If you put a challenge in the way of Werribee basketball rising star Maddi Puli, she will invariably find a way to overcome it.

The first signs of Puli’s determination to conquer a pressure situation came when she was an under-14 player at the Werribee Devils.

Puli missed the cut for the first team representative squad, but instead of putting that into the too hard basket, she used it as motivation.

“That made me work harder to try and make the first team the next year,” she said. “What I like about basketball is the opportunity to develop and get better is always there.”

Since that knock-back, Puli has made a rapid rise into multiple Victorian under-age state teams, Australian under-age representation and a development spot on a WNBL roster.

Now 18, Puli has the basketball world at her feet. She is striving to the make the cut for the Australian Gems under-19 team that will play at the world championships later this year.

Only recently, Puli was informed that she was accepted on a basketball scholarship to Texas Christian University, a division 1 basketball college.

The four-year scholarship will allow Puli to mix her studies with hoop dreams.

“It’ll be an unbelievable opportunity,” she said. “We’re in a really tough conference in the Big 12, so there’s some really tough games in there and it will be good to put myself up against some of the best in the country.”

Before Puli jets off to the US in June, she will leave no stone unturned in her bid to make the Gems squad.

Representing Australia is not new to Puli – she did so at under-17 level at the Oceania championships in 2017.

“It’s honestly surreal putting on the green and gold,” she said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling going out and knowing that you’re representing the country for your age group.”

Making the final cut for the Gems under-19s in a world championship year is a whole different kettle of fish. She was rejected for the Gems squad last year, but that will motivate her this time around.

“It will be a tough camp, but I’m looking forward to it,” she said.

A good indication of how much Puli wants to succeed in the sport is commitment to get to her training sessions with the Dandenong Rangers. Before she turned 18, her mum and dad had the task of driving from Werribee to Dandenong up to four times a week in peak hour traffic so she could take her place as a development player on a WNBL roster.

Thankfully for her parents, Puli was successful in her driver’s test and can take herself to training now.

Puli has lapped up every minute of her time with the Rangers, in particular the chance to debut off the bench in a WNBL game.

“Playing against some of the best players in Australia for the women’s league has helped me grow,” she said.

Puli is the April nominee for the Don Deeble Rising Star award.

The award, hosted by the Sunshine Western Region Sports Club and

Star Weekly, recognises young athletes from the western suburbs who have achieved outstanding results at state and or national levels. Puli will receive $1000 and other prizes, donated by the Yarraville Club Cricket Club, to assist her in achieving her sports goals.