When Tessa Lavey received an invitation to the Australian Institute of Sport in 2009, she admits she didn’t know what an AIS scholarship was.
“They saw me at the AJC’s (Australian Junior Championships) but I didn’t even know anybody was there looking,” Lavey said.
“I got something in the mail, Mum came in and said I had an invitation and off I went to Canberra. I had never heard of an AIS scholarship before I was recruited.”
Lavey credits the AIS with turning her into the player she is today.
“Before I went I had never lifted a weight in my life and then I got to the AIS and they told me I would be lifting three times a week. They work on you individually every single day and that’s what you need, you become a package.”
Since her time at the AIS, Lavey has become a regular fixture in Australian squads. She has already travelled to France for the 2010 Under-17 World Championships, won a bronze medal at the 2014 FIBA World Championships in Turkey and recently competed at the World University Games as part of the Emerging Opals team.
Combine that with three years of experience at AJC’s, four years in the SEABL and six seasons in the WNBL and Lavey is putting together an impressive resume at age 22.
Her career began in Swan Hill, when she made the decision to stop athletics and focus on basketball.
“I chose a team over individual sport. I love playing with other girls so I chose basketball because of the companionship you get from team sport.”
Owing a lot to her parents, Lavey travelled all around Victoria in her junior years, starting with the Swan Hill Flyers. She then represented Ballarat, Hamilton, Casterton, Bendigo and Eltham.
“Mum and Dad thought it was important that I played at a high level to improve. We drove four hours every Friday night [to Eltham] and four hours back every Saturday morning but the standard of play was exceptional compared to what I was used to and I eventually got better.”
After a move to Bendigo, Lavey made her first appearance for Vic Country at the AJC’s, averaging 9.2 points, four rebounds and three assists before playing in the Under-18’s competitions in 2009 and 2010.
“I thought it was the ultimate when I was a kid. Everyone wants to represent their state. Being a country team, it was hard for us with the high level of play compared to what we were used to. It was tough but we were definitely competitive.”
In a rough start to her WNBL career, Lavey was involved in just six wins over three seasons with the AIS. A move to Canberra yielded more success in 2012-13 before she was picked up by the Bendigo Spirit as the back-up point guard for Kristi Harrower.
Although she did not receive big minutes, Lavey’s commitment to the league was rewarded with a Championship in 2014 as the Spirit lost just three games for the season. Learning from Harrower was also a valuable experience.
“The main thing I learnt [from Harrower] is you can never be over-thinking things, she was so smart and it showed in her play. She controlled the team and tempo on every single possession and that’s something I hope to bring into my game.”
Flying overseas for the first time with Australia, Lavey attended the 2010 Under-17 World Championships in France. She hit the court in every game as the side finished seventh.
Her greatest achievement came last year, winning a bronze medal at the FIBA World Championships as Australia thrashed Turkey in the third-place playoff.
“It was a bit of a blur actually, I still can’t believe I’ve been there and won a bronze medal. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to play with the calibre of players I went over with.”
Lavey’s role changed at the World University Games as her national experience led her to be one of the most experienced members of the team. Finishing fifth overall after a loss to Japan in the quarter-finals, Lavey averaged a team-high 18.8 points and four assists to go with 3.8 rebounds per game.
The next step in Lavey’s busy schedule is the current three-game series against Japan which is a lead-up to the 2015 Oceania Championship against New Zealand which she also hopes to be a part of. She is flexible on what her role will be though.
“I do what the team needs me to do, I’m more than happy to be a passer or a scorer. I want to play for my teammates and that’s what I enjoy the most, going up against other countries with a group of mates I get along with.”