Jacinta Kennedy (nee Hamilton) made her return to the WNBL playing for the Dandenong Rangers against the Canberra Capitals on 10 October 2015, nine and a half years after her previous game in the league, the 2005/06 Grand Final playing for Dandenong against the same opponent, Canberra. Jacinta didn’t play basketball at any level for seven years due to starting a family with her husband Josh. After having three children and spending several years living overseas supporting Josh’s soccer career Jacinta made her basketball return with the Dandenong Rangers in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) in March 2014, after two seasons in this league she made her return to the WNBL. On Friday January 22nd 2016 at Dandenong Basketball Stadium Dandenong Rangers forward/centre Jacinta Kennedy played her 150th WNBL game against Adelaide, 11 seasons after reaching 100 games during the 2004/05 season.
Jacinta made her WNBL debut during the 1998/99 season for the Dandenong Rangers, after playing minimal game-time in her first season Jacinta accepted a scholarship with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). The two seasons that Jacinta spent at the AIS in 1999/00 and 2000/01 playing alongside the cream of Australia’s young basketball talent were critical for her development as a player. Jacinta’s time spent at the AIS has also played a major part in shaping the rest of her off-field life as it was at the AIS that she began dating fellow AIS scholarship holder, soccer player Josh Kennedy when they were both 17 years old, the couple have been together ever since.
In each of her last four WNBL seasons before her prolonged break to have a family Jacinta played in the Grand Final, with her team winning the championship in the first three seasons, 2001/02 with the Canberra Capitals, and 2003/04 and 2004/05 with the Dandenong Rangers. In the Canberra Capitals 2001/02 championship winning season Jacinta played on a team that featured Australia’s greatest female basket player of all-time, fellow forward/centre Lauren Jackson and two veterans that had represented Australia at major championships, Shelly Sandie and Jacinta’s older sister Lucille.
After leaving the AIS in 1999 Josh Kennedy briefly played soccer for NSL club Carlton, and then in 2000 he moved to Germany, playing for several clubs in German leagues including three seasons for Dyanamo Dresden from 2004 to 2006. During this time Josh and Jacinta spent considerable time on opposite sides of the world pursuing their respective sporting careers but continued to make their long distance relationship work. After missing the 2002/03 WNBL season Jacinta returned to the league and re-joined the club she made her debut with, the Dandenong Rangers. After being a core player at Canberra in 2001/02 Jacinta took her basketball to a new stratosphere in 2003/04, becoming the best player on the best team in the league. Jacinta excelled with her low-post play, ranking in the top five of the league for points, total rebounds, offensive rebounds and blocked shots per game. The Dandenong Rangers won their first WNBL championship and Jacinta was selected in the 2003/04 WNBL All-Star five. Jacinta maintained a similar standard for the next two seasons, winning the Grand Final MVP in 2004/05 for a phenomenal performance in which she scored 23 points from an aggregate of just 99 points from both teams, with Dandenong defeating Sydney 52 points to 47 to become back-to back WNBL champions. During 2005/06 Jacinta won her third consecutive Dandenong Rangers MVP award and was named in the WNBL All-Star five for the second time in three seasons, being ranked fourth in the league for points per game, led the league for offensive rebounds and ranked fifth for field goal accuracy. The Dandenong Rangers finished on top of the WNBL ladder for the third straight season, however they were outplayed in the 2005/06 Grand Final, losing to the Canberra Capitals by 13 points.
At 21 years of age Jacinta made her debut for the Australian Opals in 2003, the following year she narrowly missed out on selection for the 2004 Olympic Games, being named in the preliminary squad of 15 players but was one of the three players cut when the Opals named their final 12 player squad for the Olympic Games. Over the following couple of years Kennedy continued to play games for the Australian Opals, the highlight was being part of the team that won the Gold Medal at the Commonwealth Games held in Melbourne during March 2006.
At 24 years of age and at the peak of her powers Jacinta started a prolonged break from basketball in 2006 due to starting a family with husband Josh. Three children, and eight years later, having spent most of this time living overseas Jacinta made her basketball return, playing for the Dandenong Rangers in the SEABL. In 2014 Jacinta was played off the bench, however with increased match conditioning and knowledge of the Dandenong Rangers systems she returned to being a starter in 2015 and had an outstanding season, leading the club for points and rebounds and won a SEABL player of the month award.
Whilst discussions took place regarding Jacinta playing for the Dandenong Rangers in the WNBL during the 2014/15 season this didn’t eventuate with Kennedy feeling that she didn’t deserve a spot on the team and that she would need to elevate her game to be a standout at SEABL level before returning to the WNBL. After being a member of Dandenong’s 2015 SEABL championship team and being a standout player in the league, earning selection in the 2015 All-SEABL team 33 year-old Jacinta Kennedy returned to the WNBL with the Dandenong Rangers for the 2015/16 season.
During the pre-season Kennedy was unsure what her role would be and where she would fit on the Dandenong roster alongside other power forwards and centres, Annalise Pickrel (190 cm), Alex Bunton (195 cm) and Lauren Scherf (195 cm). At 187 centimetres tall Jacinta is shorter than most of the other power forwards and centres in the league, however her proficiency as a post player and extensive experience playing in the WNBL and for the Opals would help mitigate this.
