The Melbourne star in the Maltese National Team

Monday, June 17, 2013, 17:20

Ashleigh Vella of the Maltese Women’s National Basketball Team has competed for three countries in three continents for several different teams and has won two championships. Her travels with those teams have taken her all over Europe and over half of the states in the United States. And she is not even 23-years old yet.

The 1.85-metre tall Vella hails from Australia, but has played collegiate basketball in the United States and has competed with Malta since 2009. She has more basketball experience in her young age than most players will ever see in their entire career.

Vella possesses dual-citizenship in Australia and Malta. Her Maltese citizenship is by descent from her father Paul Vella, who moved to Australia with his family when he was young. Vella joined Malta in 2009, and these 2013 Games of the Small States in Luxembourg will be her fourth time with the team. In 2009, Vella was also a freshman at a university in the United States. Before that, she was representing Melbourne and All-Australian club teams.

Vella has donned numerous jerseys in her career, and she is proud to have been a representative for each one of them.

“Anytime I can represent my country,” Vella said, “it is a wonderful experience and I feel proud. I have represented Australia when I was younger, and playing for Idaho State was an honour as well. When I first came to Malta, it took me awhile to get connected because I was only here for three weeks at a time. But now it is a joy to come here and make Malta known and help bring some success in basketball to this country.”

Paul Vella was in contact with officials of the Maltese National Team that help coordinated his daughter to join the team. Having his daughter represent his home country brings a great deal of pride to him.

“To represent any country I think is a great honour,” said Paul Vella about his daughter representing Malta. “That my daughter represents my birth country, for me, is both an honour and a thrill that cannot be explained. Knowing her passion for the game of basketball is a mark of the true Maltese spirit within.”

Ashleigh Vella (6) in the 2013 GSSE

The Melbourne, Australia native has made her mark for whatever team she has represented. She started playing basketball at the age of four and showed great potential even at that young age. Paul recalled that she was once ejected from a game for being over-aggressive. It would be thataggressive play caught the attention of Idaho State University (ISU) women’s basketball coach Seton Sobolewski. Sobolewski offered Vella a full scholarship to the university located in the southeast Idaho city of Pocatello.

Travelling over 13,000 kilometres to play at a university that Vella had not even visited before was a huge leap of faith for her and her family. However, Ashleigh received huge support from her parents Paul and Rhonda and older sister Kirsty.

When talking about making the move to Idaho State, Vella said she received a really good feeling from Sobolewski. “That was really important for me,” Vella explained, “especially since I had not visited the school. I got a really good vibe from him. He seemed like a coach that really cared, and that was important.”

“As much as we knew we would miss Ash we also knew this was her passion and dream so we would never have stand in her way,” said Rhonda Vella, Ashleigh’s mother.

Vella produced tremendous success for herself and for Idaho State. She played in all 123 games during her career there, starting in all but one and winning 75. She is ranked fifth in all-time scoring with over 1,300 points and ranks sixth in rebounds with over 730. In her junior season of 2011-12, Vella helped lead ISU to the Big Sky Conference regular season title and conference championship. In the mean time, she was named conference player of the week several times and earned all-conference team honours.

“I had never thought that I would experience that kind of success in America,” Vella said. “And having success with Malta has made it all the better.” Vella plans on playing for Malta for as long as she can.

Most importantly, Vella gained an educationthat is invaluable to her. She earned her undergraduate degree in sports management in 2013 from Idaho State. She hopes to continue her education with a Master’s degree and would later like to become a coach or manager.

“Getting an education in America was incredibly important to me,” said Vella.

Ashleigh Vella with MBA President

She continued on that learning in schools in different countries has served her well.

“To go to an university in America I knew was going to be really good yet challenging. I did not know the American education system, but it has served me well. I have an education from different countries, not just one, and it is something I am grateful for.”

During all of her international experiences, Vella feels she has three countries to call home.

“I have relationships everywhere and feel at home everywhere,” she said. “I obviously consider Australia my first home, and America my second because of my university experience there. Now I definitely have relationships here in Malta and love playing here. I have life-long friends here.”

“I think being in America has also allowed Ashleigh to appreciate what she has more and where she came from,” says older-sister Kirsty. “I think she has matured into an amazing woman since she has been able to experience so much that life has to offer.”

Vella encourages any young player looking to play and study overseas to do so. She says living in an entirely new culture along with studying a subject you are passionate about challenges you and develops you to becoming a fuller person.

“Find something you enjoy,” she said. “It makes the entire experience all the more worth it.”

Vella’s favourite memory of playing for Malta so far was her first year in 2009 when Malta won gold in the Games of the Small States tournament in Cyprus. Malta’s women’s basketball team won the gold medal against Luxembourg 48-45.

“I felt like a little kid in a candy store,” she said. “We got to stay in the Hilton in Cyprus, we had buffet lines, huge rooms, free clothing and got to play in front of a lot people. I felt like a little celebrity. The Games are kind of like a mini-Olympics, so it my little taste of the Olympics.”

Vella was again part of the Maltese women’s national basketball who played in the Games of the Small States.

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