Tag: Kelsey Griffin

Four first-time young guns included in Opals Squad

ANNOUNCED on Monday morning, Basketball Australia extended their list of Australian Opal players in preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Asia Cup Qualifiers and Asia Cup. As the FIBA Qualification period fast approaches (November 8-16), it is still hazy whether the qualifiers for the Asia Cup will go ahead, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Originally headlined by the likes of Elizabeth Cambage (Las Vegas Aces), Alanna Smith (Phoenix Mercury/Adelaide Lightning), Rebecca Allen (New York Liberty) and Leilani Mitchell (Washington Mystics/Southside Flyers), Head Coach Sandy Brondello has added some younger blood to their initial 19-woman line-up.

The first of four new additions to the roster is 18-year-old newly signed Townsville Fire guard, Shyla Heal – daughter of NBL legend Shane Heal. The Heal family has tasted plenty of success on the international stage with Shane representing Australia in four different Olympic Games (1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004). For Heal however, she is now in a position to fight for that honour herself, joining the senior national team after a productive season with the Bendigo Spirit, averaging 12.1 points and over four rebounds. Heal’s progression during the campaign would see Head Coach Tracy York increase her workload tremendously. By the end of last season, Heal completed games with more than 27 minutes under her belt, becoming one of Bendigo’s top-performers at the conclusion of WNBL20.

Heal joins the Opals squad knowing a few familiar faces, lining up alongside former roommate and Bendigo teammate, Tessa Lavey. Additionally, Zitina Aokuso and Lauren Nicholson, who will suit up for Townsville next season with Heal, also made the original squad.

The second of four new additions Brondello and her staff felt obliged to place into their squad is 22-year-old and two-time WNBL champion, Maddison Rocci, of the University of Canberra Capitals.

In a recent interview with Draft Central, Rocci indicated that the goal of being selected to the national team was already on the cards but remained reserved in whether or not it would happen so soon.

“It’s obviously a dream becoming an Opal one day, whether it is any time soon or in the near future, it has always been a massive goal of mine and to represent my country at the Olympic Games,” Rocci said.

That dream became a step closer to reality for Rocci, after being selected in the final pool of players vying for a position in the finalised squad. Rocci had an outstanding performance in last season’s WNBL competition, which ultimately led to Canberra’s second title in as many years. Rocci, who for the first time in her career, earned the right to be a consistent starter for her team under the guidance of Paul Goriss, consistently played 30-plus minutes each time out. This included a 37-minute performance in Canberra’s title-clinching win over the Southside Flyers.

Individually, Rocci’s season could be categorised as a productive one, averaging nine points a game, alongside 2.3 assists and 2.3 rebounds as well. Canberra’s shooting-guard was consistent from the field, maintaining a 40 per cent shooting efficiency, which also included a three-point-shot clip of 36.1 per cent, making her one of the most reliable three-point shooters across the league.

Other Capitals’ selectees for the National Squad include their co-captains and WNBL veterans, Marianna Tolo and Kelsey Griffin, both of whom re-signed with the defending champs for next season’s three-peat bid.

The remaining two inclusions for the Opals are collegiate superstars in Victorian-born Jaz Shelley (University of Oregon) and Queensland-born Tiana Mangakahia (Syracuse University).

For Shelley going into her sophomore season with the Fighting Ducks, it was nothing short of a success with the Pac-12 side in her freshman year. She broke the program record for most three-pointers in a single game (10) and became the first freshman at Oregon to accumulate 30 points in a single-game since the 2013-14 college season. Shelley earned a Pac-12 All-Freshman Honourable Mention to conclude her opening season of collegiate play.

The 20-year-old has represented Australia on numerous occasions, participating in the 2017 U19 Women’s World Cup and the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championships, where for the first time in the nation’s history they won gold in the tournament.

Looking to the East Coast, Syracuse senior and AP All-America Honourable Mention nominee Mangakahia has earned her first National Squad selection after two terrific seasons with the Orange in New York, capped off by a record-breaking campaign in her Junior year.

Following a long list of accolades, such as being named to the All-ACC First Team, Syracuse Female Player of the Year, breaking the program record for All-Time assists (591) and becoming the fastest player in Syracuse history to reach 1,000 points, Mangakahia still has a season to play for the Orange in her Senior year. How that will take shape due to COVID-19, no one yet knows.