Jacinta started the 2015/16 WNBL season in brilliant fashion, scoring 17 points in the opening round win against the Canberra Capitals. At the start of the season Jacinta was played off the bench, however due to a knee injury to starting centre Alex Bunton in late November 2015 Kennedy moved into the starting line-up and has started every game from then on. Up until the end of Round 17 Kennedy had played all 23 WNBL games for the Dandenong Rangers, leads the club for offensive rebounds, ranks second for blocked shots, ranks in the top four for points and total rebounds, and has been shooting at 50.9% from the field, the second most accurate season in her superb WNBL career. With one game remaining in their 2015/16 WNBL regular season the Dandenong Jayco Rangers are second on the ladder with a record of 15 wins and eight losses and will make the WNBL finals for a club-record sixth consecutive season. It will also be the fifth consecutive WNBL season that Jacinta will play in the WNBL finals dating back to 2001/02 with the Canberra Capitals when she was 19 years old.
Jacinta Hamilton was born on 3 May 1982 in Melbourne and after outstanding performances as a junior for the Nunawading Spectres she made her WNBL debut for the Dandenong Rangers at 16 years of age during the 1998/99 season. In making it to the WNBL Jacinta followed in the footsteps of her sister Lucille who is 13 years older and won the first WNBL Youth Player of the Year Award in 1988, represented Australia at the 1990 World Championships and was joint holder of the record along with Rachel Sporn for most WNBL games played with 377 until Canberra Capitals (and former Dandenong Rangers) shooting guard Jess Bibby broke the during the 2015/16 season.
Kennedy’s team-mates during her debut WNBL season with the Dandenong Rangers in 1998/99 included older sister Lucille, Jess Bibby, Allie Douglas, Natalie Porter, Caitlin Ryan and current Dandenong Basketball Association’s Sales Operations Manager Sally Phillips. In her debut season Jacinta played seven games for Dandenong, averaging 1.1 points, 0.9 rebounds and 0.1 assists per game. Dandenong finished seventh in the WNBL out of eight teams with six wins and 15 losses, two wins ahead of Canberra. Whilst Jacinta played limited minutes she was able to develop her game training against experienced Rangers including two team-mates that ranked in the top three of the league for rebounding during the 1998/99 season, Allie Douglas ranked second with 9.1 rebounds per game, and older sister Lucille Hamilton (now Bailie) ranked third with 8.5 rebounds per game.
The following season Jacinta joined the AIS, playing 20 WNBL games for during 1999/00, averaging 5.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game. The AIS finished last on the WNBL ladder with two wins and 19 losses. Whilst at the AIS Jacinta started dating a fellow AIS scholarship holder, soccer player Josh Kennedy. After Josh left the AIS in 1999 he briefly played in the National Soccer League in Australia before playing for several German clubs from 2000 to 2009. Josh also made his debut for the Australian Soccer team, the Socceroos in 2006.
In 2000/2001 Jacinta played 18 games for the AIS, averaging 5.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. The AIS finished fifth on the WNBL ladder with seven wins and 14 losses.
Jacinta represented Australia at the 2001 World Championship for junior women in July 2001, playing four of Australia’s seven games, averaging 3.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, ranking fifth for Australia in the latter category behind Shelley Hammonds, Laura Hodges (nee Summerton), Jennifer Screen and Hollie Florance (nee Grima). During the tournament Jacinta averaged 7.8 minutes per game and played her best game for the championships against Japan, scoring 10 points and taking nine rebounds in 14 minutes game-time. Australia finished fourth, losing the semi-final to Russia 69 to 54 and were defeated 77 to 72 by the United States in the Bronze Medal game.
After spending two seasons playing in the WNBL for the AIS Kennedy joined the Canberra Capitals, a club that had made the previous two WNBL Grand Finals, winning the championship in 1999/2000 and being runner-up in 2000/01. In both seasons Carrie Graf was the Canberra Capitals head-coach, she remained as coach for the 20001/02 season. Graf’s WNBL coaching career will conclude at the end of the 2015/16 season after coaching the Canberra Capitals in 15 of 17 WNBL seasons from 1999/2000 to 2015/16, the exceptions being 2002/03 and 2004/05, Tom Maher was the Capitals coach in both these seasons. The addition of Jacinta further strengthened Canberra’s imposing frontcourt which already included her sister Lucille and Lauren Jackson, a duo that ranked second and third in the league respectively for field goal accuracy during the 2000/01 season. During 2000/01 two Canberra players ranked in the top four of the league for points per game, Lauren Jackson second with 21.6 and guard Shelly Sandie fourth with 17.3, with the duo both suiting up for the Capitals in 2001/02 alongside the Hamilton sisters Canberra were expected to challenge strongly for the WNBL title again in 2001/02.
