HEATHER Oliver spent the earliest years of her basketball life walking a few hundred metres to and from a basketball court in a paddock on the family farm at Wangaratta.
Now, after seven seasons in the WNBL and a journey that has taken her across Australia and abroad, the Bendigo Spirit fan favourite is walking away from national level competition.
The energetic Oliver has been a Spirit mainstay in her seven WNBL seasons, renowned for her athleticism and sometimes reckless abandon in contesting the ball.
She says that trait developed on the farm, where her parents placed the court in the back paddock so they couldn’t hear the fights between Heather and her two older brothers Scott and Blair.
“Growing up with the boys I probably had to fight for things a bit more and that probably came through in the way I played I guess,” she said this week.
“I think mum and dad were pretty smart having the court down the back so they couldn’t hear the yelling. There were a fair few times where someone was getting chased around the dam after the game didn’t go to plan.”
After recent seasons without much on-court success and increasing work and sport commitments off of it, Oliver has decided the time is right to call a close her basketball career – for now.
“It’s been a bit of a grind over the past few years and I probably lost that passion for it a bit,” she said this week.
“I’ve loved basketball and I’ve always been that person that’s enjoyed keeping busy, but I’m getting married on November and I guess I’ve realised I need to focus on my life outside sport.”
Oliver has always been one to juggle commitments, playing netball throughout her junior and senior basketball career.
More recently she has taken up coaching Sandhurst in Bendigo netball alongside Tamara Gilchrist as well as playing in the Victorian Netball League.
“I guess ever since I was a kid and I was playing netball Saturday mornings and playing basketball in the afternoons it’s just something that I’ve become used to,” she said.
“I wish I’d played VNL a bit earlier because I really enjoyed that. But with coaching and still trying to meet those WNBL commitments with VNL in there as well it was pretty tiring.”
Basketball even took Oliver to the United States for several years. She spent a year at junior college in Arizona before making the Australian youth team and impressing scouts so much she secured a place on scholarship at the famed USC campus in Los Angeles.
“That was a pretty awesome experience. Going from being a teenager on the farm at Wangaratta to moving to LA was pretty eye-opening,” she said.
“I loved it, just the friends you made along the way and those relationships – I had an old coach come and watch a practice match before the Spirit season last year – that’s the kind of stuff you take away from that.”
She’s also formed “lifelong friendships” with Spirit teammates like Gabe Richards, Kelly and Andrea Wilson and Kelsey Griffin, just to name a few.
But one of her most important relationships has been with the Bendigo crowds.
“I could never get sick of the ‘Ollie, Ollie, Ollie’ chants. They always brought a bit of a smile to my face to know I had that support,” she said.
“I’ll miss that, and who knows I might come back and play Braves one day, but for now I’m looking forward to taking it easy a bit more.”
– Joel Peterson