With many more accomplishments still yet to be talked about, it made total sense that Brondello included Mangakahia in the Opals’ preliminary squad. The 25-year-old has represented Australia in the U16, U18 and U19 age brackets in the past, but has never been selected to the Senior National Squad until now, despite attending a Team Camp in April of last year.

The full list of selected Opals can be found – HERE

WNBL Free Agency: Nicholson to join Fire and George back in Boom Town

SINCE Tuesday afternoon, the WNBL has had its hands full with big moves in its second week of the Free Agency period. Former Defensive Player of the Year (2018/19) in Lauren Nicholson has joined what is starting to look like a serious contender in the Townsville Fire, while former Perth Lynx star, Sami Whitcomb, is set to return to the west after an overseas stint in France.

In addition, WNBL veterans Cayla George and Brittany Smart have stated their intentions for the upcoming season, with George staying put in “Boom Town” for a third consecutive season and Smart making the move to the nation’s capital to suit up in Paul Gorris’ side.

Nicholson, who has long been praised for her defensive ability, was awarded the Adelaide Lightning’s club Defensive Player of the Year Award this past season adding to what has been a very successful WNBL career to this point.

Following the move Tuesday, Nicholson lines up next to the likes of young guns Zitina Aokuso and Shyla Heal, as well as Mia Murray in Shannon Seebohms bid to bring glory back to the far-north following a sub-par 5-16 record in WNBL20.

At a glance, Nicholson was a productive force for the Lightning last season, as she helped her side to a fourth-place finish after 21 games. She would average a consistent 14.2 points per contest, while earning her keep in the rebounding and steals categories, averaging 3.4 and 1.4 in the respective categories.

In Townsville’s media release, the location of the move and the community love for the team were the critical factors in the 27-year-old’s decision, “I am so excited about the move to Townsville and joining the Fire next season, every time I come to Townsville, I love the community feeling, the crowd and its supporters are certainly the loudest and most passionate in the league. I can’t wait to get the feeling of playing at the stadium, with them supporting me, wearing the Fire colours, it will be awesome to be a part of,” said Nicholson.

Out by the Indian Ocean, the Perth Lynx have initiated their announcements regarding next season’s signees, as Whitcomb will don the red and black for the first time since the 2017/18 campaign.

Following a WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm and two seasons with French powerhouse, Basket Lattes, Whitcomb brings an abundance of success and experience to newly signed head coach, Ryan Petrik’s side.

Whitcomb averages over 20 points per game to this point in her WNBL career, as the backcourt prospect will prove to be a handful for opposing sides with the goal of helping the Lynx return to the postseason.

Down in Victoria, the Melbourne Boomers announced that co-captain George (next to Maddie Garrick) would be staying at the club for another year, as the 31-year-old WNBL Hall of Fame inductee will be a part of Guy Molloy’s 2020/21 squad.

Completing her WNBL20 season with averages of 14.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and four assists per game, George continues to ride a string of successful seasons in the Purple and Gold as the Boomers can look to both their team leaders for next season’s affairs.

Looking to the nation’s capital, where Gorris has added some more experience to the defending champs, as Smart has signed on for a one-year contract in the ACT, according to the club.

Coming off a minimised season (seven games), Smart would still maintain almost 10 points per game in the games she would participate in, indicating there is more to be offered by the 35-year-old.

Smart enters her sixth season in the WNBL and will look to be a guiding force for the Caps, as they look to make history and win three consecutive championships for the first time since the Adelaide Lightning dynasty of 1994-96 led by Rachael Sporn.

Draft Central can also confirm that the following Canberra signings during the Free Agency period have all agreed to one-year contracts for the 2020/21 season, per the Capitals administration.

Marianna Tolo, Kelsey Griffin, Keely Froling, Maddison Rocci, Abby Cubillo, Alex Delaney and Tahlia Tupaea.

WNBL Free Agency: Heal and Tupaea become first to switch teams

TALENTED teenager Shyla Heal became the first Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) player to switch allegiances for the 2021 WNBL season. Amongst a high number of re-signings for the University of Canberra Capitals – six players re-signed to the reigning premiers – Heal moved from Bendigo Spirit to the Sunshine State to take a chance with Townsville Fire.