Canberra finished second on the WNBL ladder in 2001/02 with 15 wins and six losses, the same record as third placed Dandenong Rangers and two wins behind the minor premiers, Adelaide. Canberra defeated Adelaide 66-62 in the major semi-final to set up a Grand Final against Sydney for the second season in a row. Playing at home Canberra defeated Sydney 75-69 to win the club’s second WNBL Championship following their victory in 1999/2000 against Adelaide in Adelaide. Lauren Jackson dominated the 2001/02 Grand Final, scoring 29 points and taking 21 rebounds. Jacinta played 22 of a possible 23 games for Canberra in 2001/02, averaging 9.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 0.6 assists per game to set new career-highs for points and rebounds per game. Jacinta made 46.0% of her field goal attempts, easily surpassing her previous best of 40.7% for the AIS in 1999/2000.
Kennedy did not play in the WNBL during the 2002/03 season but returned to the WNBL in 2003/04, re-joining the Dandenong Rangers who she made her WNBL debut with in 1998/99. Dandenong had finished fifth on the ladder during the 2002/03 season to narrowly miss out on a finals position. Several Dandenong Rangers players from 2002/03 returned for the 2003/04 season including Carly Wilson who had been selected in the 2002/03 WNBL All-Star five, Emily McInerney who had been named the WNBL’s defensive player of the year in 2000/2001 and 2001/02, Allie Douglas and Jacinta’s current Rangers team-mate Alison Downie. One of Jacinta’s team-mates from her debut WNBL season in 1998/99, shooting guard Jess Bibby returned to Dandenong after missing the previous three WNBL seasons, at the time Bibby had 110 games WNBL experience, all of them with the Dandenong Rangers.
During the 2003/04 WNBL season Jacinta elevated her game to a new level, playing a critical role in the Dandenong Rangers being the standout team in the league, finishing the season with 17 wins, four losses and a percentage of 123.8, the teams that finished second, third and fourth, Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra all had 13 wins, Dandenong were the only team in the league to have a percentage above 112. In her first four WNBL seasons Kennedy had not been ranked in the top two at her club for points per game, however relishing the responsibility of being Dandenong’s primary post player she led the club for scoring with 14.9 points per game during her 17 regular season games, ranked fifth in the league. Kennedy’s scoring output increased 64% on her previous best, 9.2 points per game in 2001/02. During the 2003/04 regular season Kennedy also ranked third in the league for total rebounds behind Lauren Jackson and Gabe Richards, third for offensive rebounds behind Jackson and Dandenong team-mate Allie Douglas, and second for blocked shots, again behind Jackson, team-mate Carly Wilson ranked third. Kennedy was rewarded for her outstanding season with selection in the 2003/04 WNBL All-Star five, being joined in the team by Lauren Jackson, Jodie Datson and Sydney Flames duo Belinda Snell and Shelly Hammonds. Dandenong Rangers head-coach Gary Fox won the award as WNBL coach of the year.
Dandenong defeated Sydney 85-68 in the major semi-final to progress to the Grand Final, the second in the club’s history, having been defeated by Perth 58-54 in the 1992 Grand Final, the Rangers first season in the WNBL. Sydney defeated Adelaide 65-61 in the Preliminary Final to make their fourth consecutive Grand Final. Although Sydney performed better in the Grand Final then they did in the semi-final Dandenong were too strong winning the 2003/04 Grand Final against Sydney at Dandenong Basketball Stadium by 10 points, 63 to 53. The Grand Final was attended by more than 2,100 people and the ABC had an audience of over 1 million people for their TV coverage of the Grand Final. Emily McInerney won the Grand Final MVP award and also won her third WNBL Robyn Maher defensive player of the year award in four seasons. In 19 games for the Dandenong Rangers during 2003/04 Kennedy averaged 15.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. Kennedy won the Dandenong Rangers MVP Award for the 2003/04 season, as well as being ranked in the top five of the league for points, rebounds and blocks per game, she also ranked in the top 10 of the league for field goal percentage.
In 2003 Jacinta made her debut for the Australian Opals at 21 years of age, she was in the preliminary 15 player squad for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, however when the squad was reduced from 15 to the official 12 player squad she was cut and as a result narrowly missed out on representing Australia at the Olympics. Dandenong Rangers team-mate Emily McInereny also missed out on selection for the 2004 Olympics. Jacinta’s relative inexperience at just 22 years of age combined with Australia’s great depth in the forward and centre positions were key reasons in her non-selection. The Australian Opals 2004 Olympic Games team included seven forwards and centres being Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor, Rachael Sporn, Suzy Batkovic, Trish Fallon, Natalie Porter and Laura Hodges (nee Summerton). Only one member of the Opals 2004 Olympic Games team was younger than Jacinta, 20 year-old Hodges. Given her development during the 2003/04 WNBL season and with time on her side it was widely expected that Jacinta would represent the Australian Opals at major championships (Olympic Games and World Championships) in the future.
From a win-loss perspective the Dandenong Rangers were even more dominant in 2004/05, having 19 wins and two losses during the regular season, three wins ahead of Bulleen and Sydney in second and third place respectively, however Sydney had the league’s highest percentage (121.0), narrowly ahead of Dandenong (117.6) and Bulleen (117.4). During the regular season Kennedy averaged 8.9 rebounds per game, ranked equal fifth in the league, ranked equal first in the league for offensive rebounds along with Claudia Brassard with 3.8 per game and equal fifth for blocked shots per game with 1.2, along with Dandenong team-mates Emily McInerny and Carly Wilson.
