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Reaching his hoop dreams by leaps and bounds

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THAD MANGALINO | The Inner Game
THAD MANGALINO | The Inner Game
For comments or feedback, email thadmangalino@gmail.com

Picture this scene. Late Friday night at a basketball stadium in a southeastern suburb of Melbourne, two teams were locked in battle to secure the victory and improve their standing leading up to the Victorian Championship VJBL (Victorian Junior Basketball League) finals. With only four games left of the regular season, the home team Casey Cavaliers U/16.1 Boys team was leading 54 to 50 against the visiting Knox Raiders team in a must-win game. With the clock quickly ticking away, it looks like that Casey will finish with a win—a scene reminiscent of an NBA Finals where the player rises up to the occasion. 

Number 8 from the Knox Raiders calmly took charge of the nail-biting situation by quickly driving in and converting a contested lay up. Casey moved the ball up in transition trying to utilise the two on one opportunity. The shot was missed. Number 8, with a vertical leap measuring just over 48 inches secured the rebound leaping over players standing over 6 feet tall and overpowering three defenders with his Kyrie Irving-like handles that took only six dribbles from one end of the court to another and execute a spin move to convert with a smooth left handed lay up. Knox increased their defence and forced Casey to turn the ball over and the Raiders coach called a time out.

This left the clock with only 16.1 seconds with the scores tied at 54-54. The Raiders inbounded the ball and started to execute the play drawn by the coach. With the quick inbound pass, there were quick dribble handoffs and each player moved in sync leaving the Casey defence wondering what was going to happen. With 3.8 seconds left on the clock, Number 8 was fouled in the act of shooting and was awarded two free throws which he both converted and sealed the win, an easy 6 points in 50 seconds. 

This sounds like a typical baller’s dream, doesn’t it? Play at a high level competition against other top class teenagers in Victoria, finish with 15 points and help your team secure the win. For number 8 it was a good day at the office and this is where I begin to tell you about his basketball journey.

Let me introduce to you Luke Atacador.  According to Luke, it all started at the age of 6 when his Mum Melanie enrolled him at the Mini Raiders program (an introductory basketball program tailored for young kids) organised by the Knox Basketball Association. Luke picked up the fundamentals at a fast rate and was encouraged to join a domestic team at the U/8 competition with some of his classmates. He joined the WASP Basketball Club and has won four “A Grade” championships since joining the club. To this day Luke continues to play for the WASP’s in their domestic competition. 

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Luke started playing representative basketball when he was selected as a double bottom age player in the U/12 VJBL competition for the Knox Raiders. At a young age, Luke was competing against older and bigger opponents; and at the end of his first VJBL season, his team won the U/12 championship and he received the Finals MVP. Currently, Luke is the floor general/starting point guard of the Knox Raiders U/16.1 playing the Victorian championships, the highest level of junior representative competition in Victoria. The team travelled to Adelaide to compete at the annual Easter Classic last April and came home winning the tournament, which qualified the team to compete at the National Junior Classic Tournament. 

Luke is a member of the Wesley College senior varsity team. He is on the first team and one of the youngest members of the team that competes with many older students in the highly competitive Associated Public Schools (APS) competition. The Atacador family values the importance of education, maintaining a high grade is a must before even thinking of bouncing a basketball.

When asked how one is able to balance school, sports, social life and being a teenager? Luke replied, “My training is in the afternoon. My homework is completed first and whatever is not completed, I jump back and finish the tasks after training.”  A few coaches have mentored and guided Luke in his journey, most notably Jason Smith, Darryl McDonald and Matt Shanahan. Luke’s friends are also involved in basketball so when he plays he also gets to spend time with his mates. A question was asked: how would your coach and teammates describe you? Luke responded, “From their perspective they would say, quick, shifty, a facilitator, and overall a good teammate.” 

Hard work and perseverance are paying off. Luke has been selected to be a member of the State Development Program (SDP) for 2022/2023, a Basketball Victoria elite performance program for junior athletes and one must be selected from a vast pool of athletes in Victoria to participate. There is also an elite school with a successful basketball program from the Philippines that has shown interest in Luke’s development. 

This humble and engaging young man loves the game. It is inspiring to watch someone perform a complex skill consistently with such mastery that gets the crowd in a cold stadium to get up on their feet and cheer. If you are a basketball aficionado, Luke Atacador is someone who you should keep an eye out for and support.  He is a local home grown talent in the Filipino-Australian community that is working hard to make his hoop dreams come true.  

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