The 42nd season of the Women’s National Basketball League tips off today, live and free on ABC TV.
Much has happened since the Southside Flyers were crowned champions in a North Queensland hub 12 months ago.
It’s been a big and dramatic year for Australian women’s hoops, with the Opals recording their lowest result in an Olympic Games since 1984, the controversial withdrawal of star Liz Cambage on the eve of the Tokyo campaign, then in September a team of untried young guns claiming a bronze medal at the FIBA Asia Cup.
After last year’s condensed six-week hub due to COVID-19, the WNBL reverts to a full home-and-away season and best of semi and grand final series.
It’s again a marathon, not a sprint.
Championship fancy Perth Lynx won’t suit up until January because of Western Australia border restrictions.
Imports return to the competition and the class of #WNBL22 might just be the best crop of international talent yet.
It’s young talent time ahead of the World Cup
In a way the season, which spans until April, is one big talent show ahead of next year’s home FIBA Women’s World Cup in Sydney.
Ahead of the Asia Cup, Opals coach Sandy Brondello, upon picking a squad of more than 30, said she was opening the national squad up with an eye to the 2022 tournament.
The Asia Cup team, led by Opals assistant coach and University of Canberra Capitals coach Paul Goriss, featured nine debutants out of 11 team members.
Players can and will force their way into the national team on the back of dominant WNBL form.
Performances will pay off.
New look squads thanks to plenty of player movements
Southside Flyers and Bendigo Spirit launch the season and are the two all-Aussie teams opting not to fill their two available import spots this season.
The reigning champs have lost Cambage, grand final MVP Leilani Mitchell (Bendigo), Steph Blicavs (pregnancy), Bec Pizzey (Sydney) and Monique Conti (AFLW), but have recruited strongly, bringing league MVP Abby Bishop back to Australia and adding rising star Maddy Rocci (UC Capitals), Kate Gaze (Townsville) and Asia Cup bronze medallist Kristy Wallace.
The Spirit failed to win a game in the hub but got busy as soon as free agency began, landing prized signing Mitchell plus Boomer Maddie Garrick, livewire Anneli Maley, Carly Boag (Sydney) and Townsville big Meg McKay.
Melbourne Boomers are a tantalising prospect, with a star-studded starting five including Olympic trio Cayla George, Ezi Magbegor and Tess Madgen and imports Lindsay Allen, who is back for season number three, and Indiana Fever star Tiffany Mitchell, who’s shown some exciting glimpses in preseason games.
Sydney Uni Flames have undergone a makeover and have a new coach in four-time Olympian Shane Heal.
He will coach his superstar daughter Shyla, who was a sensation in the hub season for Townsville.
The Flames have recruited Keely Froling (UC Capitals) and Kalani Purcell (Melbourne) and boast some of the best young talent in the world with imports Stephanie Watts and Chelsea Dungee who, like Heal, were top 10 WNBA draft picks in 2021.
Runner-up Townsville Fire might have lost Heal but will again be a contender under the superb guidance of reigning coach of the year Shannon Seebohm.
They have a new home called The Fire Pit, moving to the Townsville Entertainment Centre where the city’s NBL team played until its demise.
Triple championship player Micaela Cocks returns after having a baby last year.
Monique Billings (Atlanta Dream) brings athleticism, height and scoring power, while fellow import Alecia “Sug” Sutton should excite the Fire’s home crowds.
The Capitals welcome back WNBL games record holder Kelly Wilson, who returns to the court after the arrival of her first child.
The veteran point guard set the new record in her last WNBL game and is now five away from her 400th.
The Caps have also provided the platform for ex-Opal Alex Bunton to emerge from retirement.
Feeling good after a horrid run of knee surgeries, the centre has rediscovered her love of the sport after welcoming a daughter last year.
Alicia Froling (Bendigo) and under-19 Australian representative Shaneice Swain get opportunities, while the Caps are excited about what their import, LA Sparks guard Brittney Sykes, can produce.
Veteran Marianna Tolo is playing in France.
Opals and imports ready to shine
Basketball fans have waited a long time to see Opal and WNBA player Alanna Smith play on home soil and she now makes her debut with the Adelaide Lightning.
She’ll play alongside former Stanford University teammate and import Kiana Williams, who also has links with Lightning captain and reigning league MVP Steph Talbot, suiting up together at Seattle this past WNBA season.
The Lightning have also secured New York Liberty forward/centre Kylee Shook.
Perth must wait a little longer for round 1 but there’s plenty of excitement and expectation around the side and whether it can win just its second title.
The Lynx landed the signature of 2019 WNBA number one draft pick and Tokyo Olympic gold medallist Jackie Young, who has the potential to dominate the league, and Dallas Wings guard Marina Mabrey.
Rumours are rife that medal-winning Opal and WNBA champion Sami Whitcomb will return for Perth, while Lauren Scherf is primed for a solid season after arriving from the Flames and performing strongly at Asia Cup.
ABC TV will broadcast one game of the round live each week, starting with Southside Flyers v Bendigo Spirit on Saturday December 4, from 5pm AEDT.
Megan Hustwaite is a member of the ABC’s commentary team for the 2021-22 WNBL season.