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WNBL: 18 Things to Look Forward to in WNBL18

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.

Think of Alex Bunton and Alanna Smith as the Gabrielle Union of this photo. 

Think of Alex Bunton and Alanna Smith as the Gabrielle Union of this photo. 

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:

A merry mix-up.

A merry mix-up.

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.

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The tactics

Think of basketball as chess for tall people. The real-time tactical battles between coaches will again be fascinating as they punch and counter-punch to try to exploit any advantage their current line-up has.

Sara Blicavs, one of this league’s versions of the multi-dimensional queen chess piece, told this site in an earlier interview that the WNBL is more tactical than the men’s game. “The men are more athletic, but we get the same number of points. We have to be smarter, quicker and read the game better.”

Hold On, We’re Going Home

In WNBL18, everything old is new again: Nat Hurst is back at Canberra, where she has won a ridiculous seven championships. Cayla George has rejoined Townsville, where she starred in two WNBL titles. Abby Bishop is back at her hometown team, Adelaide, just as Katie-Rae Ebzery rejoins her local team in Sydney.  Each has reason to believe they can lead their team to glory.

Laura Hodges on Liz Cambage: “Lizzie is a player like no other...You can’t stop her, you just have to work around her”

An eight-team race

You could make a good argument for any of the eight competing teams to win the WNBL this season, such is the depth and spread of talent. It could be like the last NBL season, where only a couple of points spread the entire field and a team that was placed last at the halfway point ended up as champions.

With a shortened schedule and in such an even competition, chemistry and fit will be even more important. A buzzer-beater here and a tough road loss there could easily separate a finals campaign from an early exit.

The match-ups

Abby Bishop v Suzy Batkovic, Liz Cambage v double teams, Ezi Magbegor v Zitina Aokuso, Rachel Banham v your best perimeter defender.

The Sami show

Every Australian sports fan should see Sami Whitcomb, the league’s most unguardable player, in person. A spectacular shooter with a whole arsenal of stepbacks and almost imperceptibly quick shot release, Whitcomb will be joined by another scorer in Courtney Williams, a move that doesn’t so much create headaches for opponents as brain-splitting migraines.       

Get your tickets for the Sami show.

Get your tickets for the Sami show.

Slam dunking?

Jen Hamson and Liz Cambage have both dunked during games. Zitina Aokuso is throwing them down in practice. Just saying.

The ageless Belinda Snell

Now entering her 21st season of elite level basketball, Belinda Snell should be slowing down. Should be, but isn’t. At the Asia Cup, she was still easily one of the Opals best players, regularly outpointing opponents a whole generation younger. Her ability to see the court and read opposition plays before they unfold was a huge factor in the Flames’ championship last season. Seasons change, empires rise and fall, but Snell remains a steady evergreen, racking up steals through sheer canniness and throwing perfect entry passes.

The double-headers

Christmas comes a month early for WNBL fans; on November 25 and 26, all eight teams converge on the State Basketball Centre for two days of double headers. Other rounds include joint fixtures with NBL teams. In a crowded summer sporting market, this kind of innovative scheduling can only help the league get the attention it deserves.

It’s back on TV

Let’s dance!

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The Evening Game's Modern Classics: Colum McCann's 'Transatlanticism'

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