New to the Big V scene in 2021, Morgan Ili can’t remember a time where she wasn’t around basketball. Now, a mum of two herself, the New Zealand international is ready to play for her family.
“I started playing mini-ball around five years old and just found a passion for the game,” Ili said. “I remember always being around basketball with my parents playing social leagues while my siblings and I would be running around the sidelines watching.
“I remember watching my uncle and auntie play for the New Zealand national teams and in the Olympics and always wanting to follow in their footsteps.”
Despite growing up in New Zealand, it was in Melbourne where she really started to pursue basketball competitively. As she joins the McKinnon Cougars for this year’s Big V season, Ili said it feels like she has come full circle in terms of her basketball.
“I actually moved to Melbourne when I was around five years old and played for Hawthorn Magic and Eltham Wildcats,” Ili said.
“I moved back to New Zealand around the age of 10, playing for school teams and age group representative teams throughout my schooling years, before making the New Zealand Under-16 team and Under-18 team.
“I then went on to take up a scholarship to play basketball in the U.S. at Oregon Institute of Technology.
“After having two beautiful daughters I am finally getting back into it here in Melbourne and really enjoying my time with McKinnon.”
With husband Shea Ili playing in the National Basketball League with Melbourne United, they made the move to Melbourne towards the end of 2019.
“We’re living here in Melbourne now with Shea playing for United and I really wanted to get back into things myself now that our youngest is almost one,” Ili said.
“I had a newborn at the beginning of COVID-19 so I wasn’t missing basketball a whole lot, it was actually quite nice having to slow down and being able to enjoy those precious early months with Shea home a whole lot more than usual.”
Now a family of four with their two daughters, Mayer and Parker, Ili felt it was time to get back onto the court.
“A friend of mine in our team, Katie Bluzer, encouraged me to come have a run at practice with McKinnon and I have been enjoying it ever since,” she said.
“It’s definitely a juggle especially without our family support here but like so many other mums out there having to juggle many things - you just make it work.”
There have been many people who have made Ili’s transition back to competitive basketball as smooth as possible and encourages all parents to get back to the game and reignite their sporting passions.
“I’m grateful that my coaches and teammates are so understanding of it and don’t mind me bringing the girls along to trainings or games when needed, and I’m lucky to have some great friends over here to help us out too,” Ili said.
“Having two young girls encourages me to keep playing - I want them to see not only their dad out there doing what he loves but also their mum too.
“I want to encourage them to always do what they love no matter their situation.”
Not having experienced level of competition in Big V before, Ili feels her international playing history will elevate her game in 2021 and make her an asset to the Cougars' Championship Women’s team.
“I would say my biggest achievement with basketball would be gaining a scholarship to play at college in the U.S - it was always a dream of mine to do that from when I was a little girl,” Ili said. “It’s tough being away from family and out of your comfort zone.
“It’s demanding physically, mentally and emotionally and you have to learn very quickly how to balance everything yourself.
“I’ve had some amazing experiences and met some lifelong friends and, although there’s highs and lows, it’s an experience that I’ll cherish forever.
“Playing internationally was definitely an experience that has shaped me to be the person I am today.”
Morgan Ili may not self-proclaim the following, but as an athlete, wife and mum, the title of a triple threat isn’t too farfetched.
While at times her schedule is undoubtedly hectic, Ili believes it is her mantra that keeps her cool, calm and collected off the court when she’s not hustling, rebounding and driving on the court.
“There are so many things we can’t control in life but we can control our mindset, our attitude, our work ethic and effort and how we treat others, so focus on those and don’t stress the rest,” Ili said.
“In the words of Maya Angelou - ‘If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude’.”
If there’s one thing Ili knows she can control... It's her ability to outscore her husband Shea on any given day in a 1v1 hustle.
“Oh, of course I’d beat Shea,” Ili said. “I always give him buckets, even though he would deny that though...”
You can get a taste of Morgan Ili’s skill this Saturday night at 7.30pm when the McKinnon Cougars host Casey Cavaliers at GESAC.
Morgan Ili had to answer these five questions as fast as she could. How did she go?
Go to post match snack? Don’t really have one in particular but I could always do a pizza for dinner after a game.
Current song on repeat? Not My Neighbour, Niko Walters
Best dad joke? What did the ocean say to the beach? Nothing it just waved...
Netflix choice? Word Party, I have to watch it every day!
Finish the sentence – nothing is better than.... putting the kids to sleep and crawling up on the couch with a glass of wine and blanket and watching a movie :)