Speaking to Heal last week, the 18-year-old has the intention of nominating for next year’s WNBA Draft, and she is determined to have a strong season with the Fire alongside another talented youngster in Zitina Aokuso. In a breaking announcement today, Sydney Uni Flames point guard Tahlia Tupaea has also headed inland and signed on with the Capitals. The talented 23-year-old who has had her fair share of bad luck through injuries since debuting at the age of 15 – the second youngest in WNBL history – will look to have a clean run in the nation’s capital.

The other big talking point was Alanna Smith returning to Australia from College to line-up with Adelaide Lightning next season. She was drafted in the first round – eighth overall pick – in last year’s WNBA Draft to go to the Phoenix Mercury after graduating through Stanford.

Given the likelihood of Brianna Turner‘s unavailability – due to the league not having imports – the power forward position is Smith’s for the taking. It allows her to team up with Lauren Nicholson and Steph Talbot in the City of Churches to try and bring Adelaide a title after being on the verge of being a contender the last couple of seasons.

The Spirit might have lost Heal over the Free Agency Period, but have re-signed Demi Skinner and Tessa Lavey, whilst Jenna O’Hea put pen to paper for another season with Southside Flyers. The Capitals re-signed six players in a spree early in the period, with Maddison Rocci, Abby Cubillo, Alex Delaney and Keely Froling joining Kelsey Griffin and Marianna Tolo in the capital to try and mount a title defence.

Three players have also announced their retirement from the league with Adelaide’s Nat Hurst, Bendigo’s Gabe Richards and Sydney Uni’s Sarah Graham calling it a day.

Capitals make it back-to-back re-signings with Griffin returning

GOING back-to-back is nothing unusual for the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals, with the reigning premiers having taken out the last two Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) titles. But in the off-season, the Capitals received a huge boost with back-to-back signings after co-captain Kelsey Griffin joined her leadership counterpart, Marianna Tolo in pledging her allegiance to the club for the 2020/21 season.

A past Most Valuable Player (MVP) winner in the WNBL, Griffin is a massive signing in Head Coach Paul Goriss‘ arsenal for the team to try and win a third consecutive premiership. Whilst much re-signing is still to be done across the league, the Capitals have secured their two leaders ahead of the season, an important first step in looking ahead to WNBL21.

“The success that Kelsey has had during her time here at the UC Caps is testament to her hard work, willingness to sacrifice and her winning mentality,” Goriss said to the UC Capitals website.

“The backbone of our team is Tolo and Griffin. “They provide the on-court grunt, leadership and work ethic that drives others to be better. “They both have different styles of leadership that works for them but they are both so critical to our success.”

“Kelsey has proven her worth in the WNBL and with the UC Caps with her determination and never give up attitude alongside her basketball IQ. “She continues to drive for excellence on court, in the gym, with her diet and preparation.

“This driving force is what makes her exceptional and a winner. She continues to play a very high level, and nobody out-works her. “We are privileged to have Griffin back again on court with the UC Caps and in the Canberra community.”

Griffin only managed the 16 games last season due to injury, but still put up a remarkable double-double average of 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds for the Capitals. Along with this, Griffin managed a solid 2.9 assists and huge 2.9 steals and 1.0 blocks. Fully fit, there is little doubt Griffin could be the best player in the league, and the 188cm forward could be a catalyst in leading her side to more glory next season.

With little doubt she would re-sign with the Capitals, the Opals star was excited about the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, but the postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic has helped her recover from shoulder surgery.

“This down time has been incredible for reflection,” Griffin said. “I have had a good chance to slow down and re-prioritise what is important to me. “It’s been really good for me.”

“It’s been great to hear the WNBL will be going ahead in November, I think it is one of the best competitions in the world and therefore is the perfect preparation for anyone wanting to be in their best form heading into an Olympics.”

The WNBL season tips off in November with the full fixture yet to be released.

Young Guns in the WNBL – Maddison Rocci

FOR many of Australia’s veteran basketball players, some have gone their entire careers without ever laying their hands on the coveted Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) Championship trophy, or at least not until late into their careers. But for Maddison Rocci, the 22-year-old is coming off her second straight title with the University of Canberra Capitals in what is her third season.

