“I still love the game as much as ever” Laura Hodges says. It’s a simple enough statement, but for basketball fans who feared the four-time Olympian may slip into retirement during the off-season, it’s positively stirring.
“Towards the end of the season when I wanted to stay the reason why maybe (Adelaide) were a bit worried was that I was wanting to have a family” Hodges says. “It’s hard to explain, but I always just wanted to play in Adelaide, I’ve always wanted to play for them ever since I was a junior here. That Adelaide will be strong next year is just a bonus".
Hodges continued to be an efficient inside scorer for a young Adelaide team.
Hodges' play in season 2016/17 didn't exactly suggest a player at the end of the line, as she again ranked in the top ten in points per game and rebounds per game, keeping the scoreboard ticking over with a polished array of put-backs, running hooks, transition layups and a reliable baseline jumper and mid-range game.
Advanced statistics paint an even more rosy picture of her season; she had a true shooting percentage of 51.8%, only fractionally behind league MVP Suzy Batkovic, who shot 52.2% by the same metric. She also continued to be a strong defender, quick enough to defend in space as well as in the post.
A reliable baseline jumper has netted Hodges many points over the years.
Long-time Opals teammate Kristi Harrower had been equally effusive, describing Hodges as the “perfect teammate” in an article looking back on her accomplished career. “She is so unselfish” Harrower wrote of Hodges. “It’s never about her putting up big numbers”.
For her part, Hodges says she simply aspires to be the kind of mentor she had when she joined the Lightning as a young AIS alum in 2002. “I want to help people as much as I can, whether that’s just in a small way or whatever. When I first came to Adelaide, there were people like Rachael Sporn and Michelle Brogan here and they were such a massive help to me, I just lapped it up. Any little tip they had for me, it was so helpful”.
Hodges led Adelaide with 2.5 offensive rebounds per game.
Hodges’ leadership was particularly important given Adelaide’s youth last year. With an inexperienced squad assembled just before the season tipped off, the group displayed plenty of resilience despite their lowly position on the ladder.
Combo guard Sarah Elsworthy and forward Chelsea Brook, both local juniors, showed plenty to suggest bright futures at this level. Both will be back with a vastly more experienced set of teammates for the WNBL18 campaign. Hodges has high hopes for the pair.
“When you see how hard they work, it’s pretty clear they’ll be able to step it up to another level. Their maturity is such a great thing”. While the raft of new players the Lightning have recruited may cut into their playing time, Hodges says both Elsworthy and Brook will continue to play a crucial role. “With the league next year having so many games in such a short time, you need everyone to be contributing, you need to go ten deep”.
Live Jazz: Hodges with Opals legend Jenni Screen at the NBA Finals. (Photo: Instagram Laura_Hodges11)
Before gearing up for that campaign, however, Hodges had a rare break from training with her first proper holiday in years, travelling to the US with her husband. For this basketball lifer, however, there was inevitably basketball involved as she caught up with fellow Olympians Patty Mills and Joe Ingles and cheered from the stands as the latter put up a series of spirited performances in the Jazz’s playoff run.
Hodges also spoke with incoming Opals coach Sandy Brondello, who was preparing for the WNBA season with her Phoenix Mercury. Hodges talks with obvious enthusiasm about the appointment of her 2004 Olympic teammate, which heralds a new era for the Opals. Hodges will be part of a training camp for the Squad which takes place in Brondello’s Arizona base in late June.
“I just loved learning from her” she says of her time as Brondello’s teammate. “She was a really intelligent player and now she’s a very intelligent coach. She wants to implement her style of basketball and she only has a short time before the Asia qualifiers (in July), but I think it’s very exciting for Australian basketball to have a coach with that level of WNBA and European experience”
Fuelled by that excitement, Hodges is ready for the next chapter of a career which not too long ago seemed set to draw to a premature close. But there is no doubt that she is all in. “I’m now 33, almost 34, so I’ve been around a while, but I still love it” she says. “I just want to play as much I can and for as long as I can”.
An 05/06 trading card of Hodges (nee Summerton)
Laura Hodges 2016/17 Adelaide Lightning stats
Points per game: 17.56 (4th in league)
Rebounds per game: 7.13 (10th in league)
Assist to turnover ratio: 1.27
Free throw attempts per game: 4.88 (5th in league)
Field goal percentage: 48% (8th in league – minimum 50 attempts)