At 16 years of age, Josh Berry has big dreams when it comes to the sport he loves.
"I want to play the highest level of basketball I can — college in America or a point guard for the NBA," he said.
The promising Naracoorte athlete is hoping to land a coveted place in a new pilot program, aimed at closing the gap between the facilities and opportunities offered to young metropolitan athletes and their regional counterparts.
Launched this Friday, the Limestone Coast Sporting Academy Pilot program will offer an intensive year-long strength, conditioning and education program to 12 athletes, aged between 13–18 years, in South Australia's south-east.
The program will be jointly funded by the Limestone Coast Local Government Association (LCLGA) and the State Government's Office for Recreation and Sport.
Academy coordinator Tony Elletson said the program would include education and skills required to make it in professional sport, including diet, sports psychology, resilience and planning, delivered by top-level coaches.
Mr Elletson said best of all, the selected athletes would be able to train at home, in their own town's gyms and sporting fields, with specially trained local coaches.
"It gives some kids with some talent to be able to do their training in their hometowns and not have to travel miles and miles on the road all the time, to be getting the same sort of training programs they normally have to travel to Adelaide for," he said.
Mr Elletson said selectors would be looking for talented young athletes currently competing at an interleague or regional zone level but who may be on the cusp of state or national selection.
"It's really exciting. It is an enormous opportunity for those kids selected."
The distance factor
Some big sporting names have emerged from the south-east in recent years, including marathon runner Jess Trengove, who grew up in Naracoorte, and Millicent footballer Sarah Allan, who was part of the premiership-winning Adelaide Crows in the AFL Women's competition.
All are familiar with the main hurdle preventing regional athletes from pursuing their sporting dreams — the tyranny of distance.
Over the past few years, Josh and his father and coach Craig have spent each weekend travelling up the Dukes Highway to Adelaide, for Josh to play and train with the Mount Barker Eastern Mavericks.
"It was a massive commitment. Expensive, the whole time factor and sacrifice to the whole family."
Josh has been playing basketball at an A-grade level since he was 12 years old, and Mr Berry said the travelling allowed his son the chance to play in a more professional and structured competition.
"It was a totally different level," he said. "It gave him more of a challenge to push himself and play against a lot better calibre teams."
To carry out his dream of playing basketball at the highest level, Josh also has to overcome another hurdle — size.
Currently 178cm, the height of the average point guard for Australian and American basketball teams is about 194cm.
With the help of the program and access to professional coaches, Mr Berry believes his son will gain the mental and physical edge to succeed in the sport he loves, no matter what his height is.
"We're hoping that all the hard work he's put in over the years will push him to the level that he deserves," he said.
Bridging the gap
The program is also looking for coaches interested in working with the selected athletes.
The coaches will receive special training from coach Tony Checker, a strength and conditioning coordinator for Netball Australia and SANFL Under 18s.
As a coach with more than 10 years experience, Mr Berry believes the program will be a game-changer for promising young regional athletes.
"I've coached a lot of kids over the years who probably had the potential to go a long way in various sports, but it's having that life coaching to keep them on track and help them understand what sacrifices need to be made and how dedicated you need to be to get there," he said.
After the pilot is complete, Mr Elletson said organisers hoped to expand the program and offer it to a wider range of athletes.
As Josh moves ahead with his sporting hopes and pursuits, his longtime coach and dad is hoping program selectors pay attention to the 16-year-old point guard.
"Basketball is his dream and it's always been his dream," Mr Berry said.
"As a parent, you're pretty proud of the efforts he makes to pursue his sporting goals and I know how hard he works.
"He's been so close to so many things and hopefully this will give him the edge he needs."
Applications for athletes and coaches are available at the LCLGA website.