Playing around the world.

A boozy late night in St Kilda is hardly where you’d expect to see humanity at its finest. But not only did I witness it, I wasn’t the least bit surprised.

It was around mid-2014, I was in Melbourne for work and was catching up with an old friend for just a quick dinner and beer, but who was I kidding?! After a meal filled with decent chats about family and life, with a few laughs mixed in, it was time to sort the bill and head home. Then as we went to part ways, a homeless man was spotted on the street, and that’s where the lesson started. I’d been in this situation before, frozen stiff, unsure of what to do. Thankfully, my friend took the lead. She sat, asked questions, offered help, support, money and an opportunity to follow things up the next day. She wasn’t scared, nor was she a do-gooder. Just a brilliant, caring person with an amazing heart. Her name is Anne-Maree Kaser. But this story isn’t about her.

Instead, it’s about her daughter, Hannah. By personally knowing Hannah’s roots, it’s no surprise that she’s grown to be such an amazing and capable woman.

Hannah recently signed a contract with the Adelaide Lightning in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL), building on an already impressive career that has seen her live, work, learn and play ball around the world. Given this announcement, and the immense effect Hannah has on people, I took the opportunity to talk basketball, discuss her journey so far and all things women’s sport.

Some perspective: let’s head back to 2003, when an 18-year-old version of me first met Hannah Kaser. If I could’ve peered into my crystal ball then, and viewed the future existence of Gippslandia, I would’ve started an article on Hannah right there, such was the belief that she was going to make something of herself.

It’s not that I thought she was going to be ‘somebody’, instead, like all her family and friends, I was absolutely convinced that Hannah was going to be ‘Hannah’ and that would always be more than enough.

Knowing the Kasers, it’s clear to see how Hannah (and her sister, Zoe) became talented, strong, independent, kind and lighthearted people with the perfect blend of confidence and humility.

As passionate Richmond supporters, where Hannah’s great-uncle (Michael Patterson) played back in the 60–70s, the family always held love for sport, but basketball wasn’t really on the rap sheet. Unless you count a C-Grade midweek championship won by Anne-Maree (she certainly does!).

It was growing up on the courts of her primary school, Lumen Christi, Churchill, that Hannah’s love for basketball began. In her first game, when she stole the ball from a teammate and went coast-to-coast, her parents quickly glanced at each other in awe of their daughter’s skills and passion. Hannah’s ability to score developed really early in her career, ‘cause missing wasn’t an option!

“I grew up in Jeeralang Junction with a backyard hoop where if you missed to the left, the ball was going all the way down a giant hill into the blackberry bushes, so I had to make buckets.”

From there, Hannah has never looked back and her love for basketball has only grown.

Gippsland has been blessed with some unbelievable basketball talents (a notable story in itself), but it was Australian Opals player Belinda Snell, a multiple Olympic and Commonwealth Games medalist who hails from Mirboo North, that left Hannah speechless.

“She’s simultaneously such a scrappy hustler and a poised scorer on any team she’s on. When we eventually met, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit starstruck. In true Gippsland style, she already knew who I was, where I was playing and even who I’d been dating in high school! I was equally flattered and mortified”, laughs Hannah.

From her primary school courts, it wasn’t long before Hannah was representing Morwell, Latrobe Energy and Vic Country. The story of who assisted her through her rapid development is shared by many local basketballers.

“All the effort, love and knowledge passed on to me came from local volunteers, Gippslandians who loved the game. People like Marty Handson, Joe Brouns, Barry Herbert, Andrew Harlow, Rod Couling and so many more people who gave their time and made me believe that I could take basketball all the way!” Sadly, our basketball community has lost some of those great names over recent years, but we will be forever grateful for their contributions.

When recalling her first big break, it wasn’t the buckets, but the family’s effort that Hannah remembers best.

“At a junior tournament, someone from the Dandenong Rangers told Mum and Dad that should I come to the tryouts. They drove me a couple hours down the highway and I showed up in my purple ‘bad girls’ shorts from the local Morwell competition and somehow made the under-14 first team. Between representing Vic Country at the National Championships every year to playing for Dandenong in the Melbourne state league, the whole family committed a ton of time, energy and kilometres to let me do the thing I loved.”

More opportunities started to appear and Hannah, who as a child would tell everyone she was going to play for Australia, had her dream come true in 2011, representing the nation at the Youth Olympics in Singapore — winning a silver medal in the 3-on-3 competition. Hannah then seized her opportunity to play for Saint Mary’s College of California on a full scholarship, before landing her first professional contract with BC Arlesheim in Switzerland. Upon returning home to Australia, Hannah has played for Sandringham in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) before settling in Canberra and joining the Canberra Nationals.

Playing for the Nationals in the Waratah League, Hannah explains that, “The games are streamed and the stats are all out there, so people know if you’re playing well or not”.

“When Chris Lucas, the Head Coach of Adelaide Lightning, contacted me about playing for Adelaide I was honoured. I hadn’t thought about it too hard because I was playing semi-professionally for fun and earning a little [money] on the side while I could still pursue a regular career and work full-time. I always believed that I could play at that level but just didn’t see it as a reality with my life at the moment. So to hear from a great coach that he wants me on his team, it was a no-brainer to sign!”

Not long after making Canberra home with her partner, Shane, who happens to work for the NBA Global Academy as a strength and conditioning coach out of the Australian Institute of Sport, Hannah will now be relocating to the City of Churches for her biggest challenge yet.

“Shane is 110% behind me. He writes me programs for the gym and running, which is super handy. He’s my hype man and gets to every game possible, so no doubt he’ll be around a lot while still working and living in Canberra.”

The character traits that have benefited Hannah through her career have been influenced by her family. For example, her ability to stay positive and move on from negatively quickly came from mum, who put a time limit on how long she was allowed to be down on herself after a loss. The thing that contributed most to Hannah’s game is, “The commitment and support from my Mum, Dad and Zoe”.

Sadly, when Hannah first started playing, there weren’t many opportunities to play women’s basketball professionally. Now, she’s paid for a job that didn’t exist until as recently as just a few years ago.

“Obviously, there’s a long way to go with coverage of women’s sports and equal pay, etc., but things are moving in the right direction. That’s not to say that we should become complacent, we need to keep paving the way for the younger generations coming up, so that they can see that, just like the men, there are women making a career out of being an athlete! The WNBL has recently created a minimum wage and has contracts to get more games on TV.”

In my interactions with many successful people, no matter their chosen field or pursuit, I’ve frequently witnessed how they possess sense of family and community that is seemingly on par with their incredible passion and a willingness to never give in.

These traits struck me as I enjoyed time with Anne-Maree that night in St Kilda. She’s a caring and protective mother, not just to her own children but to others within our community; you can sense her passion to give her best and never give up on people or her ideals.

That’s why, nearly two decades after meeting her, it’s not surprising Hannah has forged her path into the WNBL. Even though, as a 26-year-old, many others would have abandoned the dream. With such love for basketball, a zest for life and a strong convictions, it’ll be a pleasure to tune in and watch Hannah shine for the Lightining this upcoming season. On behalf of all Gippslandians, we wish her nothing but the best.

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