Competing on the world stage and representing your country is every player’s dream.
To get to that point takes hard work and dedication and a game that is built to stand up under pressure – Monique Conti, 16, possesses all of these qualities.
Conti’s journey to join the Australian Sapphires team – this year’s FIBA U17 basketball world champions – and be named in the All-Star Five began at eight-years-old.
The Melbourne Tigers program has had an incredible influence on Conti’s basketball career, which started when she played under 12s at eight… she has played for the Tigers ever since.
Her first coach, Nicky Simpson was the mentor Conti needed as she began her basketball journey.
“Nicky Simpson was my very first coach at the Melbourne Tigers and she set the bar, she developed my game from the start,” Conti said.
Conti continues by highlighting the influence that her second coach, Ray Tomlinson, had on her too.
“In U14s and U16s, Ray Tomlinson obviously helped develop my game further and got me to where I am now,” Conti said. “He’s always been there to support me and has always told me how I can get better – how to make state teams, how to get noticed.”
Conti, who stands at roughly 162cm, had to create ways to stand out from the pack, despite often being the smallest player on the court.
“I don’t think it (my height) holds me back whatsoever.” Conti said. “I definitely see it as an opportunity to stand out because I just do what I’m good at – which is use my speed and ball-handling.
“I do my job on the court as a point guard; telling people what to do and like I said I just use my strengths.”
Her advice for other small players out there proves why she has excelled at the highest level.
“Just do what you’re good at and keep working on your game,” Conti said. “The big thing is to find your point of difference – which is what I’ve been trying to do and it has helped me along the way.”
Her point of difference immediately shines through when Conti steps on court. Her speed causes fits for opposing guards and she can slice through defences and dish out assists to teammates all over the court.
When driving to the basket, if she doesn’t flick out a pass to a teammate, she finishes strongly at the rim – often after burning her opponent at the top of the key and working her way around the inside defensive presence.
Conti’s performance throughout the recent FIBA U17 World Championships demonstrated on the world stage that she is one of the brightest young basketball stars in the world. This billing is something Conti is still coming to terms with, “It was just a great honour to know that I was selected as one of the best five players in the world – which is just unreal thinking about it now.” Conti continues, “It was an incredible feeling to be put in that sort of category.”
The Sapphires created history when they defeated USA in a hard-fought semi-final… prior to the Aussies defeating them 73-60, the US women had never lost a game at the championships.
“It (Beating USA was definitely one of the highlights of the tournament – besides winning the gold of course.” Conti said. “It was just really good to know that we made history beating one of the top teams in the competition. It just felt unreal.”
The risk of complacency after beating USA was never a factor for Conti and her teammates though.
“We had a goal to reach,” Conti said. “Once we beat USA it was good at the time but the next day we went back into business and just really wanted to get the job done in the end.” And get the job done they did.
There was no doubt Australia came to play against Italy in the final. Jumping out to a 31-16 half-time lead, the result never really in doubt.
Conti caught fire and poured in a game-high 18 points, to go along with six rebounds, three steals and two assists.
Perhaps the most telling facet of Conti’s tournament was her ability to take care of the ball. For all 12 players who averaged three or more assists per game, Conti had the equal fewest turnovers per game.
This not only highlights her tremendous ball-handling skills, but to not be overwhelmed on the big stage indicates the mental side of her game is just as strong.
After conquering the world with her Sapphire teammates, Conti now turns her focus to matching it in the WNBL, playing against some women who are over twice as old as her.
Having signed with the Melbourne Boomers for the upcoming season, Conti is looking forward to the experience and is keen to learn each and every day.
“I’m aiming to just develop my game, and take it to the next level so I’m able to compete to the best of my ability, especially against those very talented athletes. I know Guy (Molloy) is going to be a great coach for me and great mentor to help get me to that level.”
This drive to continually improve and the want to learn is what has got Conti to where she is today. An extremely talented Aussie Rules player as well, having made the Vic Metro under-18 team earlier this year, Conti takes learnings from the football field back to the hardwood.
“They both definitely complement each other well.” Conti said. “The physicality from AFL and the agility type stuff – getting in and under, I use that to help me with my basketball against those bigger opponents.”
All told, Monique Conti is a natural basketball player, with a passion for the game that has grown stronger throughout the years.
As she has progressed with the Melbourne Tigers and onto the world stage.
There is no doubt that Conti’s future in the sport is bright, and is proof to other young players out there that the pathway to playing elite basketball is there if you’re willing to put in the hard work.
Feature picture courtesy of FIBA.