Class of 2017 forward Chantel Horvat is fast solidifying her place as one of the best junior players in the country. Having shone on a number of prominent stages – earning a scholarship at the AIS and representing both Victoria Country and Australia – Horvat’s stock received a massive boost with her phenomenal play at the recent U18 Australian Junior Championships.
Featuring in our all-tournament team , Horvat led all scorers with 21 PPG (50 FG%), with the next top scorer averaging a whole 4 points less. The 6’1” forward’s versatility was on full display, stuffing the stat sheet game in and game out, and causing problems for opposing teams on both ends of the floor. Along with her scoring, Horvat’s tenacity on the boards (10.4 RPG with 4.1 OFF) afforded her team plenty of second chances and transition opportunities. An athlete in every sense of the word, Horvat’s size and dynamism on the court causes fits for opposing players and coaches.
Whilst nationals may have felt like a coming out party of sorts, Horvat has little time to rest on her laurels with the FIBA U19 Championships coming up in July.
However, a tireless work ethic and dedication to improvement – as evidenced by a scoring 10 point jump in her scoring averages between last years and this years AJC’s – lend credence to Horvat’s claim to a spot on this Gem’s squad. These hopes have come into fruition with the recent announcement of Horvat having made the final squad.
Coming from a sporting-rich background (her father Steve Horvat was a staple in a number of Socceroos teams from 1994-2002), Chantel already has a number of tools and resources in place to succeed at the next level.
We caught up with the rising star to chat about representing her state and country, her experience playing SEABL with the CoE (Centre of Excellence) squad and her future ambitions for college.
AUSA: How was your experience at the AJC’s?
CH: It was a great experience; nationals are always a lot of fun. You put in all the hard work and preparation, and it’s good to see it come into play at the tournament.
AUSA: How did you feel your VIC Country team performed?
CH: Look, I think our team did really well. I don’t think that we were as happy as we could be with where we finished, we had higher hopes, but what can you do. If you lose in the quarterfinal then you’re done. NSW Metro played really well; we couldn’t fault their effort. We gave it a good shot; we just fell a bit short.
AUSA: How did you girls rebound from the loss against NSW Metro to win the last two games of the tournament?
CH: We are a really tight-knit group; we’re really close. The loss was devastating but we bounced back pretty quickly and came together as a team. It didn’t disrupt the dynamic of our group; we all still got out there and played the game as if we were still going towards that medal, [so we could] finish the tournament strong.
AUSA: What was the highlight of the tournament for you?
CH: I think the highlight was just playing games in general. Being up at the Institute [Australian Institute of Sport] I don’t play as many games as I used to so I was really looking forward to nationals, playing games before our SEABL season starts. Just getting out onto the court and playing.
AUSA: Personally, what was the toughest matchup for you?
CH: Ahh that’s a tough question. Throughout the tournament I was sort of matched up against everyone. Some games I didn’t have a specific matchup – I matched up against guards and bigs.
AUSA: Was there anyone that stood out?
CH: I’m trying to think… I don’t think I could pick anyone in particular. There were a lot of great players at the tournament. I couldn’t pick anyone in particular just because I had to play on a lot of different players – I didn’t necessarily have one specific player.
AUSA: How was the your experience last year representing Australia at the Oceania Championships?
CH: That was an amazing experience and it’s so great to put on the green and gold and represent your country. I think we did really well to get the gold, and words could not describe how proud I was to play in that tournament and how honoured I felt to be in that uniform.
AUSA: Playing against international competition vs. playing domestically, what were the main differences in the style of play?
CH: One of the main differences was probably the tempo – sort of faster but still controlled. Obviously you’re playing against bigger, stronger players than you would in your domestic competition – the matchups were harder.
AUSA: You were selected to participate in the Basketball Australia Development at the start of this year. These camps have a reputation for being very intense, how did you prepare for that?
CH: It wasn’t my first Aus camp, so I was a bit more prepared. I sort of knew how it was going to roll. You just gotta get out there and work hard. It’s really intense because you’re going up against some of the best players in Australia and you’re all trying to work hard to impress the coaches so it can get pretty full on at times, but it’s a really good atmosphere.
