Shepparton Gators' return to being a Big V force once again is due to a bunch of home-grown talent that has come through the junior ranks.OLIVER CAFFREY August 12, 2014 3:10am
JL Lewis was utterly dominant for the Shepparton Gators in their win against Keysborough on Saturday night.
A focus on local youth has powered Shepparton Gators to their first Big V basketball grand final in 11 years.
The Gators last played off in a Big V decider in 2003 where they defeated Sandringham Sabres on the road in the final game of a best-of-three series to take out the Championship division.
That was the last Big V title in a golden era for the Gators, where they claimed three championships in four years.
After a semi-final loss in 2004, the Gators endured a steady decline, which ultimately led to not playing in the Big V until last year.
However, the development of youth has led the way for a new generation of stars.
Greater Shepparton Basketball Association administrator Tony Long said the Junior Gators program and the North East Basketball academy continued to be a success.
‘‘The success we’re having now with the Gators is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the talent that come through together,’’ Long said.
‘‘The group of boys we have now are all home-grown, apart from (star American import) JL Lewis in the mix, they have all come through the program and are now reaching the heights that we have.’’
Shepparton Sports Stadium was packed like the glory days on Saturday night for game two of the Gators’ Division Two semi-final win against Keysborough Cougars.
Long said he was hopeful the success would inspire future generations to come.
‘‘The boys that are playing for the Gators now were watching those boys back in the early 2000s as little fellas and now they’ve come right through,’’ Long said.
‘‘We had the North East academy camp here on the weekend as well, with all the best regional kids, and hopefully that will have a flow-on effect for the next group of kids coming through.’’
The association is in discussions to field a Gators team in one of the three Big V youth leagues next year.
Training sessions for the Junior Gators’ under-12 to under-18 teams will begin at Shepparton Sports Stadium on Sunday.
Today at 8.30pm on SBS television the Insight program casts its eye on Shepparton and asks the question: How do you beat the odds in a place where too many kids drop out of school, and not enough of them find jobs?
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