Maddie Garrick’s elevation to the Jayco Australian Opals may appear to have been swift, but it has been far from an overnight journey to the top. The 23-year-old booked her ticket to Europe with the Opals off the back of her first senior camp and so making the 12-woman squad came as a revelation.
“A month ago I was looking at talking to coaches and at ideas to improve to get into the squad,” Garrick says. “The camp went well and now I’m on to a tour. I’m very surprised but first of all I’m very happy to be a part of the squad. I went into it taking it as an opportunity and not expecting too much.”
For Garrick, basketball has been one long study in the art of the game. A sibling of two brothers growing up in the town of Toolamba in the Goulburn Valley, Garrick, already engrossed with netball and Little Athletics, just wanted to be just like the boys. When her brothers joined an after school basketball competition, Garrick decided she wanted in.
“I remember playing my first game and just loving it,” she says. “Everyone was involved. I enjoyed the people, the community feel and the atmosphere around it, the type of game it was…”
While quickly becoming enamoured with basketball, Garrick could have just as easily been lost to the game. Shepparton and its surrounds is renowned for a strong, proud sporting culture but when Garrick was 15, her options to play locally within her age group were slim to none. A coach, in Leigh Bathman stepped in, putting Garrick through her paces with a handful of individual training sessions on top of ITC sessions in Melbourne.
“That was a big thing, having a coach that would take the time out of his life to help me achieve these dreams that we sat down and wrote together was fantastic. Especially when there’s no competition,” recalls Garrick. “Having the family support as well has been critical.”
Garrick worked her way through the junior ranks with the Bulleen Boomers, playing for Victoria Country in the U16 and U18 AJCs before making her debut in the WNBL with the Bendigo Spirit in the 2009/10 season. A scholarship at the Centre of Excellence saw Garrick then play for the Capitals ahead of a return to the Spirit in 2012.
Playing year-round and juggling her studies with Deakin University where she is studying exercise and sports science, Garrick excelled last season in SEABL for Frankston, earning the women’s MVP crown off the back of 18.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2 assists per game.
While Garrick has come off the bench with Bendigo Spirit as part of a veteran side, the season gone averaging just 12 minutes per game, she’s made every one of them count. It was enough to gain the attention of Opals coach Brendan Joyce after all, hitting the court with her athletic and explosive style of play. Garrick says that playing alongside the likes of Opals teammate Belinda Snell will prove key long-term.
“I’d like to be known for the way I go about my sport – my training, my focus on development, staying mentally strong,” she says. “In terms of playing, like ‘Snelly’. An excellent shooter. She is someone who I look up to. Playing with her last season and doing shooting sessions… it’s just incredible what she can do.”
This current European Tour with the Opals is not Garrick’s first experience playing internationally, having been a part of the Gems’ World Championship campaign in 2011. As she has in the past, Garrick will no doubt be taking plenty away from the games against Serbia, Italy and Venezuela.
“Whether I make further teams or camps or anything else this is an opportunity to see where I stand against these women who are the best,” she says with the international style of play more physical, tactical and faster.
It’s experience that will surely be an asset this coming WNBL season when Garrick makes the move to the Melbourne Boomers. She is also hoping that she will have a role to play when it comes to the Opals’ campaign against the New Zealand’s Tall Ferns at the FIBA Oceania Championships in August. There, an Olympic berth will be on the line and Garrick knows it will be a chance to impress.
“Ever since I started playing, it’s been a dream to play in the Olympic Games,” she admits. “It’s a step-by-step process.”
As a two guard, Garrick is not content in only playing her position, determined to build her skill-set as a point guard or even small forward, knowing it “makes you more attractive to a coach at international level.”
Whatever comes next, be assured that Garrick will have a plan in place to make the most of the opportunity.
Read more in this series – In Profile: Stephanie Talbot