PLAYING in an undefeated team with plenty of help surrounding her is obviously enjoyable for Mandurah Magic legend Casey Mihovilovich, but to see the club thriving with a brand new facility makes her even more proud.
Mihovilovich has put together a remarkable SBL playing career with the Magic becoming the only female player in league history to get to 400 games at the one club and to only be behind Sue Williams (512) on the all-time games played list.
Along the way she won the league’s MVP award in 2012 and is a nine-time Magic MVP winner having started her career as a 14-year-old.
But to her everlasting credit and showing her remarkable commitment, Mihovilovich’s form has never dropped off and she remains one of the very best and most effective guards in the league who scores, makes plays, rebounds, defends strongly and is always one of the league-leaders in steals.
She is enjoying having a back court star in Nici Gilday alongside her in 2017 with the Magic so far undefeated winning their opening six games following last Saturday night’s thumping 99-58 win over the Joondalup Wolves.
Winning is great, but it’s the bigger picture for Mihovilovich that she has always had an eye on and she was always going to play on in 2017 to ensure she was there for the opening of the redeveloped Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre.
Being part of a successful team in the Women’s SBL is a bonus, but it’s overall health of the club that Mihovilovich holds most important.
“I knew I was always going to play this year because of the fact that I wanted to play in this stadium. This is my 21st year playing for this club either side of having children and having major surgeries, and I’ve waited for this for so long that I was always going to make sure I played in this building,” Mihovilovich said.
“I think I’ve lost four grand finals along the way and we haven’t been too far away the last few years, but to be honest that isn’t what motivates me the most.
“Everyone always says it must be that championship that drives me on and obviously I would love that, but I am so involved in this club and help them out with finances, trying to get sponsorship and running a major fundraiser every year.
“So it’s actually not just about basketball for me anymore, it’s about the whole organisation being successful and its longevity. I really measure my success on the girls that are coming up as well as how well the organisation is going off the basketball court.”
Mihovilovich has also revelled in the arrival of star import guard Gilday to play alongside her in the back court this year. No longer does she have the pressure on trying to dominate for the Magic with their fortunes resting on her shoulders as the point guard.
She can still run the point at times but can also defer to Gilday while shifting to the two spot. She couldn’t be happier with the way it’s working out so far.
“It takes a lot of that pressure off me and the other girls are up for the challenge as well. I believe that this year regardless of if we got an import guard in or not, the younger girls are more confident and capable as the years go on of stepping up,” she said.
“It’s great to have Nici here but it’s also great to see the younger girls develop and actually be confident as well. It’s fantastic having Nici though, I’m really enjoying it. I’m not as sore after a game as I was and I’m even feeling good enough to go to the gym the next morning.
“It’s helped me have a lot more energy so it’s great for me, but it’s helped the other girls a lot as well. I always said to Randy that I wanted someone I can compete against and who can help me get better because I don’t feel like I’m done yet. I want to get better and I’ve always felt if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it properly.”
It’s far from a Magic team just based around Mihovilovich and Gilday though.
WNBL championship winner Carly Boag is providing an imposing inside presence but it’s also much more than her arrival that is behind the 6-0 start.
Bree Klasztorny being healthier and hitting court without interruption has given Mandurah some added bite too while Rachel Halleen, Emma Klasztorny, Rachel Pettit, Aimee Coles, Kasey Miegel, Morgan Ballantyne, Emmah Gardner and another new arrival Kelly Bailey are more than handy pieces too.
“We definitely do have a great team together and we’ve always been a young group except for a few of us who bring that average age up,” Mihovilovich said.
“But a lot of the girls are one year older now and everyone has been working hard, everyone knows the structure and system, and basically we are the same team except for adding Nici, Carly and Kelly.
“They have made a nice change for us and it’s always good to add a couple of new faces. They have fitted in really well and Randy and Patty have picked well, and we are really happy and they are great girls. They fit into our family as a basketball club and things couldn’t be going any better so far.”
Having played in the losing grand finals of 2003, 2005, 006 and 2009 and obviously the perfect finale to her remarkable career would be to win that elusive first championship for the Magic.
She is feeling physically good at the moment too on top of enjoying being part of the winning team.
“In terms of a championship, I always play to win and that is a drive because I still have that winning tiger in me. But I want to win every game I play in. That obviously means I want to win that championship, but I want to keep playing and keep winning,” she said.
“I struggled a little bit when I first came back this year but Randy is very good about it and I don’t start training until late January.
“I’ve had Achilles problems for about three years, but that is feeling good now and I concentrated hard on my rehab. I feel a lot better and stronger at the moment, and a lot fitter than the last couple of years. Hopefully I can carry that on and remain injury-free for the rest of the season.”
Making Mihovilovich’s story and commitment to the Magic on and off the basketball court becomes all the more remarkable when you consider she has two sons, Brock and Will, with husband Ben and continues to work at the City of Kwinana.
Juggling work, family and basketball is something she honestly isn’t sure how she does it. But the fact that she gives full commitment in every area while having understanding and support on every front allows it all to work relatively smoothly.
“I honestly don’t know how I juggle it all, but I’m late for training every night and hopefully they all understand that. I’ve got to the stage where I’ve been here early a lot and I hope those girls are able to continue playing when they have families, and understand that it’s OK to be late and don’t feel guilty about it,” Mihovilovich said.
“I still get here and when I am I give all my effort into the court. It is hard to juggle everything but I couldn’t do it without the support of my family. That’s one thing that I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have their support. Because I have such great support from everyone around me I just find a way to do everything that I do.
“And it’s different here. We always have fun at training and the girls are great to hang around with afterwards. I think they drive me to keep playing and if it wasn’t a nice environment, I wouldn’t be here.
“But I’m invested in that too and try to make it a nice environment for all of them to want to be here, and we set the standards of the behaviour we expect. We’re open and honest with each other, and that ends up creating fun times for everyone.”
Retirement has never previously crossed Mihovilovich’s mind and she was never going to stop playing while awaiting the chance to play in the brand new facility in Mandurah.
But she does know the end is coming and that it’s time to focus on her family before perhaps inevitably getting back involved in a coaching sense down the track.
“I’m not going to lie, I do think about when it will come to an end. To be honest this is the first year I’ve seriously weighed it up though. I want to study more and I’m not sure I could do that with basketball and giving my family enough time,” she said.
“It’s just a matter of what I do and how I can juggle that which will decide how long I keep going for. I would still help out the club off the court, but I wouldn’t coach for a while. Once I stop playing, it’s time to focus on my kids. They play sport and I miss out on that sometimes and I need to give them a few years of a thank you before I would even consider coaching.”
Speaking of her sons Brock and Will, seeing them cheer her on courtside is something that gives Mihovilovich and undoubted lift.
The added bonus is they are more than willing to offer their help when she is working out and shooting in the morning.
“Both of them come to games screaming out ‘Go Magic, go Magic’ and they never want me to quit. They want me to keep playing forever,” Mihovilovich said.
“And with my youngest son, after I come to shoot at 5.30 in the morning I get home an hour later and he questions me why I didn’t wake him up so he could come with me.
“He is really into the basketball and it’s something that my kids love. They love coming to watch and they have all the Magic kit and it’s great to see them enjoy it.”
Photo by Mick Cronin