Tag: Leilani Mitchell

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

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.

Young Guns in the WNBL: Shyla Heal

COMING off a stellar season with the Bendigo Spirit, Shyla Heal continues to drive home the message that “age is just a number”, with the 18-year-old developing into one of the Womens National Basketball League’s (WNBL) top guards and currently sits as one of the league’s biggest unsigned prospects.

As Heal’s contract with the Spirit would wind down following the conclusion of the 2019/20 season, Bendigo have at this stage tendered an extension, but it would seem that the NSW-born star is keen to test the waters of free-agency and find a more consistent role in a starting point-guard position.

In the past, Heal has openly stated her intentions to participate in next year’s WNBA draft, her development is key if she is to give herself the best chance of success but is still keen to make a championship push wherever she lands.

“Any team I play on I always want to win, I’m a competitor. Any season I go into I want to win a championship, so that’s definitely the main thing,” Heal explained. “But development is really important to me considering I’m still young and the draft is coming up. So, in summary, first, win a championship, second, get better every day.”

Following a fragmented and injury-prone second season with the Perth Lynx in 2018/19, the move to Bendigo was a suitable one, as Heal would land herself in a team that would give her a good number of minutes, thus allowing her to develop at a tremendous rate and aid her side in numerous facets of their games.

“She plays both ends of the floor really well,” Spirit Head Coach Tracy York said. “She’s a great defender and loves to defend end-line to end-line which is fantastic and not seen from a lot of guards these days, but she’s great sticking to someone like glue,” she added.

Not only does Heal’s defensive ability stand out to York, but her ability to put numbers on the scoreboard has proved beneficial on various occasions too, with York noting Heal’s scoring prowess and ability to take on defenders.

Heal’s progression throughout the season would be evident in her 21 games from last season. She averaged 9.8 points, three rebounds and 1.2 assists per game through her first 10 contests of the season. But, from Bendigo’s first matchup with the Townsville Fire all the way to the conclusion of the season, Heal’s averages increased to 14.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, including a 30-point demolition job of her old side Perth late in the season.

While Heal’s statistics would rise over her campaign, her minutes did too. Participating in 22.7 minutes per game over the first half of the season, York would continue to increase Heal’s workload, increasing her minutes per game to 27 by the end of Round 16.

Heal’s season stat line finished with 12.1 points per outing, along with 4.1 and 1.6 being the averages for her rebounding and assist categories, while shooting at a 43.8 per cent clip from the field.

As numbers would go up, the main takeaway from last season for Heal was the experience she gained each time out and going up against a high level of competition on a more consistent basis.

“Just gaining more experience against veterans like Leilani Mitchell [for example], picking up things from her game and adding it to mine,” Heal said . “Little things like that, I think were really big for me this season, especially playing behind Tessa Lavey and learning little things from her,” Heal followed up with.

However, Heal would finish the season feeling she had a lot more to offer, after the Sapphire-selectee would play a lot of the time at the shooting-guard position, as opposed to her regular point-guard spot. The Spirit finished the season equal last with the Townsville Fire, resulting in a five win and 16 loss campaign.

“This season kind of left me hungry,” Heal said. “I didn’t really play the one [point-guard] spot much, which is my usual position. So, I didn’t really get to show the league what I could actually do playing my proper position.”

Heal developed a close relationship with Lavey both on and off the floor at Bendigo, with the two being flatmates. Lavey earned herself an Opals selection to this year’s Olympic Games, with Heal lapping up all the wisdom she can from the basketball veteran.

“For me it was obviously a great friendship,” Lavey said. “I like to think she can message me at any time and ask questions and I’m always happy to help Shyla out because she’s a really good person,” she added.

Taking on a mentoring role for Heal, Lavey was able to feed off the youngster’s energy in-game, creating what was a two-way street for helping each other’s games.

“Strictly on the court, Shyla is a competitor,” included Lavey. “We fed off each other very well,” she said.

“Shyla in some games struggled a lot just to get into the game and she was really worried about that, so the things I would say to her were ‘focus on the next thing’, or if she’s not scoring I’d say ‘you can always be doing something else’,” the 27-year-old said, ultimately summarising what would blossom into a formidable partnership for the blue and yellow.

What is Heal focusing on now? For now, the 18-year-old has set various goals for herself, bearing in mind the new restrictions COVID-19 have put in place.

“At the start of Corona I said I’m going to focus on building heaps of muscle and getting stronger through stair running, weights in my garage and all that stuff,” Heal said.

This training regiment and structure would transfer to cardio with her father [Shane], on playing fields such as ovals, for around two to two and a half hours per session, roughly six times a week, as Heal prepares to market herself to possible teams during the offseason.

But for now, in terms of decisions, all Heal can do is wait, as the rest of the league and WNBL fans await an announcement for when the Free Agency period will open.

