Leader, mentor, friend. Joy Burke knows she has a lot more to offer Ballarat than just her basketball talent.
Growing up, the Ballarat Rush import never viewed herself as a ‘basketball player’, so when the label stuck and became an identity of sorts, Burke wanted to walk away from the sport.
Now, she says, she has come full circle and feels both honoured and privileged to be able to play the game she loves professionally. But she is determined not to have just one dimension.
“From what I’ve seen over the years, people who are retiring after successful careers can lose themselves a bit because their whole life has been the sport,” she said.
“But as athletes (we) expire, that’s why I’m really passionate about development off the court… I want people to know who I really am as more than a basketball player, just as a person.”
Burke, who plays under her Taiwanese name Hsi-le Bao, arrived at Ballarat Skoda Rush two years ago after a six-month stint with Bendigo Spirit in the Women’s National Basketball League.
With experience playing in the United States and at international level for Chinese Taipei, Burke returns for her third South East Australian Basketball League season with Ballarat largely due to the culture and the people.
“It was instantaneous, I had never moved somewhere where all of a sudden it just felt like home,” she said. “And that’s a special thing for me who has lived all around the world.”
While a community ambassador for Basketball Ballarat, Burke has stepped back from her community programs manager role with the club to invest more time in her work with schools.
Burke helps in the welfare department at Phoenix Community College through one-on-one mentoring sessions, while at Mount Clear College she is bridging the gap between international and non-international students.
“Growing up in a similar environment in Taiwan, I’m able to relate to these international students who have left their families at 15 and are maybe struggling to integrate into Australian culture,” Burke said.
“If there is anything in the community where there is a need or something we can be a part of in any way we’d love to help out no matter how out of the box it may be. What I keep telling everyone is there are really no strings attached… it’s something this club really prioritises and values.”
She said the players’ off-the-court activities had helped to create a family environment at the Minerdome because the players had a relationship with the fans.
The Rush vice captain is also a natural-born leader who shares her on-and-off-the-court experiences and takes imports under her wing.
For her, leadership is about service rather than titles.
While there seems to be a different feel among Rush in 2018 – a renewed grit, self-belief and hunger – Burke credits coach Eric Hayes.
“The person he is, the leader he is, he is able to get us to just play hard and for each other like no other coach,” she said.
“He is so big on stressing the little things... everybody has had to dig deep, but he is so completely invested, it makes it easy to want to play for him.
“We have something very special happening not just with our women’s program, also the men’s program. There is such a unity, it is going to be an exciting year.”