AUSA: You’re currently playing with the CoE [Centre of Excellence] SEABL team. Having to go up against older, more experienced players, are the differences in play comparable to that of playing overseas?
CH: They’re definitely a lot stronger. On the court you have to be a lot smarter, because they have had more experience. On the basketball court you’ve just got to know whom you’re playing against and play what they give you.
AUSA: At the U18 AJC’s you would have found yourself with a size and strength advantage over players you were matched up against. Did you find you have to adjust your own game when coming against these older players in the SEABL competition?
CH: I definitely don’t drive to the basket as much – [although] I still get some drives. Compared to playing against my own age group I’m taking a lot less shots and staying around the three point line and shooting from there. If I get the opportunity I’ll take it to the basket. We [the CoE team] still do a fair bit of transition running.
AUSA: What’s the team focus going into games?
CH: We’ve got a bit of a running game going, we’re quite an athletic team. We like to run, our coach always tells us to stick to our stuff and stick to our rules. Sometimes we have goals that we want to try and achieve, like keeping a team under 10 points for a quarter – things like that. Hopefully if we stick with that we’ll come out with more wins.
AUSA: After playing against older competition, are there any aspects of your game you feel like you need to improve on?
CH: I feel like all aspects of my game could improve! Ball security, limiting turnovers, knowing when to drive, when to take a good shot. Pretty much all aspects of the game. You’re playing against bigger, tougher matchups and you have to be smart and think of the ways you can beat them.
AUSA: Does it help having the veteran presence of Elyse Penaluna and Katie Ebzery on the team?
CH: Yeah definitely, they have so much experience, they can give us tips on the court and they know what to say when it comes down to different situations.
AUSA: Moving on to the future, have you had contact with any colleges?
CH: A number of colleges have been in touch since nationals.
AUSA: Are there any colleges you dream of playing for?
CH: To be honest, not necessarily. I obviously want to aim to get into a good college, and somewhere I can choose to study what I want to study – education is pretty important to me. Just getting over there would be a great experience. If I get the opportunity and I have offers it would be awesome.
AUSA: Would you consider playing overseas?
CH: I would love to play overseas; I would love to play wherever basketball takes me. I’m really into travelling so I’d love to see if basketball could help me see all parts of the world that’d be awesome.
AUSA: Who do you look up to in basketball?
CH: I really look up to players like Kristen Veal and Penny Taylor. Veal is one of my coaches and I love the way she plays, she’s so seamless. Her passing is just awesome. That’s a part of her game I really admire. Penny Taylor plays a similar position to me so I’d like to model my game after hers.
AUSA: Having played sports at an elite level himself, has your father’s experience helped you in your journey as a player?
CH: Guidance from my parents has helped me in many ways, and dad being an elite sportsman himself is helpful as he always gives great advice and always knows what to do.
AUSA: Before we finish up…how close are you to dunking?
CH: I couldn’t even tell you. I can lay it up and grab the ring… I haven’t really tried to dunk in ages [laughs].
AUSA: Thanks for your time, all the best with your preparations for July.
We spoke to Steve Horvat regarding his mentoring role, whom offered this:
“Obviously I can’t give Chantel too much guidance on how to execute a pick n roll but I guess where I like to assist are the things that cross over from any sport and hindsight that I have from my own experiences. I think I have pretty well drummed into her about the dedication you require to reach the very top of your sport. Many people see the glamorous side, the accolades, the awards, but don’t ever get to see the hours of blood, sweat and tears behind closed doors and in the gym. Having said that, from a very young age I never tried pushed her into anything and made sure the desire came from within, also that she needed to love the sport, always be humble and always look to improve. Both my wife and I are very proud of how she conducts herself both on and of the court.”
With the support of her family and a strong drive to succeed, the pieces are in place for Horvat to go the distance. Keep an eye out for the Gems in the upcoming U19 FIBA World Championships, held in Checkov, Russia from the 18th- 26th of July.