THE basketball career of Mollymook Beach's Ziad El Tobgy continues to ascend after he was recently selected in the Illawarra Hawks division one youth league men's squad.
After spending all his junior career playing with the Milton-Ulladulla Dolphins, the 17-year-old teamed up with Scott Balsar and the Shoalhaven Tigers in 2019 - in an attempt to take his career to the next level.
"Playing with the Tigers gave me an opportunity to compete at a higher level and train with older guys who pushed me both on and off the court," El Tobgy said.
"It showed me the senior league is a whole new ball game and gave me a taste of what this league is like.
"The training I received from Scott [Balsar] and Jason [Funnell] last season was a huge factor in why my 2019 Southern Junior League season (with the Dolphins) was so successful."
So when Balsar and Funnell, as well as fellow Shoalhaven product Gavin Costain, decided to head to Illawarra for the 2020 campaign, the Ulladulla High School student decided to follow.
"When I was 15, Scott gave me an opportunity to join his squad," he said.
"The development I received from him was amazing, so when he asked me to join the Illawarra Hawks, where his new coaching job was, I saw it as another opportunity to improve my game and take it to the next level.
"On top of that, I'm excited to play with Gavin again - not only is he a teammate but he's also a good friend.
"It's always good when you find someone with a similar competitive edge so you can push each other.
"I'm happy to be working with him again - I love training with him because he pushes me to get better."
This was no more apparent than after the first training session at The Snakepit.
"I've loved the pre-season with Illawarra - it has given me a greater perspective of where I need to be in terms of physicality," he said.
"My mindset going into the pre-season was to prove that I belong on this court and show I am willing to put in the hard work on and off the court."
He has more than showed he belongs in the squad, turning many heads with his play over the past few months.
"I bring a hunger to win and a willingness to do whatever it takes," he said.
"Coming from a small club like Milton, I've always had to work twice as hard to prove myself.
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"I bring a killer mentality, an obsession to prove myself and a desire to learn everything I can from my coaches and teammates.
"I bring tenacity to the court and a work ethic that's second to none."
El Tobgy will get a chance to prove all this when the Hawks tip-off their 2020 campaign this Saturday against Manly-Warringah from 4pm at the Northern Beaches Indoor Sports Centre.
"I have no doubt being in this environment, with this coaching team, I will improve my game immensely," he said.
"My expectations are to improve all aspects of my game, get better every day and develop as a player.
"I plan to be like a sponge and soak in everything and try and better myself in every way I can.
"Specifically, I want to improve my basketball IQ, become more aggressive and assertive on the court, and develop patience and poise, so I can read the game better.
"Those are three things that I will focus on this year."
On top of these three facets, the Egyptian under 18s representative has set himself some goals for 2020.
"Personally I want to be able to prove myself in this new league and improve every time I set foot on a court, whether it's in training or in a game," he said.
"My goal, as always, is to simply get better by working hard and learning as much as I can from my older teammates and coaches every training session.
"My mindset is to be the hardest worker in the room.
"I'm excited to be able to prove that I'm not just a big fish in a little pond.
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"I want to be able to help our team achieve our goal of bringing home a banner - that is the only thing we are focused on."
As such, El Tobgy hopes a strong year on the hardwood can springboard him into future successes.
"I've always played for a small club where you have to fight for respect and earn everything by fighting tooth and nail," he said.
"I'm going into this next chapter of my basketball career with that same mentality.
"Playing for Illawarra will give me the space to build on the foundation I have, develop at a higher level and unlock the player I want to be."