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WNBA: The Aussies heading to the world's best league
As we begin to approach the highly anticipated 2017 WNBA season, plenty of Aussies will be making a name for themselves after signing with their respective clubs.
The Phoenix Mercury have continued their Australian connection, as Aussie coach Sandy Brondello signed on Cayla George, Leilani Mitchell and Steph Talbot to join the team for the 2017 season. Talbot will head to the WNBA for the first time, while George and Mitchell head back for their second stint with the Mercury after they both featuring in their 2015 season. New York Liberty have signed on dynamic forward Rebecca Allen for another season in the big apple as they chase a Championship, and Sami Whitcomb has inked a deal with the Seattle Storm in a truly remarkable story for the US born permanent resident.
Rebecca Allen | New York
Rebecca Allen will join New York again after a breakout season with the Liberty in 2016.
Averaging 5.7 points and 1.7 rebounds in the 2016 WNBA season, Allen showcased what she had to offer which led to her being promoted to the starting 5 lineup for a period of her 21 games. Allen is thrilled to be heading back to the WNBA for a full season from the get go, after arriving late in 2016 due to Australian Opals commitments.
“It’s [WNBA] one of the most challenging environments I have played and trained in which really helps accelerate my improvement. Particularly playing at an organisation like New York Liberty - they are so professional and really work hard on individual development,” Allen stated.
Allen’s currently playing with Good Angels Kosice in Slovakia, where she is rolling in the highlights and leading her team to some great successes. So far, Allen is averaging 13.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists for Good Angels.
Allen believes her season in Slovakia has helped further develop her leadership skills as well performing at a consistent and constant level.
“It’s good being a key player of the team and we have been really successful so far. The form I’m in here will hopefully progress into my next season with New York as I’m really finding my outside shot as well as more of a mid-range game. It’s good to be apart of a winning culture, we have another tough game coming up which will determine if we progress to the final 4 of Eurocup,” Allen said.
On talking about what she plans on bringing to New York in 2017, Allen wants her presence as a dynamic 3-man known as she hopes to help the Liberty to the elusive championship title.
“I am definitely known as a 3-point-shooter, but I am also wanting to show other areas of my game that has an impact on the floor both defensively and offensively. It’s going to be an exciting season as I feel that we have a really strong chance at a championship title, and getting that ring is a huge goal of mine as well as everyone at the club,” Allen said.
Cayla George | Phoenix Mercury
This will be George’s second stint with Phoenix, appearing in their 2015 season in which she averaged 5 points and 3.1 rebounds after appearing in all 34 games as a rookie. Currently in Hungary playing with Uniqa Sopron, George has featured heavily in this prominent side and is averaging 11.9 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists.
“I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to go back into the WNBA and especially to Phoenix. They have great people and plenty of Aussie flavour so I never feel too far from home - it’s such a great league with so much talent and I am looking forward to the challenge,” George said.
George is hoping to further develop her game and is once again excited to be playing with one of the world’s most prominent centres, Brittney Griner.
“I’m excited to evolve as a player under Coach Brondello and to also play and learn even more from the likes of Diana Taurus who was sitting out in my last season. I’ll also have to remember to keep my fend off game strong around Brittany Griner at training,” George said.
Among having another opportunity in the WNBA, George is also super excited to be heading to sunny Arizona after living in the European winter for the last 5 months.
Leilani Mitchell | Phoenix Mercury
Mitchell will return to the Mercury after playing in all 34 games for Phoenix in 2015 after the club signed her as an unrestricted free agent. Mitchell has been dominating in the WNBL for the Sydney Flames who are sitting on top of the ladder, with an average of 15.9 points, 6.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds.
Mitchell’s WNBA experience includes a WNBA Most Improved Player award when she shot a league-best 48.6% from long-range in 2010 and totalled a career-best 72 three-pointers. Mitchell featured in the last 10 games of the Washington Mystics 2016 season after representing Australia at the Rio Olympics and finished with an average of 5.9 points and 1.9 assists.
