From apprentice to veteran: Aimie Rocci’s inspiring journey through the pathways

FROM playing in the junior pathways for the Dandenong Rangers as a development player, to winning championships, and now becoming a veteran of the league over a number of years. That’s the story of Aimie Rocci (nee Clydesdale).

Taking on a new name after her marriage last year, Rocci opened up firstly on what got her into playing basketball to begin with, sharing reflection of journey so far, and the challenges she faced in overcoming them.

“I would say I started probably because my brothers both played. I played a bit of footy when I was little because my brothers did. My brothers picked up basketball so I did the same,” she said.

“I kind of wanted to be just like them so I would say that’s what got me into it. Over the years, I suppose I just loved the people, being in a team and I was lucky enough that’s it’s taken me where it has, but from the beginning i was just a little girl trying to be like her big brothers.”

“Until a couple of weeks ago I never really reflected on that. I played my 200th game (against the Townsville Fire) and someone really lovely put together a little biography of my whole career and that was kind of a cool opportunity to look back on what I had achieved, because time passes you by and in our world, you sort of roll from WNBL to NBL1 and it all just keeps going and you don’t stop and think about it, so I am really proud.

“There’s lots of people out there that would love to play professional sport and I’ve been able to do it for 200 games, 12 seasons. There’s things I didn’t tick off my list that I would love to have achieve but regardless of that, I wouldn’t change a thing, it’s where I am now. “All the people I’ve met, all the experiences and things that I’ve learnt, it’s definitely something to be proud of.

“Everything was sort of going my way and I was starting to meet the goals that’s I’ve set myself for – making an Opals squad and heading towards the Commonwealth Games – that was maybe four or five years ago? Then, I got a knee injury and it wasn’t super major but it was something that sort of changed the way I was playing. I wasn’t as quick, I was struggling to get back from it and when I moved to Adelaide for those two seasons, I struggled with my injury and couldn’t get back from it.

“I didn’t make the new Opals squad and it sort of felt like I’d hit a high and then it was all trickling downhill for a while. The challenge there is one, deal with an injury, two, sort of dealing with not meeting your goals and aspirations you had for so long.

“It’s a funny thing when you set a long term goal and how much it can affect you when you don’t achieve it because you focus on that for so long. For me, that was the Commonwealth Games and since then, I’ve just tried to set… much more shorter term goals. That way, you’re able to tick off things and achieve things day to day and it’s all about being the best version of yourself and the best player you can be each training, each game.

“Whatever comes from that, it takes care of yourself. It hasn’t been all been sunshine and rainbows but at the end of the day, I am in a good place now and my knee’s the best it’s ever had been and I’m playing good basketball.”

Growth of the WNBL, the Flyers’ start to the season, motivation to get back on the court, and not overworking as players

Being in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) for a number of years, Rocci says the league’s talent, including imports, has beneficial for her own club and the growth of the competition for years to come. The veteran shared her reflections on the defending champions’ start to the season, the frustration not getting on court, and importance of not overworking as players after COVID isolation.

I think it sort of shows in even this season, compared to last season in the hub, we obviously didn’t have imports. Watching the imports that we’re getting now and the calibre of imports that we’re attracting, I think it lifts the standard of the league so much,” she said.

“They’re exciting to watch, they’re super professional, it brings new people for us to try and defend out there and they’ve got so much flair about them and athleticism. Imports is probably one thing we’ve attracted far more people in the last couple of years and then also the professionalism of the league.

“There was a time there where we couldn’t get on TV, which was super disappointing but we’ve got that TV deal back, the Kayo deal. The overall professionalism of the league, bringing in a minimum salary. If we can keep on pushing that, it’s only going to lift the league even further because we’re the longest standing women’s national league in Australia, but we’re sort of behind the eight ball a little bit on some of the things that other sports are achieving at the moment. It’s definitely progress, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

“I never have too many complaints about Southside. We are a very good organisation, right from the top to our owners and also our staff. A major plus side to the way Southside recruits, is that we’re not just looking for good players, they look for good people as well.

“I’m sure lots of athletes could tell you about teams falling apart because you’ve got all the talent in the world, but you can’t make it click. Whereas, I don’t think we have that issue. We have such great players but we’ve got great people and it’s a great group to be around. We’re professional, but we have a lot of fun at the same time. That’s a testament to Cheryl, our coach, our leadership group and just the whole organisation, so I’m really loving it.

“We would have liked to have gotten off to a better start to the season, but everyone’s dealing with own their little challenges at the moment, people in and out with COVID and injuries. We’re just riding the wave at the moment and when we can string some wins together. I think we’ll hit good form and hopefully that takes us into finals.”

“I think the cool thing about team sport is you’ve got each other. I know for me, even if I’m not feeling my best, it’s this sense of not wanting to let your team down. We’ve got a great culture and great friendships and I think everyone would feel that way.

“The motivation is just to stay ready, your team needs you, everyone plays a role and particularly now, when you lose plays at any time, people have to be able to step up and everyone sort of feels that responsibility to each other, and that’s a motivation in itself. The energy in the team is really good this year.”

“No matter whether you’re an athlete or whatever your job is, you have to be careful with your own health and wellbeing. There are some people who believe you just got to work, work work, but you’ve also got to look after other parts of your health, like your mental health.

