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August 9, 2023
People of Basketball: Justin Wheatley
Maranoa Basketball owes much of its success and growth to one extraordinary individual, Justin Wheatley. A true sports enthusiast and basketball fanatic, Wheatley wears multiple hats within the regional association – from player to coach, coordinator to now the current President.
Justin Wheatley's basketball journey began in Townsville, where he took his first steps on the court as an under-8 player. His love for the game only grew stronger, and he continued honing his skills, playing until under 18s.
Despite moving around, Wheatley's passion for basketball never wavered. In 2011, he made his way to Stanthorpe, where he started a club competition while working alongside the YMCA. Witnessing the enthusiasm of kids eager to play basketball, Wheatley's motivation soared.
After relocating to Roma, Wheatley stumbled upon Maranoa Basketball (MBA).
“By the time we had moved to Roma, my kids had begun to be interested in playing basketball, so I looked up the local association which was Maranoa Basketball and spoke with the then President Mathew Gane. He ran a skills session for 20 kids followed by a game on Fridays, on his own,” said Wheatley.
Observing the shortage of coaches, he offered to lend a hand and soon became deeply involved in the program. Seeing an opportunity to create a club competition like the one he initiated in Stanthorpe, Wheatley with the support of MBA President embarked on a journey to foster growth, engagement, and opportunities for the young basketballers in the Maranoa region.
His efforts did not go unnoticed. With dedication and determination, he and the Maranoa Basketball community started chasing grants, sponsorships, and fundraising opportunities.
“We started with 20 kids on a Friday afternoon just doing skills and in our first year of competition we went to 65 kids and the second year I think it was 87 and last season we had 103 kids," said Wheatley.
This growth allowed Maranoa to expand its offerings, from an under-18 representative team to now encompassing under-12s through under-18s.
Wheatley mentions that the close-knit nature of Maranoa Basketball has been a key factor in its success. As a small association, it functions more like a family.
“On any given day you can see one of the older kids shooting and there’ll be one of the U10s shooting with them," said Wheatley.
He takes pride in witnessing the growth of the young athletes as they progress from learning the basics to becoming players and coaches themselves.
“You know you are going in the right direction as an association when you have players who have learnt the game, played the game, and then coached or even volunteered for the association. I am just grateful we have such a strong committee who are wanting to give these kids as much opportunity as we can,” said Wheatley.
While Maranoa Basketball has made significant strides, Wheatley acknowledges the challenges faced by smaller regional associations when competing in larger carnivals.
“We travel a long way to compete at the larger carnivals, sometimes up to 6 hours. It is a tough gig for little country towns to compete in the bigger carnivals.”
However, the focus remains on providing kids with opportunities and exposure that might not otherwise be accessible in rural areas.
Justin Wheatley's vision for the association extends beyond his role, as he strives to create a strong foundation for future generations of basketball players in Maranoa.