Height and strength are on his side, but character matters most to Josh Duinker
Just shy of 7 feet tall, Dutch-Aussie centre Josh Duinker says it fulfilled a dream to slam baskets for his childhood heroes the Sydney Kings.
"It's been a dream to play in my home town," says Josh, who turns 26 this April. "And it's a real pleasure to play with these high character guys."
After a scholarship with Richmond University in the USA, the 104kg Kings No. 8 gained experience in the Spanish league, then had a stellar 2014 in Holland as the league's best rookie and centre, earning him a place on the Dutch national team.
The intrepid traveller's next stop will include an all-too-brief honeymoon with American soon-to-be wife Courtney Dixon as he joins NZ NBL team Nelson Giants from April, right after the King's NBL season ends.
Josh recognises it has been a tough year for the Kings due to loses and injuries but points out "it's not all doom and gloom" with big wins against Perth and New Zealand.
While expressing his hope that Sydney's oldest team will regroup into their former glory, Josh told Challenge about his character reformation during his youth.
Like many on college campus, Josh admits he was "mainly building my life around myself".
"I would go crazy at parties and drink a lot," he says. "I tried to pursue pleasure, but it would never satisfy.
"Basketball became an avenue where I could get rid of my anger and frustration and leave it on the court.
"I felt there was an empty space in my heart. I knew there was a God and that I was not right with Him. I felt there was something more."
The answer came to him on a bus trip with his college team the Richmond Spiders.
"I saw two teammates on the bus reading the Bible. I thought, 'No-one ever reads the Bible!'
“I [left] my anger and frustration ... on the court”"They said, 'You can have a personal relationship with Jesus.' That was really foreign to me."
One of those teammates became his roommate and invited him to meetings held by FCA, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, where he heard "really interesting testimonies of athletes who live for Jesus and play sport."
"I believe in the Bible and I knew that I was not perfect in the eyes of God; I had done wrong, and that I needed to have a means of knowing forgiveness for my sins.
"I looked at other religions, but I knew that Jesus was the only Saviour who had laid down His life, paid the punishment for my sins, and He rose to life so that I could live."
He then weighed up whether he wanted to give up partying and female conquests to know Jesus' love and forgiveness. A fellow athlete then explained that what he was giving up was nothing compared to what he would gain.
"I will never forget what a baseball player in college said to me, 'Knowing Jesus is like giving up a bowl of cereal for a four course meal.'"
Josh began thinking, "Maybe I am limiting God – maybe He does have more in store for me than what I think."
In October 2008, his second college year, Josh recalls, "I asked God for help. I acknowledged I couldn't do it on my own and I needed Him to live the way He intended me to live."
That December he was baptised in water as a public declaration of his new life in Jesus.
"I was baptised with many of the guys I had been partying with in the past. To make a stand together for Jesus was really big. God was doing something special on campus."
After this, Josh says, "God changed the desires of my heart. He replaced my 'heart of stone' and gave me a heart of flesh with new desires, as Ezekiel 36, verse 26, says.
"Immediately the desire to go out and go crazy at parties and drink a lot was gone. He gave me the desire to just want to please Him in everything, even in basketball."
His on-court anger faded away, he says, because "when I understood and experienced the love of God I had what the Bible calls 'the peace that passes all understanding'."
This love of God also changed the way he viewed his former lifestyle and gave him "a love for people".
"A relationship with Jesus means experiencing His love. He is a loving God and He wants us to know Him and His good purpose for our lives."
Now on the court as Kings No. 8, Josh says, "I am reminded of the eternity symbol, the everlasting life I have in Jesus, and that I want to glorify God with the tools and abilities He has blessed me with. The source of my passion to play basketball comes from God."
Josh encourages those on the fence to freshly consider that "God always has the best intentions for our lives, so no matter what we're going through, good or bad, you can never go wrong if you pursue Jesus." •
Follow Josh on Instagram @joshduinker