“When I was in the national performance program in Year 9, I got introduced to the idea that I could go to college and get a scholarship for basketball. Ever since then I’ve had the dream of going and I’ve been working towards that.”
Miela Goodchild has certainly had her eye on playing college basketball for a long time – almost a quarter of her young life.
A member of the Sapphires’ Under 17 World Championship-winning team in 2016, Goodchild, like most members of that team, saw their interest skyrocket in the wake of defeating the US in the semi-finals and going on to win the title, with programs such as Virginia, Ohio State, and Utah showing their interest in the young Queenslander. However, the team that eventually landed the hot-shooting guard didn’t even have Goodchild on their radar at the time, but that changed after Goodchild’s outstanding Under 20s Australian Junior Championships in which she helped lead Queensland to a round-robin victory over Victoria before securing a silver medal after falling to the same opponent in the championship game.
“Playing in the World Championships and beating the US was a big deal. I had college offers but it definitely ramped up a lot more,” Goodchild explained. “Duke came in pretty late, at the start of this year.
“They kind of just reached out that they’re looking for another combo guard and if I’d be interested. I was pretty keen to talk to them and locked in a visit straight after hearing from them and added them to the list of my five visits.”
Although Goodchild had interest from several high-profile schools, it’s hardly surprising that Duke were able to force their way into the picture at such a late stage. A blue blood not only of college basketball, but of college athletics in general not to mention the academic stage. Only the most ardent fanatic of local rivals North Carolina would turn down the chance to at least tour Duke if given the opportunity, and Goodchild took it with both hands.
“At that stage I was thinking more Virginia or Ohio State. But obviously it’s a great academic school, and the basketball program’s excellent, but also the team culture was really good; focused on getting better and working as a team,” Goodchild explained.
“It kind of just fit me. It’s a nice sized school that just fit me and what I wanted and it just had it all.”
However, the decision of which college to attend wasn’t the only one that Goodchild had to make. As a member of the Townsville Fire’s WNBL roster as a development player, the young starlet already had pathways opening up for her in Australia. Yet a theme that emerges when speaking with Goodchild is one of taking opportunities when they are presented, and the decision to make the jump across the Pacific was no different.
“Obviously I was a development player in the WNBL for the Fire which I absolutely loved. But you only get one opportunity to go to college, whereas the WNBL and the Australian pathway is always there, so I thought I may as well try college,” Goodchild revealed.
"If I happen to not like it, I can always come back. I mean, I’ll only be 21 when I finish college, so I’ll still be young. It’ll be a good way to develop and then come back and hopefully have a more significant role at one of the WNBL teams.
"I would love after the four years to get drafted to the WNBA. That would be a dream, but I also want to travel the world, play in Europe professionally, come back and play in the WNBL.”
Duke is obviously known for the long line of NBA players it has produced from the men's program, including current stars Kyrie Irving, J.J. Redick, and Jayson Tatum, but the women’s team has produced its own long line of WNBA stars too.
Perennial All-Defensive selection Alana Beard leads a list of players that includes Atlanta Dream star Elizabeth Williams, LA Sparks starter Chelsea Gray and former #1 draft pick Lindsey Harding. Both of Duke’s starting guards from last season, Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell, added themselves to the list of Blue Devils to be drafted by WNBA teams. Their departure left both back court spots open, with Goodchild tasked with being one of the players to help ensure the transition is as smooth as possible. However, with plenty of experience playing with and against far more mature players, Goodchild is looking forward to making the step up, and is ready to use the experience she has gained playing against those professional players to her advantage.
“I think that having played in the WNBL and the QBL, I bring a different kind of experience and a different kind of basketball IQ. Being part of a professional program and knowing how things work and the competitiveness of it,” Goodchild revealed.
“The players four years older than me are physically stronger, but I’ve played against older athletes and been exposed to a higher physicality. So coming in, it’s not much of a shock; I’m expecting it and giving it back to them a bit,” the freshman says with a laugh.
“Training’s been awesome. It’s super-tough, definitely a kind of different style of play, but the coaches have said I’m doing well which is exciting. I’m loving every single second.”
Although Goodchild officially stands at 5’10, she is one of the smallest players on what is a fairly tall Duke roster. That trademark Aussie tenacity and the benefits that come from a couple of seasons training with the most successful WNBL team of the past decade shine through as she talks about her desire to make an impact. That will stand the freshman in good stead as Duke look to work their way towards dominating a stacked ACC that features defending national champions Notre Dame, national semi-finalists Louisville, and a number of other high calibre programs.
