NEWCASTLE - A CONVERSATION with a former coach on Facebook has led Fijian national women's representative Loma Mataika to the Newcastle Hunters for the rest of the Waratah Basketball League season.
The 29-year-old post player, who has represented Fiji since 2002, will make her debut off the bench against Bankstown Bruins at Broadmeadow today after Basketball Australia granted her a clearance this week.
Mataika has been studying for a design degree at the University of Newcastle since last July, having won a scholarship while working in Fiji for a company run by an Australian architect.
After arriving in Newcastle she made contact via Facebook with former Hunters coach Jon Hoyle, who coached her in Fiji seven years ago while he was working for FIBA as an Oceania basketball development officer.
Mataika had been playing socially in a midweek unisex league at the university but craved tougher competition, so Hoyle put her in touch with Hunters coach Paul Lyth, and he put her through her paces at training.
"I was in the United States with my family when Jon contacted me so I arranged for her to work with one of our players, Chloe Evans, then we took it further when I got back," Lyth said.
"She was a little bit rusty at first, but she has improved steadily.
"I think she can do a job for us defensively, and her shooting and her offence have improved.
"Her clearance has just come through so we'll bring her off the bench this week, and I think she'll really fit in well."
Mataika was on Fiji's gold medal-winning team at the 2007 Pacific Games in Samoa, and her career highlight came the following year when Fiji played international powerhouses Spain and Brazil in an Olympic qualifying tournament in Madrid.
At 181cm, Mataika is looking forward to banging bodies and using basketball to break up hours of reading and study.
"This has helped me vent a lot of stress," said Mataika, who has watched the Hunters win two of four games without her.
"It has been frustrating having to sit and watch the team play, but now I have a clearance I'm hoping to help out with rebounding and playing good defence and bringing some intensity."