When asked in December 2004 ‘What is your most memorable basketball moment?’ Jacinta responded “Hugging my sister Lucille after we won the championship with the Canberra Capitals in 2001/02 and watching Sam Richards pump her fist down the court with a few seconds left in last year’s Grand Final. That was when I knew we had it.”1
The keys to the Rangers success in 2003/04 was their unrelenting defense and phenomenal teamwork, restricting their opponents to an average of 56.9 points per game, and whilst opponents scored slightly more in 2004/05, averaging 62.2 points per game Dandenong remained the number one ranked defence in the WNBL just ahead of the Bulleen Boomers who conceded 63.6 points per game in 2003/04. The two teams met in the major semi-final with the Dandenong Jayco Rangers getting a narrow victory over Bulleen 63-59. During the regular season the Sydney Flames were ranked number one for points per game with 78.9, ahead of Adelaide with 77.0, Dandenong ranked fourth with 73.1. The first semi-final was a shoot-out with Sydney defeating Adelaide by one point 94-93. In the Preliminary Final Sydney defeated Bulleen 79-71 to progress to a Grand Final against Dandenong for the second year in a row.
The 2004/05 WNBL Grand Final was a classic case of the league’s best attacking team in Sydney taking on the league’s best defensive team in Dandenong and there was much discussion in the lead-up regarding which style would prevail in the Grand Final and whether Dandenong could maintain their trademark defensive intensity against a Sydney line-up that included the league’s leading scorer Belinda Snell (20.3 points per game), and Trish Fallon ranked fourth in the league with 18.1 points per game. The Grand Final at Dandenong Basketball Stadium was played in the style Dandenong wanted, being very low scoring, and in an intense close battle the Rangers defeated Sydney by five points, 52-47 to win back to back WNBL Championships. With scoring at an absolute premium during the Grand Final Jacinta Kennedy dominated from the low post, scoring 23 points and also took 12 rebounds to win the Grand Final MVP. The second highest scorer in the game was Sydney’s Trish Fallon with 14 points, whilst Dandenong’s second and third highest scorers were guards Jess Bibby and Caitlin Ryan with 10 and seven points respectively. Forward, Emily McInerney had 14 rebounds, three blocks and whilst she scored only two points Emily played magnificent defense to restrict Belinda Snell to 12 points on four of 14 field goal attempts. Jacinta’s 23 points in the Grand Final was the second highest individual score by a Dandenong Rangers player in a final behind Samantha Thornton’s 25 points in Dandenong’s first season, 1992, highlighting just how impressive Jacinta’s performance was in a low scoring intense game when the stakes were at their highest.
During 2004/05 Kennedy played all 23 games for the Dandenong Rangers, averaging 14.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game, to win her second club MVP award in a row. Kennedy was the only Dandenong Rangers player to rank in the top 10 of the WNBL MVP award, finishing ninth with 60 votes. It is rare for a club to win the WNBL Championship and not have a player ranked in the top eight of the MVP award let alone the top five, however the Dandenong Jayco Rangers had a very even line-up including five players that have represented the Australian Opals, Kennedy, McInerney, Carly Wilson, Jess Bibby and Sam Richards. Other members of the Dandenong Rangers 2004/05 Championship winning team included Caitlin Ryan and Alison Downie. Dandenong head-coach Gary Fox commented “this group is looking for respect because … they have not been fully respected for what they have accomplished in the last two years.”2 Over two seasons in 2003/04 and 2004/05 Dandenong had a combined record of 40 wins and six losses, including winning all four finals to win the WBL Championship in each season. In November 2011 an article on the Basketball Australia website ranked the top 10 teams in WNBL history, the Dandenong Rangers 2004/05 team was ranked eighth.
In December 2005 Jacinta commented “I’m not working this season, so I can do all the right things for Dandenong and the Commonwealth Games,” she went on to say “The Games, providing I make them, are the best thing in my career so far.”3
Dandenong finished 2005/06 as the minor premiers for the third season in a row, however their rivals had significantly reduced the gap. Dandenong were one of three teams along with Adelaide and Canberra to have a record of 14 wins and seven losses. In an eight club league amazingly only two games separated first and sixth, Bulleen and Sydney both had 13 wins and eight losses followed by sixth placed Townsville with 12 wins and nine losses, Perth finished seventh with four wins and the AIS finished last, losing all 21 games. Dandenong Rangers head-coach Gary Fox won the award as WNBL coach of the year for the 2005/06 season, the second time he had won the award in three seasons. During the regular season Kennedy ranked fourth in the WNBL for points per game, led the league for offensive rebounds and was ranked fifth for field goal accuracy with 51.4%. For the second time in three seasons Kennedy was selected in the WNBL All-Star five, being joined in the team by Deanna Smith, Katrina Hibbert, Jenny Whittle and current Australian Opal Erin Phillips. Jacinta became just the second Dandenong Rangers player to be selected in two WNBL All-Star five’s, following Penny Taylor who was selected in 2000/01 and 2001/02. In her only WNBL season since then, 2014/15 with Dandenong Taylor was selected in the WNBL All-Star five for the third time in her career. Another two Dandenong Rangers players, Kathleen McLeod and Jenna O’Hea have since joined Taylor and Kennedy in being selected in two or more WNBL All-Star fives.
