Justin Eckhardt has lived out some extraordinary highs on a basketball court.
The inevitable lows that come with a long career are par for the course and far outweighed by the memorable moments.
The 33-year-old’s love for the game has not wavered one iota, which is why the former NBL player put his hand up to play for the Altona Gators when asked by his cousin and coach, Des Radoslovic, even if getting from the locker room to the court can be a chore.
“Sometimes I walk around like a 50-year-old,” Eckhardt told Star Weekly with a laugh.
“I’m young in life but getting on in basketball years.”
More of a utility these days, Eckhardt knows how to find ways to the hoop, which shows in his 18.7 points and 7.5 rebounds a game average this season.
He was previously strictly a shooting guard, but with the Gators he is happy to plug holes.
“I’m a bit of a combo guard now, but I can play anywhere from one to five,” Eckhardt said.
“Scoring has been one of my major strengths, so I’ve figured out myriad ways to do it.
“I play the five-man role, especially in the stretch of the game if we’re trying to get points up really quickly.”
Eckhardt had experienced some dizzying heights during his career, but one thing that held him back was injury.
This season has been no different, with two different leg ailments making life difficult.
Earlier in the season, he was sidelined with blood circulation issues in his legs, which brought on sudden shots of cramp.
“It was a bit weird to be honest – it’s not something you often hear about,” he said.
But the most worrying is a recurring Achilles injury, which has been an issue for eight years.
“I’ve sort of learned how to manage it and play with it,” he said.
“Every now and then it flares up. I have to have surgery but I’ve been putting it off because the surgeon doesn’t know if it needs just a clean-out or a full reconstruction.
“If it needs a full reconstruction, I’m out for almost two years and I’m not really interested in that at the moment.
“The pain is like a hot pizza cutter that’s on constant rotation just pressed in there.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to walk after games but you switch it off during the game and get on with it.”
Basketball means a lot to Eckhardt and he would be the first to say he owes the game more than the game owes him.
The Maribyrnong resident moved to the US as a 16-year-old to play on the competitive high school basketball scene.
The Sydney-born, Perth-raised veteran also played overseas as an import in the Netherlands.
His most cherished moments came in the NBL, firstly as a member of Melbourne Tigers in the Andrew Gaze era and later in a championship season with Perth Wildcats.
In the lead-up to the 2000 Olympics, Eckhardt, a teenager at the time, had the chance to train with the Boomers squad.
“All the best NBL players converged down here before the Olympics,” he recalled.
“We had a chance to run around with 80 per cent of the Olympic team and the Victoria Titans and Melbourne Tigers players.
“We had some epic pick-up games for about two or three months. It was a who’s who at the time. It was good fun.”
In 2004, Eckhardt got to play 12 seconds on the floor against John Rillie, a member of the West Sydney Razorbacks at the time.
Rillie was an All-NBL first team player that year, a former rookie of the year and an NBL championship winner and his meeting with Eckhardt would be a blur.
But Eckhardt remembers it plain as day.
“I played only 12 seconds but he still managed to talk smack to me,” he said. “Then I scored on him, so I had something to say to him too.”
Eckhardt has been a three-point machine for the Gators this season, his 33 putting him second only to Collingwood’s Nicholas Ross.
The Gators will be looking to end a four-game skid when they face the third-placed Pakenham Warriors at the Swamp on Sunday.