Chevannah Paalvast: Basketball Beginnings and Looking Forward
From the local courts watching her mum train to the thrill of representing her country, Chevannah Paalvast, 28, has always known basketball was for her. With a list of accolades under her belt including a WNBL title and a bronze medal at the Commonwealth games, coupled with her drive to continue pushing herself both on and off the court, Paalvast has her sights firmly set on World Cup and Commonwealth Games qualification and inspiring the next generation.
Where it all Began
“It’s really hard to explain because I was so young when I first started playing but my mum always tells the story of how my brother and I would go to her training sessions at night.
“Whenever the ball would roll away, I would always be the one to get it whereas my brother just had no interest at all. There was never one moment where I realised I loved basketball, it’s just something that I’ve always known.”
The early exposure to the game had Paalvast hooked, but at first it was just a chance to run around and play alongside her best friend.
“Basketball was just our thing, we used to go to the games and then we would go to the $2 shop and pick out a toy each.
“I’ve seen videos of me when I first started playing and I don’t touch the ball at all. All the boys would get touches on the ball and I was just focused on jumping over lines and having fun.”
High school provided that defining moment for Paalvast as basketball become more than just a social activity and for the first time she realised her playing ability could open doors to a future on the court.
Catapulting onto the radar of Basketball New Zealand at just 13 years old before going on to join the U16 and U19 National teams, Paalvast zeroed in on making the move to the States to play College Basketball.
“This goal of going to college entered my mind when I started high school and from that point on I was focused on making it to America and playing college basketball.”
Managing Distance, Opportunity and Equality
While the nomadic lifestyle of a player now feels so normal for Paalvast, it wasn’t always so.
Being away from mum Sherrol Paalvast for the first time after making a move to Monmouth University in New Jersey was both exciting and difficult at the start.
“I know this sounds cliché but my mum is my role model. She raised my brother and I as a single mum and did so much for me to get where I needed to go. I’m lucky that I have a little bit of family in the States but for the first three months I made her Skype me every night until I went to sleep.
“After around four months I got used to it, then it was the end of the year, and then two years. I’ve been away from home since I was 18 now, sometimes I go back for a period and then leave again. It’s harder now that my brother has children and you want to be around them but I’m just so used to it now.”
Once adapting to life abroad Paalvast didn’t want to leave, spending five years with the Hawks, playing 121 games and getting a handle on her competitive maturity. It was also during this time that Paalvast first came to recognise the gender gap between men and women in sports, by being in an environment that actively closed the gap.
“Growing up you don’t really notice it. I never noticed I was the only girl on a mixed team at the time or when I would go to camps and there would only be three girls there, I was just focusing on playing.
“In the states they have Title IX where women must have the same educational resources as men, so our program was run just as professionally, and our locker room was just as nice as the men’s locker room. It was a very female dominated sports team, our coaching staff were all women and you’re suddenly around all these strong women who have the same level of respect as any other athlete.”
The Moment it Nearly Ended
Turning pro after leaving the States, Paalvast chose to come to Australia to play professionally and test her ability while still being close to home
“Women’s basketball is really good here [in Australia] so I started in Big V and then earned some recognition and worked my way up.”
After stints with Townsville Fire (earning a WNBL championship), UC Capitals and in the QBL, Paalvast recalls a moment playing for the Tall Ferns that almost had her walking away from the court for good.
Qualifying for the Olympics is a dream most athletes strive for and Paalvast is no exception. So when New Zealand failed to get out of their group in the 2019 pre-qualifying tournament the blow was hard to take.
“We only missed out by a few points. Korea beat China and we weren’t expecting it, so we had to beat Korea by 13 points to qualify. We ended up beating Korea but only by four so it was really strange to win the game and yet lose at the same time.
“I was so focused on going to the Olympics and we’d all worked so hard to get to that point all for it to just end. I didn’t touch a ball for a month and a half afterwards and had no desire to play. In my head I was like no, I’m done.”
Looking back on Paalvast’s career physical injuries have never really been an issue but the mental fatigue and blow dealt with missing a qualification spot was almost too much to handle.
“It was like having your heartbroken and somehow you just need to work on moving on. I’ve had injuries before and encountered different obstacles, but it was really tough to pick up a basketball again after that. Once I did pick up the ball again I was fine, it was just mentally getting to that point that was difficult.”
The future is bright for Paalvast as the Tall Ferns aim for World Cup and Commonwealth Games qualification before turning to the Paris Olympics.
Now calling Queensland home, off the court her focus has shifted to the next generation of players just starting out. Knowing first hand the impact of discovering basketball as a child Paalvast is determined to get more young players in the game.
“My goal is to get kids exposed to basketball at a younger age. Often they’ll know what basketball is but they’ve never held a ball or actually given it a try. Once they try the game for themselves, they really enjoy it so that’s the focus with some of these programs I’m working on.
“The most important thing is that they [children] find something that they enjoy doing that they can really give their all to. If you enjoy doing it then do it, and it you can make a living out of it that’s great but if you have something that you enjoy doing then you should pursue that.”