In the 2005/06 major semi-final Dandenong defeated Adelaide by five points in overtime, 75 to 70 to progress to their third straight Grand Final. In another low scoring Grand Final Canberra defeated Dandenong by 13 points 68 to 55 at Dandenong Basketball Stadium. During 2005/2006 Kennedy played all 23 games for the Dandenong Rangers, averaging 16.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. Jacinta won her third straight Dandenong Rangers club MVP award, an outstanding achievement, especially considering that Dandong had made the Grand Final in each season and won two championships in this three season period.
Jacinta achieved her aim of making Australia’s 2006 Commonwealth Games game team, with Melbourne hosting the Commonwealth Games she was able to represent the Australian Opals at home in front of family and friends. The other members of the Australian Opals 2006 Commonwealth Games team were Lauren Jackson, Jenny Whittle, Erin Phillips, Katrina Hibbert, Belinda Snell, Tully Bevilaqua, Jae Kingi, Laura Hodges, Hollie Florance and Dandenong Rangers team-mates, Emily McInerney and Carly Wilson.
Australia finished on top of Group A, comprehensively winning their three games against England, India and Mozambique. All of the matches during the group stage were played in Regional Victoria with the Australian Opals playing at Traralgon Sports Stadium, Bendigo Stadium and Geelong Arena. Australia averaged a score of 101 points per game during the group stage whilst restricting their opponents to just 38 points per game. Australia’s smallest win during the group stage was by 52 points, 95-43 against England. In their semi-final Australia played the second ranked team in Group B, Nigeria. A dominant first quarter by the Opals 33-5 set up an easy victory over Nigeria by 56 points 105-49. In the Gold Medal match against New Zealand on 23 March 2006 at the Melbourne Multipurpose Venue (now known as Hisense Arena) Australia defeated New Zealand 77 to 39 to win the Gold Medal.
Basketball was played at the Commonwealth Games for the first time in 2006 and has not been played at the two Commonwealth Games since, however in 2011 it was announced that Basketball would return for the 2018 Commonwealth Games to be held on the Gold Coast.
During July 2006 Jacinta was part of the Australian Opals tour to China, where they played games against three other teams that would be competing at the 2006 World Championships held in Rio during September 2006. In the final game of the tour against China Jacinta had scored six points when her nose was broken in the third quarter.
In late May 2006 Jacinta married Josh Kennedy and later that year Jacinta moved to Germany where Josh was playing soccer professionally for Dyanamo Dresedn. Jacinta had signed to play basketball for a local German club however her first pregnancy prevented this from happening. In 2006 Josh made his debut for the Australian Soccer team the Socceroos in a friendly against Liechtenstein, he represented Australia at the 2006 World Cup.
In 2008 the Dandenong Rangers named a squad of 20 players for their team of the decade celebrating a 10 year partnership with naming-rights sponsor Jayco, the squad was later trimmed down to a team of 10 players. Jacinta was selected in the Dandenong Rangers team of the decade, being named as a starter.
The Kennedy’s continued to live in Germany until Josh was transferred to Japanese club Nagoya Grampus in 2009. At the time of the transfer Jacinta and Josh had two daughters, Jayda and Isabelle. In September 2009 Josh commented on the move to Japan “It’s a whole new challenge and a complete change and for the kids to speak a bit of Japanese will be great for them. It wasn’t just about the football, but the whole package of having a new life experience.”4
Whilst living in Japan Josh & Jacinta had a third child, son Lachlan. The Kennedy family returned to live in Melbourne in late 2013, however Josh continued to play in Japan for Nagoya Grampus in 2014 and returned to his family in Melbourne at the conclusion of the season. From 2009 to 2014 Josh played 128 games for Nagoya Grampus as a striker and had an excellent record, scoring a total of 63 goals at an average of 0.492 goals per game.
When Jacinta returned to Melbourne it had been over seven years since she had played basketball for a club. Back in Melbourne, a discussion at her local supermarket with James Anderson, assistant coach of Dandenong Rangers’ South East Australian Basketball League side and husband to the team’s head coach, Larissa Anderson, was the catalyst for Jacinta returning to basketball and training with the Dandenong Rangers SEABL team.
Jacinta had missed playing basketball during her time overseas, however her number one priority was her family and it wasn’t practical to return to basketball whilst her young family lived overseas. In an interview with Roy Ward from Fairfax Media in September 2015 Jacinta spoke about her return to basketball with the Dandenong Rangers SEABL team, commenting “I have always stayed fit, I love running and swimming and I do yoga regularly. I was shocking when I first started – I was in a world of pain with all my joints and my back. One of the girls asked me at the first training if I had played basketball before – I just said I used to play at Dandenong.”5
Having not payed competitive basketball for over seven years Jacinta made her return in 2014 with the Dandenong Rangers in the SEABL, widely considered to be the second-highest standard league in Australia, below the WNBL. Jacinta had previously played a total of 33 SEABL games from 2002 to 2004, in each season she averaged at least 16 points and eight rebounds per game.
