Emma Strelein has hit the big time.
Strelein, a 16-year-old from Perth, will today announce her commitment to the University of Portland. Speaking with The Pick and Roll, Strelein explained her decision to join the Pilots as a flagship member of their 2021 recruiting class.
“I chose to commit to University of Portland because they play a style of game that really suits me,” Strelein said. “They have elite coaches that are building a great selfless culture, and you can see the passion and commitment to girls show for each other.”
Strelein will head to the Pacific Northwest to join a Portland program that has become a hotbed for young Australian prospects. The current Pilots roster contains three Australians – Alex Fowler, Keeley Frawley and Haylee Andrews – and Strelein is already leveraging the familiar voices playing at her future university.
“I have spoken with Haylee Andrews, and she’s told me how much she likes the school,” Strelein said. “I have received plenty of tips about what it’s like over there and she loves it there also and feels very welcomed.”
Strelein spent the recent WNBL season on the Perth Lynx as a Development Player. While the highly touted wing prospect only entered one game for the Lynx, a season spent training alongside Australian Opals and WNBA athletes has provided the young West Australian with an invaluable apprenticeship.
“I learned that professional basketball is a lot of work,” Strelein explained. “It is a lot of work. You have to spend a lot of work and hours on your game, but it was great. I learned what things I need to work on and it has helped me improve so much.
“My ball handling was good before I started, but after a season with the Lynx playing with WNBA players and current Opals, it has really helped me and challenged me.”
Strelein burst on the college recruiting landscape after a breakout showing at the Under 18s national tournament in April 2019. As an underage player, she led WA Metro in rebounds, assists and steals per game during the tournament and caught the eye of college programs all around North America. Long Island University came offering with a full scholarship, while the likes of St Mary’s, Pepperdine, Penn State and LaSalle also had discussions with Strelein and her family. In the end, however, Portland revealed itself as the best fit for Strelein.
“As I started to watch their games and do my research, I found myself wanting to watch them for the fun of it and I became a fan,” Strelein said of the Portland program.
“They have told me how I can fit into their team, in a scoring role with my shooting. When the graduating class before I arrive does leave, they are going to be missing someone who plays that role. They have told me that they need a player like me, and obviously I am who they are looking for.”
The Portland coaching staff are recruiting Strelein to boost their guard rotation. They are placing trust in the young Australian’s playmaking abilities and hoping Strelein continues to rapidly develop, just as she did during her lone season with the Lynx.
“One thing I have definitely improved this season with the Lynx is my ball handling,” she said. “I am going over to college to be a scorer, so I want to be able to dribble through traffic in the key and have control of the ball the entire time. I have been working on my three-ball a lot also and it’s getting more consistent.”
News of Strelein’s commitment comes on the heels of Portland completing their regular season with a 18-11 record. The Australian duo of Andrews and Fowler, who are currently the Pilots’ two leading scorers, powered Portland to a five-win improvement from the 2018-19 season and a top four seed ahead of the upcoming WCC Conference tournament.
Strelein will remain in Perth to complete year 12, before making the move to Portland in late 2021. Despite being over 18 months away from beginning her collegiate career, Strelein is eager to get started and chase down her ultimate basketball ambition.
“Long term, I want to go as far as I can,” Strelein said. “To play professionally and ultimately represent my nation is an ambition of mine. My grandad, who passed away when I was six, played for the English national team and he has always been my main inspiration. I have always wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
Strelein’s grandfather, Mike Gattorna, represented Great Britain before playing alongside Perth Wildcats legend Mike Ellis on Western Australian representative teams. Continuing her family legacy at the highest levels of international basketball is fuelling’s the younger Strelein’s blossoming career.
“I really want to experience playing for Australia,” Strelein said. “I feel like it would be a great experience to represent my country and it would be surreal to achieve it.
The University of Portland now awaits Emma Strelein. It’s the first step in her international basketball journey; just reward for all the hard work done put in. Listen to Strelein speak, however, and it becomes obvious she sees it this just the beginning. With dreams of a professional career and earning an Opals singlet riding shotgun to her collegiate scholarship, the future appears bright for this young West Australian.
“I know more than ever now, playing basketball this is what I want to be doing when I’m older,” Strelein said. “After college, I definitely want to play basketball as my career.”