Olivia Grgicevich Lassey, a promising basketball talent hailing from New Zealand, proudly wears her Croatian and Māori heritage as badges of honour.
Olivia, who was recently selected for the U17 New Zealand team, has just returned from Atlanta, Georgia, where she was one of ten players selected from the basketball without boarders Asia Pacific camp to participate in the NBA Global Women’s Academy Games.
With strong family ties to her ancestral roots, Olivia’s journey in the world of sports is intertwined with her multicultural background. Her deep connection to Croatia is evident in her family’s unwavering dedication to keeping their Croatian heritage alive.
In the true spirit of her Māori heritage, Olivia shares her cultural roots with her pepeha which is a way of introducing yourself in Māori;
‘Ko Sveti Nikola me Putauaki oku maunga
I was born under the mountains of Sveti Nikola and Putauaki
Ko Jadran me Ohinemataroa oku awa
The waters of Jadran and Ohinemataroa run through me
Ko Mataatua me Hravaska oku waka
I acknowledge all of my ancestors from Mataatua and Hravaska that have gone before me
Ko Nick Grgicevich raua ko Gordon Lassey aku tipuna
My Grandfathers are Nick Grgicevich and Gordon Lassey
Ko Maryanne Marinovich ko Elaine Clothier aku kuia
My Grandmothers are Maryanne Grgicevich and Elaine Clothier
Ko Zak Lassey toku papa, Ko Stefani Grgicevich Lassey toku mama
My parents are Zak Lassey and Stefani Grgicevich Lassey
Ko Olivia Grgicevich Lassey toku ingoa”
I am Olivia Grgicevich Lassey’
“I am a very proud Croatian-Māori with roots here in New Zealand and in my Dide’s home village in Gromin Dolac on the Island of Hvar, and Podgora where my Baba is from. My Dide and Baba have made sure Croatia is always part of our lives and we have been extremely lucky to have been back many times to see the house he was born in and spend time with family back in Croatia,” Oliver tells us, before adding. I personally feel I am the luckiest person in the world to be born into the two most beautiful countries in the world with the strongest family values and a deep passion for sport.”
“My mother is a staunch Croatian and is always talking about how much she misses Croatia, so I really hope to spend more time there as I grow and if all works out, hopefully play either football or basketball in Croatia.
A Love for Football and the Transition to Basketball
Olivia’s sporting journey began with football. She vividly recalls the electric atmosphere when her dide took her to a Hajduk Split match at Poljud Stadium which ignited her passion for the sport. The crowd’s energy, the chants, and the sheer love for the game left an indelible mark on her young heart.
“As a family, we always followed the leagues and in Croatia, we would go to the riva where we would watch football and it was where I saw the likes of Modrić play and I thought I just wanted to be just like him. I started playing football back in New Zealand at a young age and was lucky enough to travel to Australia, Scotland, and England but as I progressed through the age groups, basketball offered more opportunities and I could also play winter and summer, so I ended up being more involved with basketball than football,” she explains.
Olivia had the privilege of learning from some of New Zealand’s best coaches, which instilled in her the belief that hard work and self-belief could make anything possible.
“If I look at my journey to date, I will have to thank my school coaches, especially Leanne Walker who spent time on and off the court teaching me how to not only play the game but respect my opponents and show humility when winning as well as defeat. She gave me the work ethic needed to create opportunitiesand I have taken these learnings and tried to apply them to all situations of my life where I hope to be as good a person as I am a basketball player,” she says.
Leanne also played a pivotal role in Olivia’s success, guiding her to victory in the 2022 U17 NZ Nationals while coaching Waikato. This achievement opened doors for Olivia, leading to her selection for the FIBA 3×3 Asia Cup in Kuala Lumpur and eventually the U17 New Zealand team the Junior Tall Ferns where they will compete to qualify for the Asia Cup in Papa New Guinea this year.
‘It has been an amazing year, having been invited to play in the 2023 NBA Asia Basketball Without Boarders tournament in Abu Dubai which included players from Australia, Japan, the Middle East, and China. ‘This was an incredibly positive environment, and we were coached by both NBA and FIBA coaches and played with the top 40 kids from the Asia region. It was here that I was lucky enough to meet the assistant coach from the Chicago Bulls, and Washington Wizards as well as coached by players currently playing in the NBA. It was made even more special as the four other girls selected from New Zealand were such great people and have now become some of my closest friends, I also worked hard and had a good off-season training period trailing and being selected for the Junior Tall Ferns New Zealand team which I am really looking forward to.’ Olivia adds.
These experiences are not only a significant milestone in her basketball career but also an opportunity to connect with players from New Zealand and around the world.
A Global Journey and Dreams for the Future
Following her outstanding performance at the NBA Asia Basketball Without Borders tournament, Olivia was one of ten athletes selected to fly to Atlanta, Georgia, to participate in the NBA Women’s Academy Games. Sponsored by Nike, this event brought together players from diverse backgrounds, showcasing the power of sport as a universal language.
Olivia’s team, a melting pot of nationalities, overcame language barriers to secure victory in the women’s division.
‘When we arrived in Atlanta we were split into teams and mixed with kids from all around the world. My team had players from Puerto Rico, Madagascar, Mozambique, Brazil, Australia, Mexico, Japan, and Ecuador. It took a bit of getting used to as most of our team spoke Spanish, but sport is a universal language and our coach pulled us together really well, we played as a team, learned lots, and had loads of fun culminating in winning the NBA academy women’s division so our group of girls are officially, and will always be, the 2023 Women’s Academy Games Champions.’
“It was an incredible opportunity, where we travelled in fancy buses, and stayed in huge hotel rooms. It was also the largest contingent of New Zealand players with five girls selected and three boys, I have to thank the NBA and trailblazers like Cinnamon Lister (NBA Elite Basketball Women’s Operation Lead) who haveworked hard to create opportunities like this for so many kids outside of America. I just love the way you can be from anywhere in the world and speak multiple languages but if you have a shared love for the game, a common goal, trust in each other, and a coach that believes in you, then you can achieve anything” Olivia told us.
In 2023, Olivia achieved several milestones, including winning her regional school basketball league, playing in Taiwan with Lincoln University in the Blia Cup University Basketball Tournament, and being part of the newly formed Tauihi women’s professional league with Whai in New Zealand. ‘Training and playing alongside incredible athletes that are at the top of their game both international and from New Zealand was a real eye-opener and I am thankful to Whai for the opportunity’
With hopes of securing a scholarship to study environmental engineering while playing basketball in the United States or even Croatia. Olivia acknowledges the tremendous support and commitment of parents, coaches, referees, and volunteers in her sporting journey. Their dedication has paved the way for her to achieve her dreams. “Everyone that plays sports knows the many hours and commitment parents give driving you to practice, the hours of volunteer work from coaches, managers, referees, and fundraisers that are required, where if you are lucky enough, they may culminate into opportunities,” she says.
Olivia’s multicultural background keeps her grounded and inspired. With the strong values and love for sports shared by both her Croatian and Māori roots, she is well-equipped to continue her ascent in the world of basketball.
“I truly believe that both my Croatian and Māori heritage keep me grounded but also inspire me as both countries have a similar population but punch well above their weight in the world of sport,” she concludes.
Olivia Grgicevich Lassey is a name to watch out for on the global basketball stage.