“Some days doing the best you can is actually having a rest and looking after yourself or doing something different, whether it’s going for a walk or doing something that makes you happy. This team has a good balance of that, they’re always encouraged to look after ourselves and look after each other. Sometimes that does look like that, not overworking yourself and taking whatever time you need.”

Name change, teaching, the Maddi Rocci connection, Opals, and goals for rest of season

With Rocci getting married during last year and in her third season with the Flyers, she shares what it means to be a teacher outside of basketball, the connection being on the same team as Maddison Rocci, getting into the Opals team and her goals for the rest of the season.

“I didn’t know whether to change the name. In basketball, I played 195 games or whatever it is as a Clydesdale,” she said. “I actually think it’s super cool to be able to play with Maddi and be out there as the Rocci sisters, so I was happy to do that. Hopefully, my kids one day can throw on the jersey with Rocci on the back and I’ll know that I’ve played as a Rocci as well. It’s been really cool.”

“This season, I haven’t been teaching so far. Last year (I did) for three terms, and then when pre-season started I couldn’t teach anymore just because we train four days a week during the day. I say I’m sort of a teacher for half the year and a basketball player for the other half, I do really enjoy it.

“It’s an opportunity to, I suppose give back a little to the younger generation because I work at Western Heights College who have a sports academy, so I see that basketball coaching and it’s kind of helped my game a little bit too because I’ve learnt a little bit about coaching other people. “I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s a good way to use what I’ve learnt and hopefully pass onto someone else. If you help one person, you’ve done your job.

“My goal for this year was to enjoy it. It’s a funny one, I think just the way that life’s been lately and I’m heading towards the latter end of my career, the goal is to just come out and enjoy myself and I think that show in your performance when you are enjoying yourself and not getting down on the little things. Obviously the goal is to try and win the championship. Like I said, long terms goals aren’t really my thing. My short term goal is each and every day to try and enjoy what I’m doing.”

Enjoyment the team environment, the meaning of basketball, shaping of WNBL and role models

Rocci shares what the sport of basketball means to her, how the WNBL has shaped her as a player, and the role models that have helped along her journey.

“The team environment is probably the thing that I like the most,” she said. “We’ve got such a great group of girls and not everyone gets to go to work and love the people they’re around. I think some people have to go to work and, you know, not always do a job that they necessarily love whereas we’re super lucky that we get to go and weld around our friends, because they are your teammates.

“They become your friends and really important people too, so I love that part of it. In term of training, it’s a great excuse to keep fit. I don’t know what my motivation levels would be if I wasn’t in a team and or if I wasn’t playing sports. I’m sure they’d be there. But it’s kind of just a good excuse to exercise each and every day and stay healthy and fit. The highlight of my career is the people, not necessarily the basketball, it’s all about the people.”

“Basketball has been a big part of my life. Like I said, the people, the relationships I’ve formed and I met my husband through basketball. My maid of honour and my two bridesmaids are either current teammates or ex-teammates who have become my best friends. I guess that’s what it means to me. It’s not so much the championships or the games, it’s what I’ve gained as a person and I suppose who I am. I could contribute a lot to what I’ve learned from professional sports and it means a lot.”

“From my younger years, I got to play with some really great players. I would  say I call it my apprenticeship years, where your full time with the team and you’re doing all the training and the work that you don’t necessarily get to play much. Those years was spent under Kathleen MacLeod and Jenna O’Hea was in my team at the time too. I suppose in those earlier years, it really shaped my knowledge of the game and understanding roles.

“Then, I sort of progressed through lots of different roles in team of being a starting point guard. I was captain for the Dandenong Rangers. I moved away to Adelaide and was a backup point guard and instead of calling myself a sixth man/starting backup five. What I’ve learned and how it’s shaped me into a selfless player who is able to adjust my role based on what the team needs of me.

“It’s not always one of those things, it’s externally recognised but I know myself, that’s within the team. I’m important and unrecognised by my team for what I do. I think my WNBL journey has kind of shaped me as that kind of player. You’ve got to understand you’ve got to put in the work at training and when you do get that opportunity, it sort of shows.”

“My role models are actually my parents. They’ve also really shaped the player that I am and the person that I am. My mum and dad had to do all the driving around and all the supporting when I was younger to get me where I am and as humans, they’re just selfless and have taught me all the values that I hold close to me know, with family and people. I’ve taken that into the sport and how I treat my teammates and the sort of teammate that I want to be. My role models or the people that I looked up to hasn’t necessarily been sporting starts or basketball player, it’s just been my parents.”

Lastly, Rocci shares his wisdom to any upcoming ballers wanting to improve their game.

“It’s about trying to focus on what you can control,” she said. “Basketball is one of those subjective worlds where you can get a coach that loves you and get a coach that may or may not see what you’d hoped. Your journey is always going to be a little bit up and down.

“The one thing you can control is what you’re doing, how hard you’re working If you do your best, it’s always going to be enough for you. It might not be good enough for other people, but you can only be happy in yourself. When you don’t achieve your goals, you know that you did what you could. The advice is to control what you can and try and enjoy it.”

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