Kelly Wilson is ready to lift spirits in Bendigo
As the WNBL approaches its 40th season of play, the sporting landscape is abuzz with narratives and expectations.
Whether it’s the strength of the defending champion UC Capitals or the revamped Southside Flyers, there is plenty for fans to get excited about.
One of the most fascinating stories, however, is of a girl who is returning home — and with her comes perhaps the most momentum of any player in the WNBL.
Her name is Kelly Wilson, and she is back with the Bendigo Spirit at long last.
A four-time WNBL champion, Wilson has been on quite a roll, claiming back-to-back titles in the last two seasons with Townsville and Canberra. Never one to rest on her laurels, she is coming off a spectacular NBL1 campaign with the Bendigo Braves, ably guiding them to the Preliminary Finals.
Wilson delivered almost 20 points a game, along with 2 steals and 6 rebounds. She also handing out a staggering 10.4 assists per game, leading the league and far ahead of Chanise Jenkins’ 6.4 in second place. It was enough for Wilson to be named the 2019 NBL1 women’s MVP.
“It’s great to win that,” Wilson advised the Pick and Roll. “I would have rather won a championship, but we didn’t quite get there in the end.”
In a glorious piece of symmetry, the honour comes ten years after Wilson was named the 2009 women’s MVP for the NBL1’s predecessor, the SEABL.
“It doesn’t feel like ten years,” Wilson stated. “I wasn’t aware of that until a few people mentioned it to me, but that’s certainly quite a while ago, isn’t it?”
Some would call it a testament to Wilson’s longevity.
“Yeah, well.” she said with a laugh. “Let’s go with that.”
In the decade since then, Wilson has played for various WNBL teams, however she spent the bulk of her career in Bendigo.
“I think playing with Bendigo for so long and playing with someone like Kristi Harrower where I learnt a lot from her [helped], and obviously going on and playing with different teams from there.
“I’d like to say, obviously, with age I’m a little bit more experienced and hopefully can read the game a bit better. I’m still enjoying playing, so that’s why I’m still here playing.”
She’ll be plying her trade with the Spirit this year, the team she won two titles with during her first stint from 2008 to 2016. Bendigo are undefeated so far in preseason play, and early signs are encouraging.
“Really good,” Wilson said of the atmosphere around the team. “I think we’ve been fortunate enough in our preseason that it hasn’t been as interrupted as other teams. We’re lucky in that sense.
“But by no means are we thinking that our results in the preseason are any indication of what’s going to happen during the season. I think the league’s so strong this year and there’s some great players coming in and teams have put some really good rosters together, but we are looking forward to the challenge.”
Wilson’s return comes at a fortuitous time, as she looks to shift the fortunes of the struggling squad. After appearing in three straight WNBL Finals, Bendigo has failed to qualify for the playoffs for the last four seasons.
“First and foremost is to get Bendigo Spirit in a better position and try and make WNBL Finals,” Wilson explained. “But I think, just enjoying playing and loving what I do is what makes me want to play the game of basketball, so if I can have an enjoyable season, and some kind of success with the team, that’s what the aim is.
“It’s a really new-look Bendigo Spirit, and I’m fortunate enough to be back playing here in Bendigo, which is my home, and I’m looking forward to it.
“We’ve got a lot of contributors. If we can play well together as a team, I think that’s going to be our biggest strength.”
The upcoming season will be Wilson’s seventeenth in the WNBL, and as always, rumours swirl around how much longer she will play. For her part, she doesn’t buy into the chatter.
“I think sometimes, you get to a certain age, and people start talking about things for you,” she explained. “I guess it’s natural, when you have success and when you win, it’s kind of like, ‘ah, should I finish playing here? Should I do this? Should I do that?’
“Like I mentioned, I’m enjoying playing right now, and I still feel good, my body feels good, so that’s the reason why I’m still playing.
“I’ve not really said much about when I’m going to stop playing, and I actually don’t know, so I just kind of take it season by season.”
Wilson’s championship pedigree could be just the element that the Spirit need to get back to their winning ways, and they’ll be a team to keep an eye on in 2019. As for individual players that could make an impact, Wilson’s reply was immediate and emphatic: “Hopefully all of them!”
Bendigo will host the Melbourne Boomers on 12 October to begin their season. The full WNBL fixture can be found here.
Thank you for loving Aussie hoops! From Kein, Damian and #TeamPnR