WNBL: 18 Things to Look Forward to in WNBL18
Sydney become the hunted
The University of Sydney Flames steamrolled to the title last season and bring back most of their winning team, but basketball genius Leilani Mitchell, the league’s best clutch player in WNBL17, is a big loss. Much depends on returning Opal Ebzery, who may slide over to the one guard at times.
Dandenong’s duck boat friends
NBA fans have long been intrigued by the idea of the ‘banana boat’ team, a superteam comprising superpals Lebron James, Chris Paul and Dwayne Wade, so named because of a memorably ridiculous Instagram picture of the high-profile trio riding an inflatable banana with Wade's wife, Gabrielle Union. A photo of Carley Mijovic and Sara and Steph Blicavs riding an inflatable duck with Opals teammates didn’t go quite as viral, but the friends did also form their own superteam of sorts, bringing in AIS buddies Tessa Lavey and Tayla Roberts to form a new-look core at Dandenong.
“I got a couple of messages from Sara and Carley saying ‘get here, let’s go, we’re going to get this championship” Lavey told the Herald-Sun. One of the most intriguing storylines is how this quack squad will fare.
The grudge match
Circle this date: Saturday October 14, 7:00pm. University of Sydney Flames v Dandenong Rangers. The grand final rivalry continues.
The return of Liz Cambage
One of the most physically dominant bigs in the league’s history, Liz Cambage at her best is good enough to shift the entire balance of power across the whole league. Her return after a five-year absence from the WNBL is one of the year’s biggest stories and enough to tip a now stacked Melbourne into a narrow lead as title favourites.
Adelaide star Laura Hodges said Cambage presents all kind of matchup problems for other teams. “Lizzie is a player like no other, she has great shooting touch, she’s a great scorer, extremely strong and athletic. You can’t stop her, you just have to work around her.”
The unscripted moments
Like this fine spill:
The youth brigade
Most players don’t get much WNBL court time in their first year, but Ezi Magbegor isn’t most players. The shot-blocking dynamo is a rare talent and already looked comfortable at this level during pre-season; also look out for her former AIS teammate, Zitina Aokuso, a hyper-athletic centre, who has joined the Fire. Melbourne pocket rocket Monique Conti is already one of the most fun players in the league to watch, while Kara Tessari (Spirit), Cassidy McLean (Flames) and Sarah Elsworthy (Lightning) all project as future stars.
Suzy Batkovic’s quest for six MVPs
Batkovic has quietly been one of the most dominant players not just in basketball, but in any Australian sport over the last decade. Yet there will be no shortage of players who could compete with her for this year's award: Sami Whitcomb went painfully close last year, while previous winners Abby Bishop and Liz Cambage will again be candidates. Sara Blicavs and Asia Taylor should again be in the race, while newcomers Banham and Williams could storm into contention.
A fierce competitor, Batkovic would give up another MVP medal for a shot at a championship in a heartbeat, but we say a record sixth individual award would be pretty cool.
Kelsey Griffin: Anything is Possible
The FIBA Asia Cup was Kelsey Griffin’s first International basketball after having naturalised as an Australian citizen. More than this, however, it soon turned into a full-blown coming-out party for this gritty, hyper-competitive, supremely well-rounded player. It introduced the basketball world to a fact WNBL fans are already well aware of: Kelsey Griffin is very, very good at basketball. The team’s disappointment at missing the finals last season provides rich motivation, while the arrival of Rachel Banham adds much needed outside shooting to their hard-working core. As another basketballing KG once famously yelled: Anything is possible!
New stars: Williams, Banham, Wiese
Not all WNBA players who have come into the league have been dominant, but it would be a huge surprise if Courtney Williams, a WNBA rotation player, doesn’t make a major impact for Perth. Rachel Banham and Sydney Wiese were both elite shooters at college level who have the ability to get points in bunches and the gravity to stretch the floor and kick their team’s offence up a notch. Banham has already hit a buzzer-beater circus shot to win a pre-season game for Bendigo. Her scoring rampages for Minnesota attracted attention from one of the biggest names in the sport.