THERE’S nothing quite like watching a star in the making.
It’s exceptional to see the best at the peak of their powers, but watching the emergence of an incredible junior is something in of itself, as the results start to pile on and other people begin to see it too.
One of those stars you definitely have to watch is Gemma Potter.
She’s in the midst of one of the most impressive junior careers in Victorian history. That is not overstating a fact or pushing her credentials without reason. She is carving this out game-by-game with an unbelievable record for a 16-year-old.
Potter is a three-time winner of the National Junior Classic with Bulleen, to go with VC titles at the Boomers throughout the MUVJBL season. Three national championships with Victoria Metropolitan and selection to the Australian under-16 team as well.
While her individual resume possesses some incredible achievements, she’s the first to point out the people around her – team mates, role models, coaches, family and friends – have helped inspire her and push her game in the right direction. All these pieces – natural talent, loyalty, mateship, work-rate and determination… they add up in a big way when it comes to a player like her. These things are just as valued as what she can do on the court and success is deservingly piling up on her front door.
From making the shift to Bulleen in under-12s, her junior results have been impressive. 2017 stands out to Potter as one of her most incredible years in the game, where it all slotted into place and formed a foundation for her future.
It started with her Bulleen under-16 side taking out the National Junior Classic – sharing the success with her friends along the way.
“Being with that group (Bulleen) means heaps – they’ve been with me since I moved across to Bulleen since under-12s – we’ve stayed together as a team and basically I call them some of my tightest friends and being able to play with them in some of the biggest games is really amazing,” Potter said.
“I think the whole tournament is really good as you get to be with your team from the start of the season, you really connect with each other and understand how everyone plays.
“We just stood together and that was what got us over the line.”
Bulleen’s 54-52 win over Forestville in the Classic – Potter’s third time taking home a Classic title – was just the start of her explosive year on the court. Soon came a second outing in the Vic Metro uniform as a top-age under-16 representative. Despite the best efforts of the opposing states and an incredible all-Victorian grand final against Victoria Country, the Metro girls showcased their might in bringing home the gold yet again.
The step-up in standard from her bottom-age campaign at Kilsyth to the top-age battle in Perth was startling as she found everyone came hunting for the Metro girls.
“That week in Perth was pretty insane – it was crazy, we went in there thinking we had a good chance but everyone pushed us,” Potter said. “It was a good reality check – going over there, the whole week we stood by each other, had faith and that’s what really helped us in the grand final when it was really close.
“We knew that we could rely on the people that we needed and everyone played their roles and helped contribute to the win.”
“When I was top age I was really happy and grateful to be in that team; I think what really changed was the style of play in Perth.
“It was a lot faster and a lot more teams were coming out to get Vic Metro – we had that target on our back.
“I think you feel the pressure to try and back up the championship – it gave us motivation to show the other teams what we could do and that we deserved it.”
Success at the association level and state level came quickly to her… but what about the next step… how about donning the green and gold? Therein lies the greatest thrill you can have in junior basketball after all. Potter’s time in the Australian spotlight came when she was selected for our FIBA U16 Asian Championships side heading to India.
There are few ways to describe a moment this awe-inspired, that impressive and wholly beyond her hopes and dreams in the sport. She just had to take a step back and contemplate just what she had earned.
“When I was in that room and found out I was going to represent my country I was pretty speechless,” Potter said. “I didn’t know what to think, my emotions were running everywhere and I was so happy and so grateful.
“When I went over to India to step on the court, even just to train it didn’t really feel real.
“I hadn’t been overseas before that but to go over there and play a sport I love with some of my really close friends was pretty amazing.
“When we had to suit up for the first game, me and my roommate we just looked at each other and were so shook – we never thought this day would come especially being so young.
“Representing the country in the sport that we love and put so much time and effort into as well.”
There’s always room for a nail-biting finish when it comes to her gold medal matches though, as Japan missed a last second shot to try and take the win off Australia. But in the end Australia emerged victorious and has opened the door for Potter to potentially represent her country at the FIBA U17 Women’s World Cup in Belarus later this year.
It’s a heavy workload – especially since she’s packed her bags and left for the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence in Canberra, but Potter wouldn’t have it the easy way. There’s no satisfaction in taking the shortcut. To put her mind at ease she needs to go full throttle any time she gets near basketball.
“It’s always good to know that the time and effort – training every day and all the extra stuff, with going to the gym and getting conditioning up – it really pays off,” Potter said. “When you get the win, or even when you take those losses, you still know that the work you’re putting in is helping your game.
“That’s one of the best things, knowing through last year when we were winning games and when we lost games – it didn’t really affect me because I knew everything was going to turn out well in the end if I kept doing what I was doing off the court.”
As good as 2017 was for her, 2018 has started just as strongly with another Australian Junior Championship medal heading to her trophy cabinet – with Potter part of the under-18 women’s side that took Geelong by storm. She capped off an exceptional bottom-age under-18 tournament with a half-court three to beat the buzzer in the grand final triumph over South Australia Metro, once again surrounded by the team mates she shared the under-16 victory with in 2016.
“Practice makes perfect I guess – we had 20 dollars at the end of every training on if we could make that shot and never made one at training so that was good,” Potter said. “Didn’t get the 20 after making that one though!”
But once again for Potter… that was a team effort. It was the team’s resolve that saw them through as one. She’s a team player with emphasis to spare on the team side of things. Staying humble would be easy to neglect in the midst of her hectic life, but Potter knows it’s through hard work and willingness to grind out the results that she has earned her these squad selections and invites.
“Seeing all these opportunities it comes back to being grateful for everything I’ve had and sometimes you get these opportunities and I don’t even know what to think,” Potter said. “Getting into an Australian team… it blows my mind to know I’m only 16 and have already done a lot of this stuff already, so it makes me really happy to think of what I could achieve if I keep doing what I’m doing.
“Doing the best I can each day at training, pushing myself in the gym and then on-court pushing myself and matching up to the role models I want to be like.”
One of those role models is her Bulleen and Vic Metro under-16 coach Sam Thornton, who has shaped the way Potter wants to be as a player and a person away from the game.
“She’s been an inspiration to me since she first coached me in bottom-age under-16s,” Potter said. “Sam has helped me so much on and especially off the court to help me know myself as a person and become a better person – I want to give major thanks to her as she’s one of the main people who has helped me represent Australia and get all of these opportunities.”
Potter also wanted to thank her greatest supporters – her parents Michelle and Rob who no matter what have her back and have thrown their support behind her incredible ambitions.
“They’ve done everything for me and help pick me up if I have a bad game,” Potter said. “Even if I didn’t play basketball they would be amazing for me and I would never be where I am without them.”