While Rocci understands the privilege she has had playing alongside some of the best imports and veteran Australian talents in the league, it has not stopped the Melbournian from playing a pivotal role in each one of her titles, whether it be her scoring ability, her role on the floor or her dedication to the game.

“I have been very lucky in my three WNBL seasons to have such great role models,” Rocci explained. “I’ve had Nat Hurst, Leilani Mitchell, Kelly Wilson, Olivia Epoupa, Kia Nurse, Kelsey Griffin and Marianna Tolo and it’s been super important to my development and just my confidence has grown ever since I’ve been able to play with these individuals.”

Growing up in the Victorian suburb of Werribee, Rocci’s first sporting interest was not shooting hoops, nor even her second, as dancing and netball were the two activities that piqued her interest prior to basketball.

“The switch came from watching my older brother [Kristian] play at the Werribee Devils,” Rocci said. “Seeing what he could do out there on the court, made me want to go and try that sport.”

It was at the age of 11 that Rocci started playing at a domestic level, and soon after that, would try out for the Devils’ representative program in the Under 12’s age bracket in the Victorian Junior Basketball League (VJBL).

Gradually rising through the ranks, Rocci would be picked up by the Centre of Excellence program in Canberra, where she put on impressive displays of basketball in a season of one of the NBL1’s predecessors, the South East Australia Basketball League (SEABL).

Following this, the Canberra Capitals made their move, signing the 168cm-tall shooting guard to her rookie contract for the 2017/18 season. Despite the side not making the top four that season, Rocci and her squad blew the rest of the competition out of the water on their home floor in their 2018/19 campaign, as the Caps led the league in the standings with a record of 16-5, which ultimately would lead them to a 2-1 grand final series win against the Adelaide Lightning, the first for Rocci.

The 2019/20 season for Rocci proved to be her breakout stint, as increased minutes and point production for the guard, would allow her statistics to shine, further validating how effective Rocci’s game has become to this point.

Accumulating numerous starting roles for the Capitals, Rocci’s time of play would average close to 27 minutes per game, providing an imperative amount of support to Paul Goriss’ stars such as Nurse, Epoupa and Tolo. This would also include a season-high 19-point performance against the Southside Flyers and former teammate Leilani Mitchell mid-way through January.

After her 21 regular season contests, Rocci would accumulate decent numbers at the two-guard position, averaging nine points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. In addition, she would also remain consistent in her shooting, maintaining a 36 per cent clip from beyond the arc and a 40 per cent field goal percentage to boot.

For Rocci though, the biggest takeaway from last season, was her quest to find out what piece she was in the Capitals’ puzzle.

“The main thing that I learnt from last season was basically I had to find my feet and find my role,” Rocci said. “Being a starter in the WNBL was a really huge goal of mine, but what really helped me was just talking to more veteran players and leaders of the club. When I first arrived at the club, I wasn’t sure on what my role was in this team, but people like Paul [Goriss] and Kia helped me find my feet.”

Following a hard-fought semi-final series against the Melbourne Boomers, the Capitals had their eyes on a back-to-back title. The only thing standing in their way, the Southside Flyers and their impenetrable defence.

With Game One a slugfest from the get-go, it was going to be an absolute mission to steal away a win on Southside’s home-court.

Earning herself a modest eight-point, two rebound and three assist stat line, Rocci and her side would pull out an incredible two-point win to go up on the series 1-0, now knowing they could win back-to-back titles on their home floor.

With the Flyers up against the wall, an explosive opening quarter put Southside ahead by eight after 10 minutes. But, a dominant third quarter by the Caps, would earn them a two-point lead heading into the last quarter. However, reigning MVP and Rocci’s close personal friend, Kia Nurse, drilled a three-pointer with just seconds left to put the nail in the coffin on a series that would go down in Capitals history.

“It was super overwhelming!” Rocci said. “I tried really hard not to have a little tear in my eye when I was celebrating with the girls after, and it just shows the hard work and dedication that our team put in each day to get to that end goal that we set at the start of the season. I honestly can’t believe that I’m a back-to-back WNBL champion and that’s obviously super special and a memory that I will cherish forever.”

After a side wins back-to-back championships in any sport, the obvious thought for the future is the same for many. Can there be a three-peat?