“So, we’re aiming to win the ACC, then get to the tournament and go somewhere, get to the Final Four and hopefully take it out,” Goodchild revealed. “But there’s definitely a desire, we’re definitely hungry. We’ve already spoken about goals and had team chats with the coaches about expectations for the season and what we want to get out of it.
“I definitely think there’s a desire to go as far as we can go this year and in years to come as well.”
While Goodchild may be settling into Duke, her next competitive fixture won’t actually be with the Blue Devils. An Under 17 World Champion in 2016, Goodchild will return to the Australian national team for the FIBA Asia Under 18 tournament, which doubles as the qualifier for next year’s Under 19 World Cup. It will be Goodchild’s first time in the green and gold since captaining the Sapphires to gold in last year’s FIBA Oceania Under 17 tournament, and the Queenslander is itching to get back into national colours.
“It’s always such an honour to represent your country, and I take real pride in it,” Goodchild enthused. “It’s one of my goals to play in the World Cup and represent my country and hopefully do what we did in Under 17s and win another World Championship. It’s definitely very important and I’m working towards that.”
“I guess you never truly know [whether you’ll make the squad], but I’ve always just worked as hard as I could, hoped they’d choose me, and I’ve been pretty successful so far. I never really think about where I stand [with the national program]. I just think about making the next camp, and then the next team, it’s more of a process.”
However, having captained her country at Under 17 level last year, Goodchild is aware that having been named as part of the squad, she will no doubt be one of the leaders of the team, be that in an official captain’s role or simply as one of the more experienced players in the side.
“Since I’m top-age now, I’ve already got the leadership role that I have to play as one of the eldest on the team, especially since I captained the Oceania team,” Goodchild says, alert to the responsibilities that she will be taking on. “I feel that I have the expectation to continue that on in this team. It comes with being a top-age player, but everyone has their own role to play.”
Although the Gems will be among the favourites to qualify for the 2019 FIBA Under 19 World Cup and also to win the Asian tournament, the new qualifying route brings its own challenges. Australian teams have previously qualified for World Cup events through the much less challenging Oceania pathway, where 100-point blowout wins were the rule rather than the exception. The Gems will now take on Asian heavyweights Japan and China alongside old rivals New Zealand in an attempt to make the World Cup this time around. However Goodchild is up for the challenge, looking forward not only to the tournament, but how those tougher matches will galvanise the side if they are to qualify for the 2019 event in Bangkok, Thailand.
“It’s always exciting taking on the Asian countries. They’re always speedy and agile and definitely well-structured teams, but it’s always exciting facing higher calibre players and tough teams,” Goodchild explains. “I think we’re definitely ready to take out the competition, but we’ll just take it one game at a time.”
Qualification may be the first step on the road to international glory for the Gems, but Goodchild knows exactly what both she and the team want to get out of this campaign – redemption after the Gems’ sixth placed finish at the 2017 event, and a medal to go alongside her Under 17s gold from 2016.
“I think [FIBA Asia] will give us an idea of what the physicality is of the Under 19s, and what we’ll be expecting for World Championships. It’ll give us a glimpse of what the pace is and what we need to work on prior to it to get ultimately a World Championship medal again.
“The expectation is to medal; whether it’s gold, silver, or bronze. Ultimately the goal is to go all the way. But there’s definitely a process to take it step by step through each game. It’s both a personal goal and also the expectation of the team and Basketball Australia.”
How the Gems’ campaign turns out remains to be seen, but for now Goodchild continues to find her feet at Duke before linking up with the national program in October. Snapchats with men’s freshman phenom Zion Williamson have made their way back to Australia, and it’s fair to say the freshman is settling in pretty well, with her unlimited access to the training facilities bringing more than just the chance to work on her game at any time, including the opportunity to catch a glimpse of a legend of the game.
“I’m absolutely loving this, really enjoying it. I’ve got 24-hour access to the gym. I saw Coach K in the gym yesterday. He was punching out 100kg on the bench press. I was like, ‘He’s 70 and he’s lifting heavy-as weights!’” Goodchild exclaims with a laugh.
If Goodchild can ensure that she sees more of that bench than the one that sits courtside at Cameron Indoor Stadium, things should shake out pretty well for the first Aussie woman to take the court for Duke since Jess Foley played in the Blue Devils' loss to Connecticut in the 2006 NCAA Championship game.