Australia’s rich history of high representation in the WNBA continues on Saturday when three Australian players and a coach compete in the Phoenix Mercury versus Seattle Storm clash.
Opals coach Sandy Brondello is in charge at the Mercury as head coach.
Add in Alanna Smith as a Mercury player and Ezi Magbegor and Sami Whitcomb at the Storm, and it’s easy to see why there have been 11 more Australian women in the WNBA than men in the NBA.
It’s an impressive record that makes Brondello incredibly proud as one of Australia’s original WNBA trailblazers.
“Australians have been representing in the WNBA since I played,” says Brondello, who first joined the league in 1998 with the Detroit Shock.
“We had a lot back in those days and we still have a lot of Aussies.
“That is just how highly thought of Australian players are in this league.
“They are skilled, but they are also good teammates and good people.”
Brondello can’t wait to take on her fellow Australians, but she also has bigger concerns heading into Saturday’s final game of the regular season.
Her Phoenix side has been hit hard by injuries and player withdrawals, forcing the Mercury to bring just 10 players into the bubble.
Forward Jessica Breland was a medical opt out as a recovering cancer survivor, centre Brittney Griner left for personal reasons and star French guard Bria Hartley went down with an ACL knee injury.
This injury predicament forced Brondello to sign two extra players for the remainder of the season just to survive.
“I’ve got a few players going off for MRI scans, so I’ll have to wait and see how many players I can put on the court,” she said.
“We are a little buggered, so hopefully I’ll have enough players to play.
“We are playing every second day and during COVID a lot of players couldn’t access a court, so it was more individual training.
“You can’t properly prepare for a season like that.”
Injury-toll aside, Brondello can see the positives of the WNBA season being played in a bubble at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
“I think it has been great for our league because it has created a lot of exposure for us,” she said.
“It’s the most TV games we’ve had, and we’ve got some really good young stars coming up.”
Brondello is also thrilled about the standout rookie WNBA season of Opals and Seattle centre Ezi Magbegor, even if she has to stop her on Saturday.
The New Zealand-born talent with Nigerian heritage has excelled with the Storm, averaging 6.4 points and shooting at 56.8 per cent from the field.
“Ezi has gone to a great team that has really aided her development,” she said.
“We know that she has potential and she is going to grow every single year, but the experiences of playing in the world’s best league is going to make her an even better player.
“I’m really proud of Ezi, and she is such a sweet kid, and as the Opals coach I’m excited to see her development.”
Magbegor is equally excited about coming up against Brondello – one of her original women’s basketball idols.
“We are the representatives for Australian women in the WNBA, but there is history behind that,” Magbegor said.
“It has always been apparent that Australian women have been in the WNBA for a long time and they have paved the way for us young players.”
Magbegor has close Australian connections at Seattle, most noticeably through the franchise’s Hall of Famer Lauren Jackson, whose No.15 jersey was retired by the Storm following 12 years and two championships.
“Having the career that Lauren had, she put Australia on the map,” she said.
“The Seattle fans really appreciate Australians. More recently, Jenna O’Hea and Abby Bishop played at the Storm, so to follow in their footsteps is special.”
The Seattle versus Phoenix clash from 12pm (AEST) on Saturday will be aired live on SBS Viceland and streamed on SBS On Demand.