For Rocci, that thought is very much off in the distance and the youngster has no doubts that the goal will be an objective come the start of next season.

“Whenever anyone asks that question you always think that you want to have that three-peat in your mind,” Rocci said. “Obviously that’s going to be a goal of ours, winning a championship going into any WNBL season, so we just gotta work hard each day and be there for each other.”

While the possibility for a three-peat remains a chance, the WNBL’s decision to possibly exclude imports from the upcoming season due to COVID-19 restrictions, would severely hinder the Capitals’ hopes, as Suzy Batkovic Award winner, Kia Nurse, may not be eligible for the 2020/21 season if the exclusion is to take effect.

“Imports are super special, and I’ve had the privilege to work alongside some super special ones in Canberra,” said Rocci. “Kia was one of the best imports I’ve ever played with and she’s really helped me develop my game. She wasn’t one of those imports that was arrogant, and it wasn’t all about herself, she was always willing to give back to the team, that’s the same with Olivia Epoupa.”

“They set a different standard,” Rocci added. “To train alongside someone who’s coming from overseas is pretty special, because when you go to play over there, you know what it’s going to be like. I enjoy playing with imports in the WNBL, so I can’t wait for them to come back after COVID has disappeared.”

After it was announced that next season will take place from the 20th of November, Rocci now has a clearer picture of what her offseason looks like, but up to this point has been training with the NBL1’s Southern District Spartans Head Coach Aja Parham-Ammar, focusing on things like ball-handling, shooting and some strength work at a warehouse up in Brisbane, where she currently resides.

Later down the track, Rocci will look to continue developing her defensive skills such as lateral movement and one-on-one play, as well as maintaining her three-point shot that has become a major weapon for her so far in her career.

Next season will be Rocci’s fourth with the Capitals, as she looks for her third title in as many years.

Draft Central’s 2019/20 WNBL Top 10 Players: #1 – Kia Nurse

DRAFT Central’s formula for deciding this season’s top player of the WNBL was a rather simple one. Similarly to the NBL’s top player of the season, Bryce Cotton, the WNBL’s MVP and top-scorer, Kia Nurse, would reign supreme in terms of success individually and as a teammate. As this this season’s 2019/20 WNBL Champion, University of Canberra (UC) Capitals would defend their title, claiming their ninth in franchise history.

Having already spent a season with the Capitals, Nurse would hit the ground running, opening up her 2020 campaign with a 28-point and seven-rebound performance against the Adelaide Lightning, quickly establishing herself as one of the league’s most deadly offensive weapons. Throughout the entire season, Nurse would continue to provide an abundance of minutes for Paul Gorris’s side, only twice playing less than 32 minutes in a game, therefore leading the league in minutes per game by the end of Round 16, averaging 37.1 (1.4 minutes higher than Alice Kunek). But, the main headline act for the Canadian, was her scoring prowess. Going the entire fixture without scoring single digits is one accomplishment, but to average over 20 points per game throughout the entire competition would have already been enough to secure an MVP award for the 24-year-old.

Helping her side to a 15-win season alongside the likes of Marianna Tolo, Olivia Epoupa, Kelsey Griffin and Keeley Froling, Nurse would receive her second straight All-WNBL First Team selection, the Capitals’ Best and Fairest Award and the Suzy Batkovic Medal (League-MVP) to round out one of the league’s best individual season performances in history. Nurse is grateful of the system she was put in, as it allowed her to develop her offence even more.

“I was allowed to be in a system in Australia where I was a lot more free than any system I’ve played in since my high school days. “That allowed me to kind of get confidence back into my offensive game … and that was pretty exciting.” Playing four years at the UConn Huskies while she attended college, Nurse found out the formula for success is not given, it is earned, which is why the two-time NCAA Champion knew that her 21 regular season games were just stepping stones to the real prize.

The hard work would begin against the Melbourne Boomers in their semi-final series, with their matchup going to a deciding Game Three. Nurse would need every ounce of her will, to help get her side over the line against the wily Boomers side. Playing all 40 minutes at home, Nurse’s hard-fought 18 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals, would be enough to get the Capitals to the finish line taking the contest, 77-64, with their extraordinary defence being the main proponent of their win. With the Boomers in their rear-view mirror, the Caps would look to topple the best team in the league to this point, the Southside Flyers.

