Bishop and Hurst: Veteran stars shining for Sunshine Coast Phoenix

The Sunshine Coast Phoenix are going to be a force to be reckoned with during this QBL season; the noise is getting louder thanks to their two queens of the court who are showing how lethal the experienced pair are.

Abby Bishop and Nat Hurst are two elite athletes and stars of Australian women’s hoops that have linked up once again after playing and succeeding together in the WNBL for the Canberra Capitals. They both share their ability and success on the court, but their beginnings in the sport are very different.

The Pick and Roll caught up with the duo to discuss their decisions to join the Sunshine Coast Phoenix in the QBL.

Growing up three hours north of Adelaide on a sheep farm, Bishop is an intense and talented athlete. She has since gone on to become a WNBA champion (2010), three-time WNBL Champion, a WNBL Most Valuable Player (2015), while earning two WNBL All-Star Five selections along the way (2009, 2015). Having previously played netball at representative level, she explained she fell into basketball at 13.

“One day I got the phone call to try basketball, and was a bit iffy about the change, but I gave it a go and got to the level at which I had to choose between the two sports, said Bishop. "I chose basketball because of the opportunities that it was offering and have never looked back.”

She has gone on to play in the WNBL for the Australian Institute of Sport (2005–06), the Capitals (2006–10, 2013-2016), Dandenong Rangers (2010–11), and the Adelaide Lightning (2011–2012, 2017). She also has played in the WNBA for the Seattle Storm, with her rookie year in 2010, and returning in 2015 after five years in the WNBL. She was rewarded for these achievements with selection to the Opals.

“Playing with Lauren Jackson has been a huge milestone," beamed Bishop who had nothing but glowing things to say about her chance to play alongside one of the all-time greats.

"I’ve been able to win a WNBA championship, and three WNBL championships with her and that’s really special! A lot of people got to play against her, but to be able to play with arguably the world’s best female basketballer is pretty special.”

Bishop plays forward/centre, but laughed when I commented that based on her stats through her career she looked to be more of an alternate point guard, playing back-up to Hurst - the lead point guard.

“I love passing," Bishop tried to explain with a bit of a laugh. "I am not a player who likes to take all the shots but rather get the ball down court.”

Bishop has played in Queensland's state league for two seasons previously – for half of last season and in 2010 for Rockhampton. The QBL and its fans almost missed out on the opportunity to see her line up for the Sunshine Coast as Bishop would go on to explain.

“To be honest I was not going to play in the off-season and had decided I needed a rest until I got the call from Brayden [Heslehurst - Phoenix coaching director and men’s head coach]," outlined Bishop.

"I said no to his offer three times. During the fourth call he mentioned the possibility of signing Nat [Hurst] and if this would change my decision – which I said it would! I really enjoy playing with Nat, so that was a key reason I signed. I am loving being back playing with Natty as my point guard.”

Nat Hurst is a true dynamo of the game, and at 35 years of age she is showing no sign of slowing down. Born and bred in Canberra, who unlike Bishop, was literally thrust onto the court and has not looked back since.

“As a five year old I used to run around at half time while my sister coached the under 10’s side," reminisced Hurst with a chuckle. "One game she didn’t have enough players so she threw a huge jersey on me and I wore my brother’s massive shoes so she could start the game. I think I cried for twenty minutes for the first half but I have not left the basketball court since!”

Continuing on and playing the next five years for under 10’s was the start of a massive career on the hard-wood for Hurst. She went on to play eleven seasons in the WNBL for the Canberra Capitals, earning a haul of seven championships. Hurst's on-court exploits earned her Opals selection, with her first cap coming in 2009.

The point guard has previously played five seasons with Gladstone in the QBL, guiding her side to the championship in 2009, the first of the club's history. She joins the Phoenix now to be closer to family, who reside on the Sunshine Coast, as well as the opportunity to reunite with Bishop.

“When I was discussing the possibility of coming to the Sunshine Coast and heard from Brayden that Abby may also be joining the squad, it was really a no-brainer for me to put pen to paper," explained Hurst.

"She is a star in her own right and has been since day dot. As a point guard, and having a big like her who can play inside, play the perimeter, make points, move, rebound and do everything else that she does - she makes my life a whole lot easier and makes my performances look a lot better than they probably were. She is a dream big that any point guard would love to play with, and I got that in Canberra and I have that now at the Phoenix."

The complete respect they have for each other is evidence on and off the court; backed up by the QBL stats and ladder so far, which will only strengthen their playoff run. The Phoenix have played five games for four wins (their only loss by seven points). The pair commented on the squad and their thoughts so far and for the season ahead.

“Our squad plays a fast-paced style of play, a running side, said Bishop. "I am the biggest player there at 6’3, but I am quite agile for my size. Having Natty as my point guard works great as she understands the game so well."

“Our squad is confident and the girls like to get out and run and shoot the basket, added Hurst. "I think our fast-paced style suits our team. I don’t think enough credit has been given to our local girls. If you look at past score sheets, the girls have shared the work and posted double figure games - we cannot win without those contributions. Come the end of the season, our success will be thanks to all of the girls working together and will allow us to become a very solid unit come finals."

“Looking at other squads, I think Townsville is going to be super tough – they have some of their WNBL girls and always have great local talent," the point guard added in relation to the talent across the QBL. "South West Metro also have a great squad, and I am looking forward to taking them on.”

In discussing plans for the future beyond this season they both added further to the conversation. Bishop recently decided to pull out from the Opals squad, advising that national team coach, Sandy Brondello, was extremely supportive and respectful of her decision, keeping the door open for a possible return in future. She would go on to explain that she made the decision after returning home from playing duties in Russia after reflecting on her career and life at this point, providing some advice for players coming through or looking to make something from a basketball career.

“Find something you’re really good at and master it," Bishop explained. "For me that’s my rebounding. If you have one thing you are really good at, become known for that.”

Hurst found her niche in the WNBL just like Bishop. Next season she will be taking her respected talents to the Bendigo Spirit - just her second WNBL team as she explained the reason for this signing.

“I felt like it would be a fresh start for the end of my career," the veteran point guard enthused. "So I'm hoping to go down there, be a leader and play some solid games of basketball.”

She also provided some advice for other players or young people wanting to get into basketball and fall in love with it as she did.

“Train how you want to play," said Hurst emphatically. "Even if I am the court training myself, I am not going to do that half-paced because you cannot get away with that in the game. Practice at game pace so it becomes natural come game time.”

Sound words of wisdom from two veteran stars of the WNBL.

The combination of Hurst and Bishop will hit the road in Round 6 as they head up the range to take on the Toowoomba Mountaineers at Clive Berghofer Rec Centre on Sunday June 3rd with tip-off set at 12PM.

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