Draft Central’s 2019/20 WNBL Top 10 Players: #2 – Brianna Turner

ONE of the WNBL’s fresh new faces to arrive over from the United States (US), Brianna Turner landed Down Under keen to expand her basketball knowledge and continue her development  thanks to a recommendation from her head coach at the Phoenix Mercury.

“In the WNBA, Sandy Bondello is my coach and she coaches the Australian National Team, I’ve heard nothing but good things [about the WNBL] which really attracted me,” said Turner. “I want to raise my basketball IQ and learn the details of the game.”

After a brief 21-minute stint against the Sydney Uni Flames in Round 1, Turner would flip the switch and begin playing at an extraordinary level of efficiency and production. Turner’s first major mark she would make on the WNBL, came in Round 3, as the Lightning sized up to a formidable Perth Lynx squad.

Regrettably for the Lynx, they had no answer for the Mercury-listee, as she dominated the rebounding conversation, hustling her way to 17 rebounds and 26 points. These kinds of performances became the norm for the 23-year-old, as she would terrorise the glass with her tenacity and discipline.

Rivalling Mercedes Russell as one of the premier frontcourt players in the League, Turner’s 10 double-doubles throughout the regular season would put her at the top of the rankings in several categories following Round 16 of the campaign.

Turner’s stat line would read an impressive 16.8 points (fourth in scoring), 10.7 rebounds (second in rebounds) and 2.4 blocks (league leader) per game. An All-WNBA Rookie and a NCAA Champion with Notre Dame, Turner is no stranger to success on the court, so it would come as no surprise that the Texan would take home an All-WNBL First Team selection and receive the Lightning’s Best and Fairest Award, capping of what was a well-rounded season individually.

As a team, the Lightning looked to the minor premier Southside Flyers for their semi-final matchup, after solidifying fourth spot in the standings with a record of 12 wins and nine losses. After concluding her season averaging a double-double, the pressure of the postseason didn’t seem to unnerve Turner in the slightest, as she would fall one rebound short of another double-double, accumulating 11 points, nine rebounds and five blocks in Game One.

Game Two and the threat of elimination would spur her on to an even greater extent, this time with the Power Forward/Centre racking up 25 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks. But like so many others before them, the combination of Jenna O’Hea, Leilani Mitchell and Russell would prove too much, as the Lightning would bow out of the finals in a two-game sweep.

Being the third and final Lightning player on Draft Central’s Top 10 WNBL Players of the season, there was plenty to celebrate in South Australia in 2020. Perhaps if Turner makes a return to Chris Lucas’s squad next season, then maybe Adelaide can make it one step closer to the franchise’s first championship in more than a decade.

Draft Central’s 2019/20 WNBL Top 10 Players: #8 – Leilani Mitchell

LEAVING the 2018/19 University of Canberra (UC) Capitals’ championship-winning side to become a part of the Southside Flyers’ inaugural 2020 squad, might have been a surprise, but Leilani Mitchell would start the next chapter of her illustrious career in good stead for this season’s minor premiers.

With professional experience spanning more than a decade and with many of those years being with WNBA teams, it was no wonder that the Flyers would begin the season with one of the best starts in the League’s history. With Southside winning their opening six games in consecutive fashion, it was obvious early on, that the side were serious contenders for this year’s title.

Mitchell, who had averaged almost 15 points per contest leading up to their first loss, was a major proponent of her team’s offence and would only continue to improve her numbers throughout the course of the season. With consistent numbers being put up by the 34-year-old in the categories of points, assists and rebounds, Mitchell’s accuracy became apparent as well in relation to converting her opportunities.

At the end of the campaign, she would maintain and amaze the competition with a 45 per cent clip from the field, a 92.5 per cent clip from the free-throw line and a 42 per cent accuracy rate from three-point range. All very impressive numbers when reflecting back on the season that was. Helping the Flyers attain a 17-win season, a win percentage of 80 and the top seed in the standings, Mitchell would finish the regular season with 15.7 points per game (ninth in WNBL), 5.2 assists (fourth in WNBL) and 3.2 rebounds in what can be described as an exemplary individual effort through 16 rounds.

After a strong two-game series against the Adelaide Lightning in the season’s semi-finals, Mitchell would face her old club in the deciding series, the UC Capitals. With Game One being a must-win contest for the Flyers, the home side would let their guard down, as they allowed the Caps to total 21 points from turnovers. With Game Two back in the nation’s capital, the home-court advantage would prove too much for the Flyers, as they would lose the second game 71-68 and the series in a two-game sweep.