Knowing full well that their best bet to win the series would be to steal Game One in Dandenong, Nurse would again be called on to play most of the game (she would average 39 minutes per game in the series). Scoring 19 points and securing five rebounds in Game One, the Capitals would steal the opening game of the series by a single bucket, forcing a decisive Game Two back home in Canberra. With Game Two being an all-out war between both sides, the Capitals found themselves down by a point with less than 30 seconds to go, but the always reliable Epoupa (Finals-MVP) would find the WNBL’s top scorer open for three, as Nurse would knock it down and win the Capitals their second straight championship. “It was obviously a fairy-tale ending to a really good story,” said Nurse reflecting on what was nothing short of a perfect season.

Whether imports will be allowed to play next season or not is yet to be confirmed by the WNBL given the severity of COVID-19, but if they are, then the likelihood of a WNBL three-peat for the first time since the Adelaide Lightning dynasty of 1994-96 may very well be on the cards for the Capitals, as they continue to be at the forefront of Australian basketball success.

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 WNBL memorable moments: #1 – UC Capitals go back-to-back

WITH no basketball on for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we look at the brighter side of the sport that brought plenty of memories throughout the 2019/20 Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) season. Over the next couple of weeks we will countdown Draft Central‘s Top 10 memorable moments from the season. Some are individual events, others are season views, and even a couple are decisions that panned out for the better. Today we continue with our top selection and what else could it be, but the University of Canberra Capitals winning back-to-back WNBL titles.

#1 UC Capitals win back-to-back WNBL titles

After an impressive list of moments predating the number one choice, it was fitting that the top billing belonged to the ultimate success of a season in the WNBL title. Most impressively, the Capitals defied odds to get it done, just making it into second on the WNBL table by year’s-end and defeating the Melbourne Boomers and then minor premiers, Southside Flyers on the way to the title. After winning last year against Adelaide Lightning, the Capitals lost a couple of star talents in Kelly Wilson and Leilani Mitchell – the latter of whom faced off against the Capitals in the Grand Final Series. The Canberra-based side also had more than its fair share of injuries with 2018/19 Most Valuable Player (MVP) Kelsey Griffin and Keely Froling missing multiple games, and instead it was second year import, Kia Nurse who stepped up alongside a really strong core of players to win the 2019/20 MVP award.

The Capitals won the title by the narrowest of margins, getting up by two points in Dandenong on March 1, then three days later returning to AIS Arena where they won 71-68 with a Nurse triple fittingly ending the contest, and the competition without having to go to a third deciding game. Olivia Epoupa won the Finals MVP after 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists in the first game and a massive 16 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists in the second to finish the series with 15.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.5 assists across 77 of a possible 80 minutes on court. Along with Epoupa and Nurse (18.5 points, 5.5 rebounds), Marianna Tolo (17.0 points, 8.0 rebounds), Maddison Rocci (8.5 points, 4.0 rebounds) and Griffin (11.5 points, 12.5 rebounds) all started the matches, while Froling (6.0 points, 3.5 rebounds) and came off the bench for crucial touches. Abby Cubillo also received two and half minutes in the first game in what will be a memorable moment for her in years to come.

Top 10 WNBL 2019/20 moments countdown so far:

#10 – Ezi Magbegor wins second Rookie of the Year award
#9 – Bendigo Spirit breaks road drought
#8 – Mercedes Russell stars in debut season
#7 – Southside’s flying first season
#6 – Back-to-back overtime victories shape finals series
#5 – Southside Flyers’ road win against UC Capitals
#4 – Kia Nurse wins MVP after sensational season
#3 – Nicole Seekamp’s 20-assist game
#2 – Kelly Wilson breaks games record
#1 – UC Capitals go back-to-back

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 WNBL memorable moments: #4 – Kia Nurse wins MVP after sensational season

WITH no basketball on for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we look at the brighter side of the sport that brought plenty of memories throughout the 2019/20 Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) season. Over the next couple of weeks we will countdown Draft Central‘s Top 10 memorable moments from the season. Some are individual events, others are season views, and even a couple are decisions that panned out for the better. Today we continue with number four, which looks at Kia Nurse‘s remarkable second season for the back-to-back premiers, University of Canberra (UC) Capitals.

