A BASKETBALL-mad eight-year-old has traded shots with a pair of her Bendigo Spirit idols.
Lily O’Callaghan could hardly contain her joy on Wednesday when she took to the court with gun forward Kelsey Griffin and teammate Molly Matthews.
The Yapeen youngster got the chance to rub shoulders with the Women’s National Basketball League stars by winning the Spirit’s Backyard Hoops competition.
Fans were asked to post a photo of themselves and their backyard basketball ring.
Griffin, who judged the competition, said she was hugely impressed by the sunset in Lily’s photograph.
But that was not the only thing that caught the two-time WNBL grand final MVP’s eye.
Griffin was taken by the purpose-built, 10 x 15-metre, hard-plastic floor court, compete with 72-inch glass backboard, set-up in the Newstead Primary School pupil’s backyard.
The court was imported from California by Lily’s father Daniel O’Callaghan, himself an avid basketball fan and player in the Castlemaine Basketball Association.
He said the court had certainly stirred plenty of interest among friends.
“I quite often get a few mates out here and have a bit of a shoot around,” he said.
“We’ve only been out here 12 months, so we’re still trying to do a few things around the backyard.
“Hopefully when it’s all finished we might be able to have some mini-tournaments and fun out here.”
The O’Callaghans have become regulars at Bendigo Stadium for Spirit games this season, making the near one-hour drive from their home south of Castlemaine.
Daniel said there had been a few sleepless nights from Lily as she counted down the days to the Spirit’s visit.
“She’s absolutely rapt about it and telling all her friends about it,” he said.
“She’s been asking me everyday when are they coming.
“Unfortunately we had to put it off for a few days because we went to Adelaide for a funeral, but Lily is so excited and appreciative.”
The grateful Spirit fan did not want her dream moment all to herself, inviting best friends Caitlin Richards and Sophie Ryan along to match-up against the Spirit stars.
After some spirited three-on-two drills and a shooting contest, the Spirit girls presented Lily and co with some unique gifts.
The ultimate was reserved for the competition winner, with Griffin presenting Lily with a personally autographed pair of her basketball shoes and Spirit shorts.
The gesture ensured Griffin’s standing as the closest of rivals to Belinda Snell as Lily’s favourite Spirit player.
Lily plans to play with Aztecs under 12s in the next Bendigo Basketball Association season, with Griffin confident she would do well.
“She definitely has the facilities to be a great basketball player if she chooses to,” she said.
“I was very impressed with Lily’s play, as I was impressed with the court and the hospitality.
“I have never seen a court like this and I think that’s what stood out in the picture she submitted, along with the sunset.
Spirit coach Simon Pritchard was another who was impressed with the facilities, saying it was the best backyard basketball court he had seen.
“We could do our pre-season out here – the court is good enough,” he said.
“I would have loved a court like this as a kid.
“It’s perfect to develop your skills – there is no way you couldn’t get better.”
Pritchard said Lily had a “great technique” and shaped as a promising prospect for the Spirit years down the track.
Article: Kieran Iles, Bendigo Advertiser