Mudronja overcomes setbacks to make the most of opportunities
FROM battling through many setbacks to earning a roster spot with the Illawarra Hawks, Alex Mudronja is not done yet, and says he is ready for more.
Mudronja firstly shares how he got involved with basketball, his pathway through to the National Basketball League (NBL), being proud of his journey and overcoming challenges along the way.
“None of my parents played basketball but my older brother decided to just give it a go and I just wanted to be like him when I was a little kid,” Mudronja said. “I followed him into it and we kind of fell in love with it straight away. I always said this is what I wanted to do for a job and from there, that was my first little introduction to the sport.
“I have two brothers and a little sister as well and we all played when we were young. We all pushed each other and we had backyard battles like many kids do, where we all want to win, and I still bring that level of energy and love for the game now.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be at the best club and surrounded by the best players and that was Sturt. I played with Isaac White, who is one of my teammates here at Illawarra now. We were both juniors coming up. I wanted to surround myself with people that also love the game so that we could push each other. Now that me and Isaac are in the same team and doing that at Illawarra at practise, it’s honestly a blessing.
“The whole AIS and St Mary’s College experience was really cool. I got to learn a lot. It wasn’t crazily successful for me but I learned the most about myself and those times where you get pulled away from your family and I went through some tougher times in my basketball journey. I’m really grateful for them because those are the lessons you kind of cherish looking back at it all.
“When I look at it, looking back at my journey, I’m so focused on getting better. I’ve had people trust in me, it’s not an arrogance thing, but I feel like I haven’t really done much in the sport yet and I’m really looking ahead to the future, putting in work every day and to be able to do something with it. I’ve had a lot of setbacks in the last few years and I’m at a place now where when you’re going through it, it’s all confusing and hard and you sometimes lose sight of where you’re going. I’m now at a place where even though I’m not playing yet, I feel I’m still capable of playing in the NBL.
“When I was young, possibly 17, I broke my ankle. That was my first little real reality check by being away from the game and that really should how much I actually loved playing because I went through a tough time. By being away from the game was really tough. In the last four years, I haven’t really been given an opportunity to play consistent minutes. I’m at Illawarra where I’m now a injury replacement. In college I didn’t really play minutes. In Adelaide in my development year as well as last year, in my first year on the roster in Adelaide, I didn’t play minutes either and it’s been an absolute battle.
“Getting released from Adelaide was probably the biggest setback I’ve ever endured and the same sort of thing from me when I was young, it showed me how much I love the game because it hurts so much, it’s my hometown and I obviously wanted to stay there at the time. It showed me how much I wasn’t to improve and how much I want to get better to not only prove people wrong. I wanted to prove myself right that I do belong and that I can do something with this game.
“Those setbacks really drive me and that’s why I’m at it now where I look back on that thinking ‘Wow, that really helped show me how much I love the game and how much work I need to do to really get to that next level to be able to earn my minutes. I’m really happy with the journey. It’s been cool, where I and I’m really to make that next step.”
GETTING THE ILLAWARRA CALL-UP, AND MENTORS ALONG THE WAY
Mudronja shares his reactions getting the call up to be a fully-contracted player for the Hawks, his experiences being a development player as an Adelaide 36er, and his thoughts on being coached by the legendary Brian Goorjian.
“When I got released, it was hard for me. I immediately after got in the gym and I stayed there and it was a crazy offseason,” Mudronja said. “I had an immense drive which now I feel like it’s what brought be here. I was planning on going somewhere and doing more of a training year with some teams but Brian Goorjian basically called and offered me a three-year deal, which was amazing.
“I’m really happy to be able to be in that company and learn from a man who is obviously one of the greatest coaches in the game. To also have the teammates I have here who are extremely high calibre players. I wasn’t expecting it, it came out of nowhere and it was super awesome. Now that I’m at Illawarra, I want to take that next step.
“In my development year, it was incredible for me because I came back from college and to be honesty, I lost some of that love for the game and I was bit confused, not confident in my abilities. I expected things to go differently and it was my first real major setback. Coming back to Adelaide, in my development year, it was great. I got to go home, touch base and was able to put in the work and realise why I love the game again.
“The main guy that really drove that was Joey Wright, that was our coach. He obviously he had to go a different direction and so did I. During that year, he spent a lot of time with me. Before and after practise, he has a love for the game that I possess too and enjoys helping people get where they want to be and enjoys developing players that want to be developed. He was a huge mentor for me and I had some mentors who utilised belief in me, which I hadn’t felt for a while.”
“Jack McVeigh and Anthony Drmic were huge for me, on a friend basis and they really gave me that confidence to be myself and just play the game that I love to play. It’s amazing to learn off guys like Daniel Johnson who is an incredible professional. Sometimes I under-appreciated the way he approaches his daily habits and same with McVeigh. It’s incredible to be able to be in that realm and learn off guys like that. Now I’ve got Tyler Harvey, Justinian Jessup but I could name a lot of the guys here. I enjoy learning and I’m just trying to feed myself as much information as can as a player and try to be a good teammate. Some of those guys are cool to be in their presence.
“Being around the Illawarra Hawks team, It’s great. I few guys have spoken on our cohesiveness as a team and the way we enjoy being around each other in the locker room, at practise and hang out off the floor. We go to the movies, go to the beach and it’s a young core that gets along, but it’s the whole crew and team. I haven’t been around a team with the imports being friends, genuinely friends with the young guys and everything kind of clicks.