#4 Kia Nurse wins MVP after sensational season

In what was her second season returning to the UC Capitals after a strong first season teaming up with 2018/19 Most Valuable Player (MVP) Kelsey Griffin in Canberra, Nurse produced some of the best basketball there was to see from an offensive standpoint. Clearly the premier shooter in the competition, her luggage on the way back to Canada would have been significantly heavier than when she arrived. In 2019/20, Nurse picked up the Suzy Batkovic Medal (League MVP), UC Capitals’ Most Valuable Player (MVP), a place in the WNBL All-Star First Team, and of course her championship medal.

In winning the Suzy Batkovic Medal, Nurse became the first import in history to win the honour, polling six more votes than Adelaide Lightning’s Brianna Turner in the award. Playing in the WNBL during the WNBA off-season, the 23-year-old averaged 21.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals throughout the season. She shot from three-point range at a 33 per cent accuracy, but it was her final three-pointer of the season that counted. With 22 seconds left in Game Two of the Grand Final Series, Nurse drained a triple to win her side the 2019/20 title. While Olivia Epoupa was a deserving Finals MVP, Nurse was the reliable scorer throughout the season and a key player for the team.

In departing the club to head back to the WNBA, Nurse told the UC Capitals’ fans that she had loved the atmosphere in Canberra and the support she had received over the past two seasons.

“People tell me I play a very flashy game,” she said. “I was never flashy until I got here. I didn’t play with the swagger and confidence until I got here, and I just continued to grow and that made a difference when I went back to the WNBA last.”

Unfortunately for the Capitals, Nurse will not return to the side citing business opportunities in North America. She thanked the fans and looked forward to tracking how the team went in future years.

Top 10 WNBL 2019/20 moments countdown so far:

#10 – Ezi Magbegor wins second Rookie of the Year award
#9 – Bendigo Spirit breaks road drought
#8 – Mercedes Russell stars in debut season
#7 – Southside’s flying first season
#6 – Back-to-back overtime victories shape finals series
#5 – Southside Flyers’ road win against UC Capitals
#4 – Kia Nurse wins MVP after sensational season

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 WNBL memorable moments: #5 – Southside Flyers’ road win against UC Capitals

WITH no basketball on for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we look at the brighter side of the sport that brought plenty of memories throughout the 2019/20 Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) season. Over the next couple of weeks we will countdown Draft Central‘s Top 10 memorable moments from the season. Some are individual events, others are season views, and even a couple are decisions that panned out for the better. Today we continue with number five, which looks at the only dint in the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals’ armour at home – Southside Flyers’ win on the road.

#5 Southside Flyers’ road win against UC Capitals

After copping a disappointing loss to the Capitals earlier in the season at their home court where they went down by 19 points, the Flyers were primed for the next encounter between the pair. At the stage of the first loss, the Flyers were living up to their name and flying, while the Capitals had made a shaky start, thumped by Melbourne Boomers in Geelong and then losing to last year’s wooden spooners, Sydney Uni Flames a couple of days later. Coming into the round, the Capitals had smashed Bendigo Spirit by 25 points on the road, and the Flyers had got up in a seven-point thriller over Melbourne back in Round 8. Already in Round 9, Southside had downed Townsville by 19 points and would fly up to Canberra the next day to face the Capitals who were fresh and raring to go.

Instead, it was the Flyers who started the stronger of the teams, leading by three points at quarter time courtesy of a 22-19 opening term. UC hit right back in the second quarter pleasing the Capitals’ fans to regain the lead by a point, then extended it out to three by the final break. A remarkable final term saw the Flyers put the foot on the gas and accelerate away with a 23-15 last quarter that home fans in Canberra would have otherwise not witnessed or would witness for the remainder of the season. In what would be the only Capitals’ home loss of the season, the score read 70-65 in favour of the visiting team. It was just that kind of day for the Flyers, with Rebecca Cole leading the points-scorers with 21, as well as three rebounds and two steals, well aided by the work of Mercedes Russell (17 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two blocks) and former Capitals talent, Leilani Mitchell (15 points, seven rebounds and two assists).