Speaking with the WNBA, Mercury General Manager Jim Pitman said, “Leilani is one of the best shooters in our game. She was an important contributor for us as our point guard in a 20-win season in 2015, and we are excited to have her back in a Mercury uniform. She gives us another guard who can create and shoot, and she helps us spread the floor with Brittney Griner down low.”
Steph Talbot | Phoenix Mercury
Steph Talbot will finally join the Phoenix Mercury after being drafted in 2014. Currently in Poland, Talbot is averaging 15.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists for AZS AJP of Gorzow and has been the consistent standout for the side, and the league.
“Playing in Poland has helped a lot, I’ve been exposed to different style of play and playing against different types of players. Most teams over here have at least a couple of Americans on their team so playing against them is always tough and prepare me in some way for what I will be up against day in and day out at training camp and then hopefully the season,” Talbot said.
Talbot was drafted in 2014 off the back of some exceptional WNBL and international performances. At just 20 years of age at the time, Talbot wanted to wait until she was ready to compete with the world’s best.
“Originally when I was drafted it was very exciting, but at the end of the day I think the club and coaches at Phoenix, and myself knew I had potential but I wasn’t quite ready - I was still quite young and had a lot of developing to do to get my game up to that next level.”
“Last year whether I was ready or not I put all of my concentration on trying to make the Opals team for the Rio Olympics, that was always my number one goal ever since I was little and they don’t come around that often,” Talbot said.
However Talbot believes there is no better time than now to head to the WNBA, stating “I certainly still do have a long way to go, I think this year mentally I am more ready and I know I have done the work and am ready to go and give it a crack. Hopefully I can earn myself a spot on the roster and in some way have an impact on the team - I’m sure I will learn a whole lot along the way.”
While Talbot is experiencing her first European winter while playing in Poland, like her new Phoenix counterpart Cayla George she’s also highly excited about the Arizona sunshine she can expect in Phoenix.
Sami Whitcomb | Seattle Storm
Sami Whitcomb’s amazing WNBL career has led her to an opportunity with the Seattle Storm, heading back to the place she spent 5 years at during college.
The hot favourite for the WNBL MVP has shown how versatile her game is, averaging 24 points (WNBL 1st), 4.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists and has made 61 steals over the season - 20 more than anyone else in the league. Making herself known through the Western Australian State Basketball League, Whitcomb’s path to the WNBA is truly remarkable and she’s as understandably thrilled as I’m sure all WNBL fans are.
“I am so excited about heading back to Seattle and having the opportunity to potentially play in the WNBA. As you can imagine I am feeling lots of emotions at the moment, but more than anything I am thrilled,” Whitcomb stated.
Whitcomb credits the opportunity she’s been given with Seattle to the high standard of the WNBL and her work with the Perth Lynx.
“I can’t say enough about the WNBL and how competitive the league is and how the level of talent in this league has helped me to grow as a player. The league is filled with WNBA players, Olympians and just quality athletes so while it has really toughened me up, it has also given me the necessary confidence I think to step into the WNBA. Likewise, the Lynx have been critical in my development too, obviously giving me the opportunity to play in this league and the platform to demonstrate my strengths,” Whitcomb stated.
Joining the likes of WNBA powerhouses Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, Whitcomb will enter the training camp ready to make the most of the exciting opportunity she has before her.
“The whole training camp experience is going to be something I remember for the rest of my life. Of course I want to make the team, and that’s my goal, but more than anything I want to embrace this opportunity to go over there, give everything I have and enjoy competing with the girls and just see where that takes me,” Whitcomb said.
Whitcomb’s fast pace, agility and sharpness has transformed her into one of the WNBL’s most valued assets and she will be able to take it up to the very best of the WNBA.
Given Whitcomb grew up in sunny Ventura, California, and also spent her college years in Seattle but also now has permanent residency in Australia, we had to find out where she calls home.
“This will sting my mum a little, but Perth is my home. I am building a house here with my partner Kate and it’s where my heart is. I love Ventura, and Seattle will always be incredibly special to me as are the people there, but they’ve both lacking the most important person in my life, so Perth wins that title,” Whitcomb said.
And it was settled, Australia wins!