LINKING WITH THE BOOMERS
Currently representing the Australian Boomers in the FIBA Asian Qualifiers, Mudronja shares his insight and reaction getting the call-up the represent Australia and excitement of the squad coming together and his thoughts of staying prepared before playing.
“Any time you can put on the green and gold in whatever capacity, it’s incredible,” Mudronja said. “I feel super humbled and blessed to be a part of the opportunity and to just play some basketball. I’m in my fourth year where I’ve been working and really going for it. I haven’t quite seen on the court it hasn’t quite happened for me yet, so I’m just really excited. I feel super confident and excited about the opportunity and to go out there and to be able to play. It’s going to be fun and with some great people.
“A few of the guys I’ve played with in the past and got to know a little bit. I’ve played with Rob Beveridge before and a couple of assistants as well. It’s been good to catch up with the other guys on the squad and have a chat and see everyone’s on different journeys and that is the cool thing about all of us coming together. There are guys that I might have played with when I was 16 or 17. Now that we’re all in different places and about to link up for this team, it’s really cool with about the game of basketball.”
LIFE OUTSIDE OF BASKETBALL, MOTIVATION AND RITUALS
Mudronja shares what he does away from basketball, his pre-game rituals, favourite ways to spend a day off, and what drives him everyday.
“I’m pretty busy as it is,” Mudronja said. “I did study in college and when I came back I picked up a couple of classes in uni. I’m pretty interested in physiotherapy and the movement of the body and physiology. I’ve picked up a couple of classes here and there. I was thinking of doing a little psych but I’m pretty locked into what I’m doing on the basketball court right now. I enjoy studying and what I want to do in the future but not right now.
“Having an equal balance is huge. That’s something I’ve tried to get better at recently. A few times where, for me personally, I really get invested in the game and it’s sometimes like I want to wake up and I need to do this and that, this and that. I almost get too invested and takes a toll on me mentally. There are things I enjoy doing, hanging out with friends and trying to have a go at surfing.
“Our team goes to Utopia, that’s our spot on game day. We’ll be there getting brunch every game day. I also love my coffee. That’s my game day routine and before the game, I’ll probably have a shot of coffee.
“I don’t mind hanging out on my own, hanging out with the boys is always a great time. I don’t mind going down to the beach and chilling or going to a nice little café. At the moment, I haven’t got any off days because I’m not playing so I’m in the gym a lot so probably going down to try a new café or going down to the beach and do some recovery stuff. It’s pretty chill.
“(My motivation) is my love for the game of basketball. It’s a dream come true. I get to wake up and play basketball. That’s honestly all I’ve ever wanted to do as a job and that keeps me going for sure. When it gets hard, I like to remind myself how much I’ve been through and to be grateful for everything and keep going. Sometimes, it can be tough, I’m not going to lie.
TOUGHEST OPPONENTS AND KEEPING COOL IN A CRISIS
Mudronja shares who the toughest opponent he’s faced are, and strategies he uses to stay calm during a game.
“I’ll probably go with Justinian Jessup, I know it’s an interesting one,” Mudronja said. “Seeing the way he works, we tend to play some one-on-one and push each other in different spaces. Justinian always plays hard at practise and is a tough guard where he can shoot it from anywhere. I enjoy matching up with him everyday because I know he is going to bring it. So probably JJ.
“Seeing Justinian’s habits everyday, he’s on the court early, one of the last to leave everyday and he’s working out full intensity workouts and seeing that stuff is cool. It shows me that he is a guy who is talented and not necessarily jumping out of the gym and dunking on people. Justinian puts a lot of hours and shoots the ball and seeing that, and what he brings everyday has inspired me to just shoot more shots and be better.
“I used to ride the emotions a lot of the game. When it’s on a high, I’m celebrating and when I’m on a low, I’m kind of beating myself up. I realised it wasn’t a healthy way to play because there’s going to be mistakes, sometimes your own mistakes and sometimes teammates mistakes. For me, being a point guard and being a leader type of players, I wanted to be in more of a calm state to react to whatever I’m seeing. For me, it’s about learning to not ride the up and downs and to understand that whatever happens, it’s the next play.
“I’m finally at that stage where even if I’m shooting the ball and I miss, I used to get down on myself. If I miss two in a row and ride those emotions. Now, I’ve got that next play mentality, next shot mentality, the next shot is going in or next time, the pass is going to be right. That’s been a cool adjustment recently as well.”
ROLE MODELS AND WHAT BASKETBALL MEANS TO ALEX MUDRONJA
Mundronja shares what the sport of basketball means to him and the role models that he’s looked up to along the way.
“My parents are the biggest role models for me,” Mudronja said. “I’ve seen them go through struggles and hard times when we were young and they didn’t make it obvious to us, they just kept their heads down and kept working at what they wanted to achieve and that was huge for me. The way my dad goes about his business and my mum and I think that’s where I get it from. They just keep going and there’s been hard times and they’ve created a great life for me. They’re probably my biggest inspiration.”
Lastly, Mundronja shares his wisdom to any upcoming basketballers wanting to improve their game.
“Be yourself,” he said. “I would say to anyone is the biggest thing that I’ve learned is to do what you love and do it harder than anyone else. You have an opportunity to do that for a living. Honestly, there’s nothing more rewarding to wake up everyday and play but along the journey, there’s been player that have been a lot better than me and more talented than me. Enjoy the work more and be willing to go to a place that other people haven’t.