Most of the Capitals stars were down on their output with 2018/19 Most Valuable Player (MVP) Kelsey Griffin scoring just four points, shooting at 16.7 per cent from the field, though she did pick up 12 defensive rebounds and a couple of steals. It would be revealed later that Griffin put in a monumental effort to finish the game, suffering an ankle injury in the last term but remaining out there in a bid to try and get her side over the line. She would miss six weeks through the injury. But aside from Griffin, 2019/20 MVP Kia Nurse was also down on her production, recording just 13 points at 22.7 per cent efficiency from the field, while Marianna Tolo‘s 16 points was the highest from her side, also picking up six rebounds and two assists in the loss. Olivia Epoupa was the pick of the home side with a spirited 11 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals. While the result ultimately meant little in the scheme of the season – with the Capitals going back-to-back – it was certainly a moment to savour for the league’s newest franchise.

Top 10 WNBL 2019/20 moments countdown so far:

#10 – Ezi Magbegor wins second Rookie of the Year award
#9 – Bendigo Spirit breaks road drought
#8 – Mercedes Russell stars in debut season
#7 – Southside’s flying first season
#6 – Back-to-back overtime victories shape finals series
#5 – Southside Flyers’ road win against UC Capitals

2019/20 WNBL season review: University of Canberra Capitals

WE conclude our Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) team season reviews with the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals. It was a dream year for the reigning premiers who after finishing second on the table at the end of the regular season, managed to topple both the Melbourne Boomers and Southside Flyers on their way to back-to-back WNBL titles.

Ladder: 2nd (Premiers)
Win-loss: 15-6

From coast to coast, Canberra viewing parties sprung up, as people came together in joyous ecstasy to support the Capitals team. Everywhere in Canberra, there was (and still is) a sense of pride for the Capitals basketball team and what they accomplished. This immortalised group of women achieved a feat that very few have ever done, back-to-back champions, and in remarkable fashion. Winning their last game with a dagger from beyond the arc to put Canberra in front and have a 71-68 win over the Southside Flyers, just three days after the Capitals beat the Flyers by merely two points in Game One. But at the start of this memorable season, Capitals fans were not as joyous, starting the off season by losing four-time champion, Kelly Wilson. With Lauren Scherf heading to Sydney Uni, while Leilani Mitchell departed for Southside, it was reassuring to welcome former Capitals’ player, Mikaela Ruef and French national, Olivia Epoupa to the squad. Entering the season as reigning champions, it was clear the Capitals were the team to beat, and they carried this chip through all 26 game of the season

This team, from preseason to the grand final, was built around a number of star players, but the award winner for season 2019/20 was Kia Nurse. Winning Most Valuable Player (MVP), and all Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) First Team honours, Nurse would annihilate opponents, scoring the ball from all angles, leading her to average 20.9 points a game. This production of baskets resulted in her also receiving the top shooter award, an achievement given to the player who accumulated the most points for her team in a season. Playing as a tall gritty unit, the Capitals loved to play in the paint, smashing every team in the competition in total two-pointers made and attempted. A big reason they could play like this is because of last season’s MVP, Kelsey Griffin, who would collect nearly 11 rebounds a game, leading for the team, and playing a major role in the team leading the league in that area despite missing a portion of the season due to injury. Playing the second option on offence behind Nurse, the pair would combine for a mouth watering 828 points for the season, an accomplishment made easy when you obtain one of the best playmaking point guards in the league. Epoupa’s ability to move the ball and get everyone involved was second to none, and definitely was one of the most surprising breakout stars for the year, contributing to the team’s success more than anyone had ever suspected coming into the season. The French star would be given the recognition she deserved when she won the Finals MVP in one of the hardest fought finals series in recent memory. The Capitals made their way back to the grand final to take on the Flyers, a team that had secured the top spot of the ladder by two wins and had bested the Capitals once out of their three meetings. But after two thrilling games where the difference in margin was three points or less, the Capitals won their eighth title. 

After winning back to back titles, the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘are we going to see another Capitals dynasty?’. Last year they won their first title since the 2009-10 season, the last of a golden era which bore an unprecedented seven titles in 11 seasons. The future is uncertain for now with Nurse heading back for the WNBA season – though she has returned each off-season to the Capitals – but fans should have faith regardless that if 2019-20 coach of the year Paul Gorris, will come up with a solution to remain as the team to beat.