against the young Australian team.

We had games where we’d come close – obviously they were trying lots of different things, and were playing players in different positions – but we had games where we almost beat Brazil, and almost beat Korea and that was just inspiring, and you learnt so much.

A lot of those girls who I went through the AIS with, I later got to play with them at a World Championships, or an Olympics.

Laura with her Opals team-mates at the 2016 Rio Olympics. PHOTO: AUS Olympic Team

GH: Going from courtside at the Sydney Olympics to then playing at your first Olympics in Athens four years later, and then playing in three more Olympics in the years that followed, what was that whole experience like?

LH: It feels like it happened so quickly, but at the same time those years felt like they were going slower, and then you get towards the end of your career and then they go so quickly.

But, in 2002 when I made my first Opals team, I think a lot of luck might have been on my side.

People say there’s no luck in sport, but I got an opportunity at such a young age where there were a few injuries, and then my idol, Rachael Sporn, got pregnant with her first (child), so then she missed that World Championships and I felt like I did a Bradbury and just slotted myself in.

Once I got in there it was harder to actually stay in the team, because you just had to work so hard.

When it came to Athens those players were coming back, so I felt like I had to work really hard, but at the same time I got to be around some of the best players Australia had produced at that time, such as Trish Fallon and Rachael Sporn.

I went from idolising these people to actually playing with them.

So, there ended up being a group of us – like Belinda Snell, Kristi Harrower, Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor, myself – who went through a lot of years together, multiple Olympics together, World Championships together, and it was a great group to be around.

With the Opals, you don’t get a lot of time together, but when you spend lots of years together you get a really good cohesion and we did really well.

I think 2006 was one of those amazing years where we won two gold: at the Commonwealth Games – it was the first time the Commonwealth Games had basketball, because it was in Australia – and then at the World Championships.

GH: Speaking of the World Championships, while you got gold there, you weren’t able to get gold at the Olympics, instead collecting two silvers and a bronze. Was there ever the feeling you missed out by not getting Olympic gold?

LH: I think in my first Olympics we were up, or close to up, at half-time and then the USA, their starters weren’t doing too well and they had a few who came off the bench and were such a spark.

It was very gut-wrenching not to get a gold then.

And then in Beijing in 2008, we were doing really well and then Penny Taylor, who was in fine form, rolled her ankle in the quarter finals and was literally playing with broken ligaments – I don’t even know how she played that final game.

Basically, someone who scores 20 to 30 points a game, or gives six assists, you’ve lost that within a few days and it’s really hard (to cover that).

You can manage it – we got through the semi-final without her, to get into the final – but to try and beat the USA with such a different line-up, that was really hard to come by.

Then in London, we lost a game to France, so we had to come up against USA.

I think Australia has always been the closest against USA.

Then we went to Rio and lost in the quarter finals and it made you realise how important those other medals were, because it’s not easy to even get a medal.

I suppose that’s why you always come back – if it was always going to be easy at that top level it would get boring, I suppose.

GH: What’s that like now being able to reflect on those moments, playing against such great teams like the USA, and being able to travel the world playing basketball?

LH: It’s funny how time goes on and you start forgetting things.

So, I like catching up with past players and saying ‘remember when we did this, remember when we did that’, because it starts to feel like such a long time ago.

But I feel like it certainly makes you grow as a person.

Learning against different cultures, or different styles – every country plays slightly different, even though we’re playing the same game.

A lot of us played over in Europe, or in the WNBA, so you knew those certain styles.

I feel it’s just been a great opportunity to learn and to be able to experience such lifechanging things within my sport.

Sometimes I still have to pinch myself because you don’t realise that ‘I’ve actually been to these countries, and done all these things’ and it’s all through just a game – but it’s a very special game.

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Grady grew up in Bordertown in the state’s South East, around 10 minutes from the Victorian border, and is a Geelong Cats tragic and a lover of sports. Grady has worked in the journalism field for more than six years at a number of regional newspapers. He plays cricket for Trinity Old Scholars, and doesn’t mind teeing it up at some of the fantastic golf courses scattered across Adelaide and its surrounding regions.