Larissa Anderson returned as head-coach for the Dandenong Rangers SEABL team in 2014, having missed the 2013 season whilst pregnant, Anderson had previously coached the Dandenong Rangers to three consecutive SEABL Championships from 2010 to 2012.
At 31 years of age Kennedy made a brilliant return to basketball scoring 19 points and taking 10 rebounds in 28 minutes, 35 seconds court-time for the Dandenong Rangers in their opening game of the 2014 SEABL season on 23 March 2014, a 25 point victory over Hobart at Dandenong Basketball Stadium.
The Rangers were clearly the best side in the SEABL during the 2014 regular season having a league-best record of 21 wins and three losses and were unbeaten at home, the next best side had a record of 17 wins and seven losses. However, Dandenong were unable to continue this dominance in the finals, losing two home games in a row and didn’t reach the East Conference Final. The second loss was to the Geelong Lady Supercats, 87-96 in the Preliminary Final.
In 2014 Kennedy played 21 games for the Dandenong Rangers in the SEABL, averaging 11.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 21.5 minutes per game being played off the bench. Kennedy ranked third at Dandenong for points per game behind 18 year-old centre Lauren Scherf with 14.8 and point guard Amelia Todhunter with 14.1, and second for rebounds behind Scherf’s 9.5. Kennedy had four double-doubles for the season and scored 18 or more points in a game five times including a season-high of 27 points against Albury on 26 July, making 11 of her 14 field goal attempts in 24 minutes 36 seconds court-time.
Whilst Kennedy wasn’t as consistent as she would have liked during the 2014 SEABL season the experience of playing during 2014 and having another pre-season proved beneficial during 2015 when she moved from playing off the bench to being a starter for Dandenong and one of the best players in the league. Two Dandenong Rangers were selected in the 10 player 2014 All-SEABL team, centre Lauren Scherf and point guard Amelia Todhunter. Scherf left the Dandenong Rangers to join the Centre of Excellence (COE) in 2015, Todhunter remained with the Dandenong Rangers but missed half of the season due to a knee injury. Kennedy would have taken on more responsibility in 2015 with her increased match conditioning, however the level of responsibility on Kennedy’s shoulders during 2015 was amplified due to the departure of Scherf and Todhunter spending a prolonged period on the sidelines. In her first four games of the 2015 season during April Kennedy starred, averaged 20.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, increases of 75% and 48% respectively on her 2014 output.
Four games into the 2015 SEABL season Josh commented on his wife Jacinta, “She’s had thoughts of playing in the WNBL again, but she said she’s got to be an outstanding player at SEABL level to warrant a position. So far she has so we could be in trouble next season. She’s realistic as well, she knows with the kids the time commitment’s extremely difficult and the priority’s our family so she’s not in a dreamworld about winning Olympic gold. I think she’s won gold with the three kids and they’re happy and healthy.’’6
In March 2015 Larissa Anderson was named as the Dandenong Rangers WNBL head coach for the 2015/16 season, replacing Mark Wright who had the role for five years. Larissa is the first woman to coach the Dandenong Rangers in the WNBL, and shortly after her appointment she stated an intention to recruit players that had represented the Dandenong Rangers in the WNBL previously. Given this intent, Kennedy’s status as one of the Dandenong Rangers greatest ever players in the WNBL and how well Larissa and Jacinta were working together in the SEABL the likelihood of Jacinta making a return to the WNBL was increasing, especially after an outstanding first four games in April.
Kennedy was named the SEABL Player of the Month for May, excelling in her seven games for the month, averaging 21.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Jacinta had three games during May with more than 24 points, 25 points against the Centre of Excellence (COE) on 2 May, 31 points against Geelong on May 9 and 25 points against Sandringham on 16 May.
In June 2015 Dandenong Rangers SEABL team-mate Clare Papavs commented on Jacinta “Before she settled into being a wife and following Josh – she was an incredible player. I was lucky enough to play my very first SEABL year with her at Kilsyth – she was in her prime and could do anything. I’m not sure how long she had off but it would have been six or seven years but now she is coming into her own and finding some very good form.”7
In 2015 Josh Kennedy was signed by Melbourne Heart, returning to Australia’s premier soccer league after 15 years away, much had changed during this time including the name of the league from the National Soccer League to the A-League. Josh played 12 games for Melbourne Heart during 2015 and scored a goal in their elimination final against Wellington Phoenix.
Josh retired from professional soccer on 26 June 2015, saying “I would like to thank Melbourne City for giving me the opportunity to come back and play in the A-League and their support over the last 6 months. Unfortunately the demands of professional football over the years has taken its toll on me physically and after consultation with family and friends, I’ve made the decision to step away from playing. I am extremely proud of my achievements throughout my career and grateful to have represented the Socceroos at the highest level. I would like to thank the people that have helped me achieve my goals along the way, especially my family and close friends.”8
Josh played 34 games for Australia and scored 17 goals, his penultimate goal for the Socceroos, a trademark header on 18 June 2013 against Iraq at ANZ Stadium qualified Australia for the 2014 World Cup.