The Washington-born guard would have to watch on, as her old side would claim the hardware for back-to-back seasons. Following an All-WNBL First Team selection, the Flyers’ club-MVP Award and the number eight seed in Draft Central’s Top 10, Mitchell was signed in mid-February to the Washington Mystics for the upcoming WNBA season, being traded from the Phoenix Mercury.

For another season, she will look to perform in the world’s best female basketball competition at an elite level.

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: #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

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 WNBL memorable moments: #6 – Back-to-back overtime thrillers shape finals series

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 six, looking at back-to-back overtime games in Round 13 and 14 that ultimately shaped the WNBL finals series at the expense of the Melbourne Boomers.

#6 Heartbreak for Melbourne Boomers as Flyers and Capitals both win in overtime

They might have been five days apart, but Melbourne Boomers’ back-to-back losses in overtime against fellow top three sides, Southside Flyers and University of Canberra (UC) Capitals in January ultimately shaped the finals series. With the Boomers needing a win to remain clear of the sides, as history would tell us that a victory could have handed them the extra home final against the Capitals. They went down 2-1 in the semi-finals and lost the two on the road, while winning at home, something that might have altered the WNBL Finals Series. They finished on the same amount of wins, but the head-to-head which went in the Capitals’ favour thanks to the heart-breaking 76-75 loss at the National Convention Centre in Round 14 proved to be the ultimate dagger to the heart. That game, along with the Round 13 thriller at the State Basketball Centre (which saw the Flyers defeat the Boomers 75-73) shaped the top three and locked in the finals spots even with a couple of weeks remaining.

In the Boomers-Flyers match, Melbourne got off to a great start to lead by four points at quarter time, five at the main break and six by the final change. Unfortunately a slip up in just one quarter can cost at the elite level, and it proved the case with Southside winning the final term 20-14 to draw level and force overtime. There, the Flyers took it out with an 8-6 overtime to win 75-73, despite a double-double from Ezi Magbegor (24 points, 12 rebounds, two steals and three blocks) and a cameo from Cayla George (13 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals). Instead it was four players recording 15 points or more for the Flyers, with Mercedes Russell (21 points, 11 rebounds and two steals) the top player, as Leilani Mitchell (21 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals), Jenna O’Hea (19 points, six rebounds, two assists and four steals) and Rebecca Cole (15 points, five rebounds, six assists and two steals) all shared around the spoils.

Five days later it was instead the Boomers playing catch-up in a scoreline that was eerily similar to the first game. The Capitals raced out of the blocks to lead by six points – the same score as the final term in the previous match – before the Boomers roped them in over the next three terms to not only draw level, but go up by six points with 43 seconds remaining. An unsportsmanlike foul in between a couple of baskets saw the Capitals drag it back level at the final buzzer. Unfortunately for Melbourne, it was a similar story as the Caps’ reigned supreme with a 10-9 overtime to win 76-75. Kia Nurse (23 points, seven rebounds) and Marianna Tolo (22 points, nine rebounds) dominated, as Keely Froling (12 points, nine rebounds) was solid and Olivia Epoupa was the best across the entire court picking up a ridiculous eight points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and six steals. For the Boomers, it was Stella Beck (17 points, six rebounds and three assists) and Magbegor (14 points, four rebounds) who shared the load with top scorer, Sophie Cunningham (22 points, two rebounds). As hindsight would show, this game ultimately helped the Capitals win the semi-finals series and go back-to-back in the 2019/20 WNBL season.

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

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 WNBL memorable moments: #7 – Southside’s flying first season

WITH no basketball 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 seven, with the competition’s newest side – rebranded from the Dandenong Rangers – having an impeccable first season that came close to making history.

#7 Southside Flyers stunning first WNBL season under rebrand

In a fresh rebrand, Southside Flyers looked to include more of the region outside of Dandenong from the previous Rangers’ side that in its own right had been quite impressive through the WNBL. In at number seven for our countdown, we look at the Flyers’ first season in the competition. While the minor premiers ultimately fell short of the top prize, there was plenty to celebrate in season 2019/20. They finished top of the table comfortably (with a 17-4 win-loss record), and then went on to win both their semi-finals to advance through to the Grand Final Series. Whilst both games were thrillers against the reigning premiers, University of Canberra (UC) Capitals, it was not to be, bowing out in the final game of the season.

In our last countdown we noted how impressive Mercedes Russell has been averaging a double-double per game, but equally important were the likes of Rebecca Cole, Sarah Blicavs, Jenna O’Hea and Leilani Mitchell. Both O’Hea and Mitchell had joined the club from rival organisations to form a formidable starting five that was hard to top. Add in the youth of Anneli Maley and Kiera Rowe, and the importance of Aimie Clydesdale off the bench, and the Flyers had a really strong squad as a whole. While they were not able to get the chocolates in the end, they really made life difficult for the opposition and it showed in the end result of a minor premiership and grand final.

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

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.