Of all sport’s clichés, perhaps the most insidious is that nice guys finish last. Over her decorated WNBL career, Carly Wilson was like a one-woman counterargument to that idea, being one of the league’s most successful competitors as well as a universally popular figure and admired teammate.
Speaking to this site shortly after the last of her 363 games, UC Capitals head coach Paul Goriss said the club was keen to keep such an affable and experienced figure around, an ambition now realised with Wilson coming on board as an assistant coach.
“It feels like a natural progression” Wilson says of the appointment. “I’d taken on some player coaching roles in my last few seasons and I’ve always been lucky enough to have a really good relationship with the head coach as a player where I would be able to speak to them about anything I could see that I thought could help us, or they would come to me and get my opinions on things. So, I always thought (coaching) was something I would go into at some stage.”
UC Capitals coaching staff: Carly Wilson, Paul Goriss, Peta Sinclair. Photo: Vanessa Lam
Wilson is already relishing the move. “Every time I get to training and I’ve rushed from work and it’s been a ‘not great’ day because things have been super stressful, I think ‘Yes, I’m glad I’m on this side of the fence and not doing that same warm-up I’ve done a million times before!’. It feels right”
While Wilson played with the team last season, the squad is quite different, with only Kate Gaze, Abby Wehrung and Keely Froling returning from last year’s fifth-placed group. The youthful trio all saw Wilson as something of a mentor or quasi coach already, something she says may make the transition from playing group to coaching staff smoother.
Work commitments will likely prevent Wilson from doing too many individuals or video work, but she will be hands on at training and helping out with game plans. Wilson and fellow assistant, Peta Sinclair, a WNBL champion and experienced coach, are still working out the details of how they will divide up tasks. “I think that will happen organically during pre-season” Wilson says. “We’ll see which areas we feel comfortable in, and where we have ideas that we think will work.”
A physically taxing season ahead
One area Wilson feels her recent experience as a player can help with is in monitoring fatigue, training load and minor injuries. “When someone turns into a head coach, it’s difficult for them to keep track of those things, they just need players on court for longer and want to be coaching for as long as they can.
“I’ve still got that player mentality. If ‘Gorrie’ says at the start of training ‘We’re going for an hour and a half today’, then I’m in his ear when 90 minutes is up saying: ‘Right, how long more are we going for?’
Having a feel for the nagging pains and niggling injuries will be doubly important in the newly condensed WNBL18 schedule. “It will be a really big learning curve…it’s an environment we haven’t had to deal with before.” Wilson says. “This year there’s lots of double headers, lots of games in a short time, a lot of travel. We need to make sure we have those fit, happy, healthy bodies.”
Making the challenge even greater is what shapes as a hard-fought, supremely even competition. “I think it’s going to be really tight across the board, as you say each team could make a case for winning the whole thing.” Wilson needs to look no further than last year’s team to know the margin for error can be razor-thin in the WNBL, even for a richly talented squad.
“When I think of the team we had last year, we had such a great team and we really should have won more games. You just drop a couple and all of a sudden, you don’t make finals.”
The retiring Wilson chaired off court by Mikaela Ruef and Marianna Tolo. Photo: 5 Foot Photography
A number of experienced players from last year, including floor general Lauren Mansfield and imports Mikaela Ruef and Jazmon Gwathmey have moved elsewhere. Most significantly, the team’s co-captain, offensive focus and general good egg, Marianna Tolo, has returned to European competition.
In light of this turnover, Wilson says the locker room presence of Mistie Bass and seven-time WNBL champion Nat Hurst becomes even more important. “You’ve always got to have those steadying veterans, that people can look to on court to calm everyone down, call the plays, make good decisions. We’re lucky that we’ve got two really good ones.” Wilson also sees Rachel Jarry as a leader amongst the playing group, a role the dual Olympian has been eager to embrace.
The veteran know-how should help bring the squad together quickly. “It’ll be really important to make sure everyone’s bonded and on the same page” Wilson reflects. “In other seasons, having a slow start might not affect you that drastically, you have to time to pull it back together. But now, if we’re talking the first three weeks, that’s already six games and a huge chunk of the season done. You don’t have that luxury of easing your way into it.”
It should make for a challenging, fascinating season and the league’s return to television only adds to the excitement. “It’s even bigger than people probably realise” Wilson says of the broadcast deal. “It couldn’t be more important and I’m thrilled about it.”