The Dandenong Rangers finished the 2015 SEABL regular season with a league best record of 19 wins and three losses to finish on top of the East Conference, six games ahead of the Geelong Supercats. Dandenong defeated Geelong twice in the East Finals in games played at Dandenong Basketball Stadium, by 10 points in the major semi-final and 20 points in the conference final to progress to the SEABL Championship. In the semi-final Kennedy was restricted to nine points, her equal lowest scoring game of the season, and also had 10 rebounds and two assists. In the Conference Final against Geelong Kennedy scored 16 points and had 14 rebounds, game-highs for both categories, she also had two assists, two blocked shots and shot the ball brilliantly from the field, making seven of her 13 field-goal attempts for an accuracy of 53.8%. After the East Conference Final win against Geelong in an interview on SEABL’S YouTube channel Paul Maley commented “Jacinta obviously pretty dominant for you inside, rebounds and scoring, she doesn’t seem to have missed a beat.” Rangers head-coach Larissa Anderson responded “No, for someone who has been out of the game for that long, look she works so hard, she is just a professional to the nth degree, I am just as happy as proud for her, she just works so hard, and I think she beats herself up a lot, and she wasn’t happy with her game two weeks ago, so I was really happy for her to go out there and I think she deserved that tonight, she did a great job.”
After trailing Kilsyth by a point 30 to 31 with just over a minute remaining in the first half of the SEABL 2015 Championship Final at Dandenong Basketball Stadium the Rangers had a dominant five minutes, finishing the first half strongly and maintained their momentum early in the third quarter to go on a 14 points to two run to lead by 11 points, 44 to 33 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Dandenong Rangers won the game by 13 points, 76 to 63 to claim their fourth SEABL title in six years and the club’s seventh SEABL championship overall. In the Grand Final victory against Kilsyth Kennedy had 17 points ranked second for the game behind Amelia Todhunter with 19, and a team-high 11 rebounds to record her 12th double-double of the season. Todhunter won the Grand Final MVP with 19 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, the point guard had also received the Grand Final MVP in the Rangers previous SEABL Championship, 2012.
Five Dandenong Rangers played in all four of the club’s Championships between 2010 and 2015, Todhunter, Clare Papavs, Alison Downie, Amanda Hobba, and Faith Probst who played her last SEABL game in the 2015 Championship. Larissa Anderson was the head-coach for all four Championship wins.
In 2015 Kennedy played 24 of a possible 25 games for the Dandenong Rangers in the SEABL, averaging 18.5 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. Kennedy relished the increased responsibility in 2015, maintaining a high level of consistency throughout the season and increased her scoring and rebounding output by 59% and 42% respectively on her comeback 2014 season. Kennedy ranked 11th in the SEABL for points per game, of the players that averaged more than 10 points per game she had the second highest field goal percentage with 54.1%, behind only Kilsyth’s Cassandra Sant with 57.1%. Kennedy also ranked 11th in the league for rebounds per game, sixth for offensive rebounds per game, and ranked equal 11th for total blocks with 19. Jacinta led Dandenong for points and rebounds per game, ahead of Clare Papavs in both categories. Kennedy scored more than 20 points nine times in 2015 and took at least 10 rebounds 14 times.
Jacinta was selected in the 2015 All-SEABL team, being the only Dandenong Rangers player selected in the team. Whilst the SEABL is a level below Australia’s premier women’s basketball league the WNBL it was a significant achievement nonetheless for Kennedy to be selected in the All-SEABL team, especially when you consider how much ground she had to make up on the other players in the league when she made her return at the start of the 2014 season and the level of professionalism and dedication required throughout these two years to make that improvement. During the 2015 SEABL season with the Dandenong Rangers Jacinta was the best player on the best team in the league just as she had been during the 2003/04 and 2004/05 WNBL seasons with Dandenong. It was obvious during the 2015 SEABL season that Jacinta was worthy of having a spot on a WNBL roster for the 2015/16 season and during the SEABL Finals the Dandenong Rangers announced that Jacinta Kennedy and her SEABL team-mate Amelia Todhunter would both be returning to play for Dandenong in the 2015/16 WNBL season.
By the time the 2015/16 WNBL season started about half of Dandenong’s roster had played for the club’s SEABL side in 2015, Kennedy, Todhunter, Alison Downie, Aimie Clydesdale, Tenaya Phillips and Chloe Bibby. Anderson had coached some other players on the Rangers 2015/16 WNBL roster in previous SEABL seasons at Dandenong including Lauren Scherf and Steph Cumming who was named one of the club’s two WNBL co-captains along with Clydesdale. Although Kennedy was the only Dandenong Rangers player named in the SEABL team of the year, two other players named in the team, Geelong’s Sara Blicavs and Kilsyth’s Steph Cumming made their return to the Dandenong Rangers WNBL side for the 2015/16 season. Cumming also won the SEABL’s MVP award and earlier in her career had extensive experience playing for Dandenong in the SEABL under Anderson, being a player during the club’s three consecutive championships from 2010 to 2012.
