DAMIEN Skurrie has a lot on his plate heading into the 2019-20 Country Basketball League season.
The 160-game Horsham Hornets centre, who turns 39 next week, will seek another premiership with the side while raising two children and being on call during the summer bushfire period.
Though best known for his football career, Skurrie, a Wotjobaluk man born in Stawell, played a lot of basketball with the town's association as a child.
"I was probably more heavily involved (in basketball) than I was with football in my junior years," he said.
"As you do growing up you try out for selection in state sides, and I was never tall, if you can believe that, back in the early days," he said. "I always felt myself getting cut from sides, so I decided to pursue football as most of my other friends did at the time, and I found I was pretty OK at that as well."
It wasn't until his late teens, following a growth spurt, that Skurrie returned to basketball.
By then, he had played football with Stawell, Navarre, the Greater Western Victoria Rebels and the Horsham Demons. Skurrie moved to Horsham at 15 after his mother, Aunty Suzy Skurrie, found work at the Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Co-operative.
"I had a burning desire to have a crack (at basketball) again before I got too old for it I guess," he said.
Football remained his key sport, however. Across the 2000s, Skurrie won several Wimmera Football League premierships at the Horsham Demons, captained an all-Australian Aboriginal side in an Australian Country Football Carnival - a career highlight - and was briefly on the Western Bulldogs' rookie list.
Skurrie's relationship with the Hornets began when he took a year's break to manage his body after winning WFL premierships with the Demons from 2003 to 2005.
"I was looking at other things I wanted to try and someone mentioned basketball and I thought 'let's have a crack'. Owen Hughan had a good chat to me about a potential role with the program, so he sort of presented an option to me," he said.
"Steve Bruce, Matt Lovell and (Hornets 2019-20 coach) Tim Pickert were also big influences, saying 'you can do this Skuz and we can help you'. It was just a matter of working on my skill set a little bit more to get to where I am now.
Overall Skurrie has spent ten years playing and assistant coaching with the Hornets on and off. He said he felt he was not too old to compete at the highest level, and had a few people to thank for keeping him athletic into his late thirties.
"I feel I still have those competitive juices flowing through my body," he said. "There are probably some games where I feel like I shouldn't be playing.
"You only have to look at some of the people coming through the system now like Jeremy McKenzie and Sam Breuer - they're all as tall as me and play hard. But that sort of keeps me going as an old-timer, if I feel like I can compete against those guys it keeps me motivated."
"I like to think I can influence kids at times. We host coaching clinics at times where we have the younger kids come along and show them a few pointers. Some of those in the under-12 or under-10 levels have quite developed skill sets, so sometimes it's just a matter of helping them bring it all together."
Skurrie is raising two children - Xavier, aged eight, and Georgia, aged four - with partner Belinda Frost. He said the need to be a role model on diet and exercise had helped him stay match fit across the years.
"They're quite active and busy children, so I'm always on the go," he said.
"Without that and work it sort of makes it impossible to compete at that highest level week in and week out. I also learned a lot about nutrition while on the Western Bulldogs list."
During the week, Little Desert, the Grampians and Mount Arapiles are Skurrie's office. He works as a Wimmera team leader for fire and emergency with Parks Victoria.
Basketball season and fire season overlap in Victoria, and the nature of Skurrie's work means he sometimes has to forgo matches to be ready for periods of fire danger.
"We're coming into the busy time of year in terms of recruitment and prevention works," he said.
"We run standby rosters because fire doesn't happen between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday. I'm pretty forthcoming with that at the start of the season and I try to make myself available for basketball and work commitments. It's no easy feat at times but I think I do it well."
The Horsham Amateur Basketball Association presented its 2019-20 men's and women's Country Basketball League teams with their singlets on Tuesday night. Skurrie was given the number eight, which he has had for the past few seasons.
In the 2018/19 season, the men finished on top of the ladder before falling to Bacchus Marsh 77-69 in the semi-finals. The women finished second before the Millicent Magic beat them by nine points in the semi-finals.
The Hornets kick off their season in Horsham on Sunday afternoon, with the women's and men's teams hosting the Magic, and Skurrie is quietly confident they can win this season's premiership.
"That's the reason why you compete at this level," he said.
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