Laleeta Das decided late last year to move from Darwin to Melbourne to further her basketball education while pursuing her Year 10 studies. After she won a scholarship to Methodist Ladies College in Kew, her mother Emma did an online search for the city’s “best junior basketball clubs”.

Melbourne Tigers was the first name she saw.

At around the same time, Laleeta’s former Northern Territory state under-age and club teammate Bella Perkins was considering a similar relocation to Victoria, long regarded as the nation’s basketball heartland. Once a scholarship into Year 9 at Melbourne Girls’ Grammar was secured, finding a basketball home was the next priority.

Melbourne Tigers’ home courts, at MSAC, were just three kilometres away from the MGGS boarding house in South Yarra. Tick. And so it was that the combination of proximity, reputation and the recommendation of a school teacher meant that Bella, too, would join the Tigers’ family.

Laleeta, the youngest child of an Indian-Australian family, was offered a place in the 18.2s, and made her debut in the Eltham Dandenong Australia Day tournament at the end of January.

Bella, who has mixed but mostly Indigenous heritage through the Wiradjuri, Wurrumungu, Arrernte and Waanyi tribes, had her match debut for the 16.6s delayed by a clearance complication, but was due to play for the first time on the day the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the season.

Just through training, though, the 14-year-old had already noticed the significant jump in standard. “It was a lot more intense, there’s a lot more skilled players, and there’s lots and lots of divisions,’’ says Bella. “Basketball is such a big thing there.’’

Boarding house closures and the shift to online learning necessitated the girls’ March return to their families in Darwin, but both will be back in Melbourne for the start of term three, at the latest.

The earlier easing of coronavirus-related restrictions means basketball training has already resumed in the NT, with competition to follow in the first week of June.

As her new Tigers friends resume training and await a resumption date, Laleeta admits that she, too, was struck by the difference in the playing level in Victoria – something she had first experienced at nationals.

“It made me train harder when I saw how good everyone else there was,’’ says the 173-centimetre guard/forward, who turns 16 in December, and hopes to get to “just the highest level that I can, I guess’’.

There has been an abundance of support. During Laleeta’s initial stint, 18.2s team manager Lidija Fargher and one parent in particular, Brett Harvey, ferried her to both weekly team training sessions, while a location-influenced transport roster was drawn up for games on Friday nights.

On her daughter’s behalf, Melbourne born-and-raised Emma Swan Das has expressed her gratitude for everyone’s efforts – especially Lidja’s. “She has kept me in the loop and made us feel so welcome. I would also like to mention Emily’s dad Brett Harvey who also went out of his way to take Laleeta to and from Wednesdaytrainings.’’

Zoom has been the vehicle of necessity more recently, for it has enabled both girls to remain in touch with their Tigers’ teammates under the guidance of coaches Stu Hooper (18.2) and Mason Arkell (16.6) for drills, trivia nights and the like.

For both relocated Territorians, it has been good to be home. But, having experienced both school and Tigers-style basketball in Melbourne, it will be even better to be back.

Article written by Linda Pearce