The Illawarra Hawks Daniel Grida. (Image: Illawarra Hawks website; Design: Madeline Irwin).

It’s been a challenging past few years but Illawarra Hawks’ Dan Grida is just happy to finally be back on the court.

Grida is forever indebted to the Illawarra Hawks fanbase. Five years on since signing on with the team, the Western Australian talent continues to embrace the support he receives from spectators.

“Playing for these fans here, our fans are awesome. The guys who come to the games are really loud and they’re always cheering their hardest for us.” Grida told The Inner Sanctum.

The fanfare is what helped the 24-year-old find motivation through a turbulent time in his life.

With an impressive rookie campaign putting his name on the map in 2019, Grida’s continued rise in the NBL would have to wait as a host of injuries would see him sidelined for an extended amount of time.

The young forward’s first major setback occurred while training with the Lakeside Lightning in March 2020 where he ruptured his ACL in his right knee, however, he made a return to court in the later part of NBL21. But a second tear to the same ligament put an end to his campaign the following season.

Grida’s run with injuries continued into NBL23, as a hamstring kept him sidelined until his long-awaited return against the Sydney Kings in Round 11. Since returning to the court, he has been making the most of his time.

“It’s been amazing. You know, I’ve been having a heap of fun. I’ve kinda tried to forget about doing everything right on the board and just trying to enjoy myself,” Grida explained.

“It’s been turning out good and I’m really enjoying it.”

The resilient Hawk spoke fondly about the supporters, explaining that the thought of a game-day atmosphere was used as motivation through his challenges of the past few years.

“I love playing important games with big crowds and on these big stages. I love playing in Perth with everyone there, it’s heaps of fun,” Grida said.

“I just have that in the back of my mind. The whole time I just wanted to get back to having that feeling of making a big play with a lot of people around, a lot of people cheering and playing for my teammates and coaches.

“I think that’s the best thing in the world playing basketball in front of a lot of people with a lot on the line.”

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Before the run of injuries hit him, Grida’s star in the league was on the rise.

He first ignited attention after it was announced that he signed on with Illawarra for the 2019/20 season. In his rookie campaign, the young forward placed third in the NBL’s Rookie of the Year voting.

The 197cm forward continued to attract further attention following his selection to the Boomers squad alongside former Hawks teammates Tim Coenraad and Emmett Naar, for the final window of world qualifiers the following year.

For the basketballer, the opportunity to represent his country is something that he’ll always cherish. Grida is hopeful for another shot to wear the green and gold in the future.

“You know, playing in those Boomers qualifying windows. That was one of the greatest moments of my life and I’ll never forget it,” he recalled.

“That’s another goal for me to get back to that. [To] play for Australia at some point again.”

When it came to Grida’s short-term objectives, the extended time away fuelled his hunger to return to the game. It was his main priority as it neared time for him to take to the court for the first time in the NBL23.

“The main goal was just to get back out on the court and then figure it out as I go. [To] just enjoy playing basketball,” he said.

“I was out of [the game] for close to two years with three major injuries. So just having fun, playing with my teammates and having a good time.”

The sociable aspect that is highlighted in Grida’s answers derives from the philosophy of one of the coaches he’s played under. It’s a philosophy that has stuck with the young Hawk, which he said that he’s held onto and tried to do these last few years in the league.

“A coach told me that playing a team sport with guys you love being around is one of the best things that you can do. Doing it at this level, at a professional level they said, is something to strive for,” Grida said.

For Grida, he’s been able to easily carry that mindset into the “really good environment” of Illawarra. Grida said he is “close with all the boys” and there’s a special bond he shares with a few of his Hawks colleagues that were at the Centre of Excellence program.

“Me, [Alex] Mudronja, Wani [Swaka Lo Buluk] and Sam [Froling], we were all at the AIS together when we were 17, 18, 19 [years old],” he said.

“We’ve known each other for years now, so it’s awesome playing with them at the pro level.

“But I love all my teammates here. We’ve got a really tight-knit team despite our record and where we’ve gone in our wins and loss column. We’re really tight, we really enjoy each other’s company.”

Being sidelined also saw Grida re-evaluate his dependency on gameday superstitions.

Many athletes have their own versions of the concept whether it be having a lucky jewellery charm, or wearing the basketball shorts of your opponents before a game to name a few.

But for Grida, he confessed that he’s decided for convenience that he’s ditching the concept of his sport rituals.

“I used to [have sports superstitions]. But ever since I got hurt I decided I’m just gonna do whatever I feel like doing and roll up to the game,” he said.

“It makes it easier because then if I somehow can’t do the ritual or whatever it is, the superstition, it won’t ruin my game because sometimes that can happen.

“Sometimes I try to have a nap before a game. If I can’t sleep, doesn’t matter. I just roll through and I just get to the game to go play.”

Grida on the court during Heritage Round. (Image: Illawarra Hawks Website)

Grida’s upbeat and laidback attitude shines through, both on and off the court. So it’s unsurprising that it’s helped him become a fan-favourite in the league.

Whether it’s the fans who “get around [him] at games” or “ask how [he’s] doing” on the street, Grida is appreciative of all the support he has received since his return to the court this season.

“I have a lot of pride putting on the Illawarra jersey. Everyone has taken me in since I was a 19, 20-year-old kid,” he admitted.

“So I love being here. Everyone has really supported me, especially through these last few years of being hurt.

“[I’m] just trying to win as many games as we can for these guys and a city that’s really taken me in over the last few years.”

Grida shared that the main expectations the team had were to go out and do what they’ve been doing so far in the remaining games. Though the curtains have now closed on Illawarra’s campaign, with the side going down against the JackJumpers in their final game of the season.

With the chapter closing on his fifth year in Illawarra, Grida is already looking towards ways he can improve his craft.

Grida has had to learn to slow down as his style of play is quick and full of energy. Although he has seen results, he admits that he’s still searching to grow his game even further.

“I’m a lot better when I channel that energy into the right spot and time of the game instead of going a hundred miles an hour all the time,” he explained.

“[I’m] waiting for the ball instead of going for it. Using all that energy over in the defensive end and channelling it into something good instead of flying around too much.

“Let[ting] the game come to me a little bit more but then also knowing when I have to go score or when I have to attack to give it everything I got.

“I think I’m still going in that area, I haven’t quite figured it out yet. But I’m definitely getting there.”

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