Basketball never stops: Isla Juffermans' long summer is a start for hopefully a long, successful career
BENGALURU (India) - Basketball never stops. At least, that’s how it has felt for Isla Juffermans this summer.
"In my first few games, I was put on the court and I cried while I held mum’s hand and got dragged up and down the court. In later years, my Granny... developed my game with her tough love and drive to turn me into the best player that I can be."
In the span of only a few months, she’s been to Jordan, Spain, Hungary, and India. That list might sound more like an itinerary for a super fun cross-continent backpack tour, but it’s just the destinations of where Juffermans and the Australia youth national teams have played since June.
"It has probably been the busiest summer yet for me honestly," said Juffermans.
"In June, I left with the Sapphires team for a one month trip, which took us to a range of countries, all of which I had never been to before. First, we went to the U16 Women’s Asian Championship in Jordan for around 12 days where we won the tournament so it was an extra special experience."
"Next, we went to Spain for the Four Nations tournament, where we played Spain, USA and France. These were the best 3 teams at worlds. We were there for around 5-6 days, then next we were off to U17 Women’s Basketball World Cup in Hungary. We came in 5th there, which was a pretty cool experience. But after such a big month, most of us were very tired!"
"We traveled back home to Australia, and then us Centre of Excellence girls only had 3 days back home in Canberra before we were off to play NBL1 in Perth and Brisbane for the next 2 weeks. It was pretty exhausting but fun!"
Then, they came here to Bengaluru for the FIBA U18 Women’s Asian Championship Division A. Obviously, not all of the players from that tour with the Sapphires (the Under 17 team) are here in India. Only four players made the leap from playing with the Sapphires to play with the Gems (the Under 19 team): Saffron Sheils, Summah Hanson, Jessica Petrie, and, of course, Juffermans.
The 1.93M (6'4") center went from averaging 19.7 points and 12.2 rebounds per game in Jordan to 12.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game in Hungary. She is now pretty much doing the same in India, averaging 14.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.
While the numbers look pretty similar across the board with Juffermans playing the role of a walking double-double, it’s also easy to see how much the youngster has grown in such a short time. You don’t spend an entire summer immersed in basketball and going up against the best in the world without figuring out how to get better .
"I personally think it’s probably the most I have grown in such a long time," said Juffermans. "I felt like my game improved a lot, but it was also a bit of a reality check playing such high quality players."
"The most challenging part wasn’t so much the physical side of playing so many games, but more the mental side of back to back tournaments. Trying to find the drive to keep pushing myself in every game to do my best, especially when combined with the travel fatigue. In the end this made me a stronger person and player, I feel like I got to know my body better - mentally and physically."
Up ahead might be one of the biggest test of this long summer for Juffermans.
Australia have successfully made it to the Final of the U18 Women’s Asian Championship here in India, after having gone undefeated in the previous 4 games. This is their first time playing in the Final of the competition after missing out in 2018. They’ll be facing China, a five-time defending champion of the competition who have made their way against the odds to the championship game even after losing twice in the previous stages.
For Juffermans, after already winning the U16 title earlier, winning the U18 title as well would certainly be sweet, sweet icing on the cake.
"In every tournament we are always there to win gold," she said.
"I think after the third place finish in 2018, we are pushing to do even better this year, and its exciting to have such an athletic and skilled team. With many of us living together and playing together full time, I think we have such a unique and strong dynamic that in the end will hopefully get us that gold."
The 17-year-old has come a long way and that’s not in reference to all the flight miles she’s logged flying from country to country and continent to continent these past few months. Juffermans has come a long way - 10 years to be exact - from not even wanting to be on the court, to barely being able to stay off the hardwood.
"I started playing basketball when I was 7 because my mum forced me," she explained. "I come from a basketball family and I was already taller than all the other 7 year olds, so it was kind of inevitable."
"In my first few games, I was put on the court and I cried while I held mum’s hand and got dragged up and down the court. In later years my Granny, who was a rep coach at my home association, developed my game with her tough love and drive to turn me into the best player that I can be."
Granny and mother Juffermans should be beaming right now, seeing what their Isla is capable of doing. There’s no doubt that she’s certainly on the path to being a very, very good inside players in women’s basketball and that the sky’s the limit.
Of course, it’s always great to have talented, successful, and inspirational role models close by and that’s what Juffermans - as well as all young aspiring Australian basketball players - have in their senior national team heroes.
"My two main idols are Lauren Jackson and Cayla George. They both have such excellent games and are good people on and off the court. I try to be the best person I can be on and off the court which I think is extremely important part of being successful in the long term. They are both strong bodies, that dominate the boards and have great finishing skills, which is some of the stuff I strive to contribute to my game."
In particular, it’s been Lauren Jackson’s presence from her playing days all the way through her returning back to her playing days by coming out of retirement that has really been an inspiration and an example for these young girls who are aiming to achieve anything close to her level of success.
"Yeah I watched a bit of her games, I was quite young before she retired," Jeffermans said. "So I tried to do the best I could to copy her strong game under the ring whether that was getting boards, making a move or getting big defensive blocks."
"[Her coming out of retirement] is a massive deal to Australian basketball," she added. Not only just the women’s, but also the men."
"I think she is a good example of if you want something bad enough, go work for it and get it. Everyone thought she was done all those years ago, even she thought she was fully retired for good."
"Lauren Jackson’s massive comeback is so inspirational for all players, not just the young ones, also the ones that are playing professionally or have before. She has comeback from having two kids and numerous knee surgeries. It shows such a strong mental and physical drive that every athlete should have."
Juffermans can take that inspiration and now show how bad she and the Gems want this U18 Women’s Asian Championship title. They’ll have to go work for it against a determined team that knows how to and has won it all (five times in a row) in China, but after a long trip throughout this entire summer - Juffermans will certainly want to come away with a win.