Tom Vodanovich enjoying his basketball ride

By James Perry

Since returning home after four years at James Madison University in the USA, Tom Vodanovich is quickly making his way to the top of the local basketball scene.

He made his international debut in the Tall Blacks' 95-69 thumping of Jordan in Christchurch last Thursday.  It capped off a memorable, if not fast, rise for the 24 year old. 

"At the moment man, I'm just riding the wave.  Everything's sort of happened so quickly."

When he returned to New Zealand from Virginia in 2017 Vodanovich joined the Southland Sharks for the 2018 NZ National Basketball League.  They caused something of an upset, beating the Wellington Saints in the final. 

"Since then it's sort of snowballed into this.  Here I am.  I hope this isn't the end."

Since winning the NBL with the Sharks, the 2.01m tall forward has been included in the Breakers development program, and made his Australian NBL debut, scoring 3 points against the Cairns Taipans.

Vodanovich has also earned selection in the Tall Blacks squad this year before getting an unexpected call-up last week to replace injured Breakers team mate Finn Delany.

"I went down there with no expectations of how much I was going to play," he says, "When my name got called to get out there was earlier than I would've expected and it was just an unbelievable experience to get out there in the black singlet."  He contributed 11 points on debut.

What made the night more special for the Ngāi Tahu lad was his sister, who lives in Christchurch, got an opportunity to watch him live. 

Two days later he made an appearance in the 97-74 win over Syria that clinched the Tall Blacks a spot in the Basketball World Cup next year in China.  That game was in his hometown of Wellington, where the rest of his family got a rare chance to watch him play live. 

"It's just so special to have the people that support you come and check out those games and to be able to watch it live rather than streaming it on Māori Television is awesome."

Vodanovich spent four years at James Madison University, two hours south of Washington D.C. where he graduated with a degree in Sports and Recreation Management.

"When I finished school in New Zealand I found the opportunity to head over to the States, so I went over to try and get a degree," he says.

He mixed his studies with playing basketball for JMU, where they played around 30 games over the course of 3 months.

"It does take it out of you sometimes when you're trying to balance it with school, but, man, it was a good experience," he says, "Hopefully I get to use my degree one day when all this basketball stuff's died down."

Having had a taste of international basketball, and spending time with the Breakers this year, Vodanovich is happy to keep riding the wave, wherever it goes. 

"If I run out of options, I'll start looking for options."

He wants to see more of the world, "doing what I love," but if his career keeps him at home in New Zealand, or Australia, "that's perfect."

If his basketball path continues in the direction it has this year, his degree may be waiting a little while yet.