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Young basketballer inspired to represent Cook Islands

Saturday 24 December 2022 | Written by CI News Staff | Published in Features, Local, National

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Young basketballer inspired to represent Cook Islands
Mali Hodzic. 22122340

Mali Hodzic’s dream of playing professional basketball took a dramatic turn when he broke his arm over a year ago. But the determined 15-year-old made an inspiring comeback to keep his dream alive.

Australian born and bred Mali Hodzic is visiting the Cook Islands – the home of his mum Lenore Chambers, for the first time.

Chambers hails from Mauke. She is daughter of Matakeu Ngaoire Chambers and John Panapa Chambers (son of Joseph Chambers and Popotai Munokoa – owners of Best Fish and Chips in Aitutaki in 1980s). Mali’s great grandmother is Narai Atua Vaike Ngaoire and great great granddad Tupuna Ngaoire of Mauke. His dad Mahir Hodzic is a Bosnian, based in Australia.

The family of five – including Mali’s two younger siblings – are on a holiday here exploring their roots and reconnecting with their Rarotonga-based relatives.

For Mali, visiting the Cook Islands for the first is an amazing experience. He is now inspired to represent the country – if given a chance – in international competitions.

“It’s an amazing feeling, my grandma and grandpa they are from here too and to come into an experience with other families here has been an amazing feeling. And I love my grandparents, they’re like been there since forever and to see more people and to meet all my cousins and to go explore where I’m from, makes me want to represent Cook Islands in the future,” says Mali.

Mali took up basketball in 2016 after a stint playing rugby.

Rugby was mum’s sport and basketball was his dad’s.

“Rugby was my sport and I loved playing it. But I wanted to try something different,” he says.

He was going to play rugby for Western Australia in the state level when he picked up basketball. He was later selected to represent his state in basketball too.

“Because they will have different seasons and his body will be different, says dad Mahir. In rugby he will have to be bigger, while in basketball he needs to be slim. So we ended up having a talk one day to decide which one he wants to pursue, because representing state level is pretty big,”

Mali ended up choosing basketball, “because it was something that I just love playing and I enjoyed it”.

His mum wasn’t happy with the decision.

“There was crying and his mother said, ‘Why do you want to play basketball?’

“He said ‘When the ball goes through the net and I hear it, that’s the best sound in the world’. And his mum said ‘okay’, but she did cry.”

The family then moved to Gold Coast because in Karratha, their previous home, they didn’t have any coaches. There they secured the services of Pero Cameron, New Zealand basketball coach and former player and FIBA Hall of Fame member.

Mali, who plays point guard and shooting guard, was also drafted in the Queensland’s performance programme and things were going great in the court when disaster struck.

In a school-related injury last year, Mali, who plays in U18 Queensland Division One competition, suffered a “full snap” on his arm, that put the  brakes on progress he had made in his flourishing basketball career.

But about 12 weeks following his injury, which required surgery and implanting a plate and screws, Mali returned to the court and finished as top scorer in the Queensland U18 competition.

“The injury put me back a lot and I missed out on a lot. It was a big obstacle that I needed to get through.

“I felt like everything was over. But luckily I had good people who supported me like dad and Pero who has been there helping me for the past 18 months. Pero said I could get through this, and I know - because he’s been there and done it.”

Mali, who looks up to NBA star LeBron James and hopes to play in Europe and/or NBA level, plans to return to Cook Islands and run basketball clinics with support from his dad Mahir and coach Pero Cameron.

“I love basketball and I would love to inspire other kids to play as well. You can always try new things and if you believe in it then you can get it. It comes down to hard work.”

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