TALL ORDER FOR FORMER WASP
Friday, July 20, 2012
Matt Leigh is developing cult figure status at Knox Basketball, although he is not one to draw attention to himself. Given the nickname ‘Bruce’ by his teammates, when Leigh steps on the floor a buzz comes across the State Basketball Centre from both his teammates on the bench and the Raiders faithful in the crowd.
In his first season in the Knox Under Armour Raiders SEABL team, it has been a massive learning curve for Leigh, the biggest challenge perhaps matching up against Lester Strong each training session, but Leigh couldn’t be happier.
“Playing at such a high level of basketball, and playing with the type of guys on the team like Sean (Carroll), CJ (Massingale) and Lester is only going to make me better, so I’m really enjoying it.”
Leigh’s route to Knox’s senior program surely was not traditional, leaving representative basketball at 15, the end of his top-age under-16 season.
“I was getting a little sick of it, so a combination of that and going into VCE I decided to take a bit of a break.”
Although Leigh had a break from the Knox Raiders junior program, he continued to play with the Wasps Basketball Club in the Junior Domestic Competition, as well as with his friends at school which reignited his passion for the sport.
“I enjoyed that a lot more than when I was playing Raiders back in U16s, and I started to really like playing basketball again, so at the end of year 12 I thought I’d see if there was a team I could get into and ever since I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Leigh began playing basketball at the age of seven, starting off in the Wasps ‘Little Stingers’ program designed to teach children the basic rules and fundamentals of basketball.
He went on to play with the Wasps Basketball Club for ten more years, with some of his fondest basketball memories coming from playing in the Knox Basketball Junior Domestic Competition.
“I was fortunate to be playing with a group of my friends in a really good team that played in a lot of grand finals, our arch-rivals were always All Stars,” Leigh said.
The 20-year-old began his Junior Raiders career at age ten, making the U12/1 team in his first season in the program, coming as quite a surprise to his parents according to Leigh.
After five years in the program the burnt-out Leigh was unsure whether he would return to that level of basketball, giving up playing with Knox at age 15.
“I wasn’t sure if I would come back, I didn’t really know when I stopped at U16s, but I did (comeback) and I’m happy.”
Raider veterans Carroll and Massingale coached Leigh as a junior, with the 201cm centre admitting to finding the proposition of playing with Carroll unusual, whilst remembering some advice Massingale gave him in U16s.
“In U16s CJ was our Assistant Coach, and he said at one training session you guys should have some type of goal for basketball like where you want to go. I’d seen the SEABL trainings as they trained before us, and hoped I could play in that one day, but I never really thought I’d actually ever be good enough. To be playing in that team now is pretty exciting for me,” Leigh modestly expressed, as if he had to pinch himself being in disbelief about how fortunate he is.
Leigh did play another season of junior Raiders – U20s under coach Mick Colgrave, which coincided with beginning his senior Raiders career in the Knox Under Armour Raiders D-League team in 2010.
In his two years in the Raiders D-League team Leigh continued to improve, with his greatest basketball memory coming in 2011 when they won the D-League championship against Nunawading.
“I didn’t play that much, but I was just excited to be a part of the team and to win the championship was pretty special.”
As Leigh continues to progress on the court under the watchful eye of coach Graham Longstaff, he is also blossoming off the court, studying a degree in Mechanical Engineering at Monash University.