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Family legacy drives basketballer to Tokyo

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Between them they have more than 80 years of basketball experience.

While they have each made a name for themselves on courts far and wide, it is Newcastle where Helen and her daughters Allison and Katie Rae Ebzery first found their love of the sport.

This week the trio will see one of their own depart for the Tokyo Olympics, as Katie Rae takes her place on the court at Saitama Super Arena playing for the Opals.

It won’t be the first time she’s represented Australia on the world stage though.

The talented 31-year-old helped her team to six wins at the 2016 Rio Olympics, gold at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018 and silver at both the FIBA Asia Cup in 2018 and World Cup 2018.

Having first competed for the Hunters wearing green and white aged nine, Katie Rae moved to Canberra to study at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) at 15.

Since then her professional career has meant she has played for the AIS, Dandenong Rangers, Sydney Uni Flames and WNBL team Perth Lynx.

It hasn’t always been easy though, she admits.

“I think I went through a lot of moments where I was studying, working and playing basketball and there were a lot of moments where I wanted to give it up because it was just so hard – trying to find work that will be flexible with basketball needs and study. 

“They’re pivotal years and you’re trying to get better as a basketball player and you have to work to eat, and until I started making the Opals squads and getting a bit of government funding it was hard.”

She is positive about the future of the sport, however.

“Getting girls into sport, it’s not all about winning, it’s all the things that go with being a part of a team, like empathy for your teammates, respect for your uniform and what you represent,” she said.

“For me it’s been a good journey.”

Katie Rae flew out of Australia on 5 July and prior to the flight she said it wouldn’t feel ‘real’ until she clicked the seatbelt on the plane.

“It won’t feel real until we’re on the plane, or on the court, ready to play,” she said.

“It’s been a really different year but it is what it is.

“This is going to be a pretty special Olympics all round, but I’m glad to have made it.”

Competing in her second Olympic Games is thanks to hard work and a love for a sport that began well before she started playing in a team.

Truth be told, Ebzery family legend says she was packed in a capsule under the Newcastle Stadium seats while her mother Helen played for what was then known as the ‘Scorpions’.

Katie Rae Ebzery ahead of the Olympic Games
Newcastle’s Katie Rae Ebzery will represent Australia and the Olympic Games in Tokyo this month. Photo: Getty Images

Now in her fifties, Helen had her own distinguished career on the basketball court, having played club nationals CBA in 1986 for the Newcastle Scorpions, as well as winning NSW country competitions and state league titles.

Bored being stuck in a goalkeeper position on a netball court as a teen, on a whim Helen joined friends in a basketball team in Dubbo.

“This was the 1970s, there wasn’t much else to do in Dubbo than play sport so you just tried your hand at any sport you could get your hands on,” she said.

That’s where this family tradition began.

Helen went on to play in the U/16 Dubbo rep team in 1979 after playing the sport for just 18 months. 

She played U/18s for Dubbo before transferring to Newcastle in 1985 where she went on to play for City Limits’ division 1 team and CBA Newcastle Scorpions, winning country titles and playing on interstate courts until she tore her ACL in a warm-up game.

Following its repair in 1992, she played state league games and took up coaching.

“I’ve always been around basketball in some capacity,” Helen said.

And while her two sons, Andrew and Matthew, veered more toward rugby as they grew older, Helen and her husband Robert juggled the parental role of transport and cheerleader for all four children.

Now Helen is still committed to the future of the sport, coaching a U/12 junior Hunter representative team several times a week.

“If anything gets cut from the program because of costs or lack of available coaches it’s the under 12 girls and I feel for them, that’s why I put my hand up for it, to make sure these girls get a chance to develop in the sport,” she said.

“In this modern day when young girls are stuck on their mobile devices, this is challenging for them, they’ll have a win and they’ll have a loss, they build up their resilience, it’s so good for them.”

More comfortable out of the limelight is the third Ebzery woman, 24-year-old Allison.

Content to now keep the sport in the ‘hobby’ category, she has also had her fair share of triumphs on basketball courts across the country.

Playing for the Hunters alongside sister Katie Rae recently, she also played for NSW country in a national tournament as well as in the WNBL as a development player for the Townsville Fire in 2019.

Allison ‘Allie’ began playing for Newcastle Basketball team City Limits aged seven.

“In our family, basketball was something that brought us all together, it was a sport we all played, it gave us time together,” she said. 

“I’m enjoying being back in Newcastle and playing with the girls, and playing with my sister in her Olympic preparation has been great.

“I’m content with where I’m at right now.”

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