‘Do it for my culture’: NBL1 star Jesse Ghee goes pro

Jesse Ghee has become one of the first few Torres Strait Islanders to play professionally internationally. Picture: SUPPLIED

Former NBL1 Dandenong Rangers point guard Jesse Ghee has become one of the first few Torres Strait Islanders to play professionally internationally, and he now hopes to see more players follow in his footsteps.

At 28, the point guard realised his dream to play overseas, signing with Xirdalan BC team in the Azerbaijan Basketball League, located at the boundary of Eastern Europe and West Asia.

Ghee said the experience has been a rollercoaster, but he’s enjoyed every second of the ride.

“It’s easier and more comfortable to stay at home and play in the leagues in Australia, but to take a step out and experience something new is amazing,” he said.

“Being around a different culture, trying new foods and learning a new language has been challenging, but I love a good challenge.

“I’m proud as a Torres Strait Islander to do it for my culture, people and family.

“It’s something that will always be with me, part of my legacy and my story.

“I still have a lot more work to do but I’m enjoying where I’m at and where life is taking me.”

Ghee was named MVP for his standout season at the Goldfield Giants in Western Australia in 2022, along with playing for Dandenong Rangers, Northside Wizards and the Ipswich Force in Queensland, and spent two seasons in the US playing college basketball for the Fullerton Hornets in California.

It’s been two decades of shooting hoops to earn his prime position, and Ghee credits his mother and sister for sparking his passion.

“Growing up, I lived on the north side of Brisbane but played in South Brisbane, meaning my mother, older sister, and I would catch buses or trains to go to my games when I was young,” he said.

“Both my mother and sister played as well, so being around them and their games inspired me to play.

“I remember at a young age I would watch my sister play her games at night.

“I used to be so tired, in my pyjamas, past my bedtime but would want to be there.

“I loved the sound of the ball bouncing on the court, how the game was being competitively played, the squeaking of the shoes on the court, and when that ball went through the net, it felt so natural to be around.

“I didn’t ever want to leave that environment.”

He’s worked with fellow Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander, NBA Champion and Australian Boomers Bronze Medal winner Patty Mills, helping run the NBA star’s Indigenous Basketball Australia program, and aims to continue helping kids not get overlooked in the same ways he was as a teen.

“Growing up, I never made the top teams, the state teams, the Australian teams.

“I had to continuously work to not only prove people wrong, that I can do it my way, and get to where I wanted to get to, but to do it for my family.”

There’s been a lot of obstacles in his career, from injuries to big losses, but Ghee’s biggest challenge to bounce back from has been his mental health.

“I think not only in basketball but in sports, it’s not talked about enough,” he said.

“I didn’t understand what it really was until I dealt with it personally.

“I’m so in love with the game that it’s dangerous and sometimes I don’t know how to detach myself from it.

“I had to take two steps back to take 10 steps forward and really understand myself, even if it was painful and uncomfortable.

“I learnt a lot about myself, and with the help and guidance of my coach, I was able to see different ways to approach, attack and overcome these negative thoughts and feelings that affected me on and off the court.”

From his college years in California, to playing in NBL1 teams across small country towns to the big cities, Jesse has had to constantly adapt his game to the culture of his surroundings.

He wants to see more of his own culture represented, with indigenous players not only in the leagues in Australia but in Europe and the NBA.

“My mother always told me to give back to the community,” Ghee said.

“For me to be accomplishing my dream with the support she gave me, and also from my sister, I want to share that and help the next ones up.

“I’ve done it my way, and I want to show that there are other ways to be successful outside of Australia and America.

“I want to change the mentality and mindset of what I grew up around and inspire kids to be different, that you don’t have to follow but you can be your own leader and do it your way, achieving all your goals and dreams.”