Rangers head-coach Larissa Anderson certainly followed through with her stated intention to recruit players that had played for the Dandenong Rangers in the WNBL previously, with five of the Rangers recruits for the 2015/16 season fitting this bill, Kennedy, Todhunter, Cumming, Blicavs and Downie. Four of the eight players that formed Dandenong’s core rotation in 2014/15 returned in 2015/16, Annalise Pickrel, Clydesdale, Scherf and Cunningham, whilst another player Tenaya Phillips who played a total of only 47 minutes in 2014/15 also returned and was expected to play significantly more court-time this season. The four core players that didn’t return for the 2015/16 season were all starters in 2014/15 and ranked in the 15 of the WNBL for points per game in 2014/15, being Penny Taylor (19.3 points per game), Cappie Pondexter (17.0), Alice Kunek (12.9) and Kathleen McLeod (12.9). Excluding development players the only player Dandenong recruited for the 2015/16 season that hadn’t played WNBL basketball for the club previously was centre Alex Bunton who had 87 games WNBL experience and turned 22 years old days after the season started.
In early September 2015 after Jacinta Kennedy had signed with the Dandenong Rangers to make her WNBL return in 2015-16 she commented “We’ve got the three kids, my husband is back in Australia now and has retired recently, so it was just a matter of seeing realistically if I could do it and logistically with the kids and all of their stuff, so I’m lucky to have great support at home with him and we’ve kind of figured it out and have managed it.”9
In her comeback WNBL game on 10 October 2015 Kennedy scored an equal team-high 17 points and in the process registered her 1,000th point in the WNBL for Dandenong, taking her career tally to 1,417 points comprised of 1,003 for Dandenong, 212 for AIS and 202 for Canberra. Dandenong started slowly to trail Canberra by 19 points in the first half, however an outstanding second half resulted in Dandenong recording an eight point win. Having not played in the WNBL for nine and a half years Kennedy had no trouble adjusting to step up in standard of play from the SEABL, making six of her 11 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 54.2%, and also took seven rebounds and had two assists.
An injury in the warm-up for the Round 7 road game against Bendigo restricted Kennedy to just two minutes and nine seconds court-time in a game where Bendigo were able to shut down Dandenong’s offense, restricting the Rangers to just 49 points whilst scoring 63 themselves in the Spirit’s 14 point win. A knee injury to the Dandenong Rangers starting centre, Alex Bunton has kept her on the sidelines since the loss to Bendigo.
During the game against Bendigo there were concerns that Kennedy might miss some games with injury, however with Bunton out injured Kennedy was promoted to Dandenong’s starting line-up for their next game. In Round 8 against ladder leaders the Sydney Flames on 28 November 2015 the Dandenong Rangers recorded a comprehensive 20 point win at Dandenong Basketball Stadium. Playing 24 minutes and 55 seconds Kennedy scored 12 points, made six of her seven field goal attempts and also took five rebounds and made four assists, ranked second for the game behind Todhunter with seven. In the post-game press conference a journalist commented, “Jacinta, six of seven shots, at least three or four times you were under the ring and you passed out to the better shot, that is exactly what coach has said, was that a plan you worked on during the week or was it how the game led itself to be played tonight.” Jacinta responded “It was a focus because we were lacking assists against Bendigo last week, but I think giving up those good shots for the better ones that was key for us tonight., the assist count, fantastic and we’ve been working towards it, and it was wonderful to have the outside girls knock down those shots.” The Dandenong Rangers passing against Sydney was phenomenal, having a season-high 23 assists whilst also playing strong defense and restricting the Flames to just five assists.
In the second game of a double-header, against Canberra in Round 16 Kennedy started brilliantly, scoring seven of Dandenong’s first 12 points of the match in the opening four minutes and 45 seconds. Kennedy finished the game with 13 points and six rebounds in the Rangers four point victory. It was the fifth time that Jacinta had scored at least 13 points in a game this season, comprised of all three games against Canberra and two games against the Melbourne Boomers.
During 2015/16 Kennedy has played all 23 games up to the end of Round 17, averaging 8.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 22.9 minutes per game. Jacinta ranks fourth at Dandenong for points per game behind Steph Cumming, Annalise Pickrel and Sara Blicavs, third for rebounds behind Pickrel and Blicavs, leads the club in offensive rebounds, ranks second for blocks behind Lauren Scherf and fifth for steals. Of the Rangers that have made more than five field goals in 2015/16 Kennedy ranks second for field goal accuracy with 51%, behind Annalise Pickrel with 52%. Jacinta has made 35 of her 43 free-throw attempts for a career best accuracy of 81%. Kennedy ranks 10th in the WNBL for offensive rebounds, 12th for blocked shots and equal 14th for total rebounds. Kennedy has scored more than 10 points in a game 12 times and has had at least seven rebounds in 10 games.
Jacinta Kennedy has proven to be a very astute signing by the Dandenong Rangers for the 2015/16 WNBL season and has ended up playing more time at centre than anticipated at the start of the season, her ability to defend bigger opponents, be a very accurate shooter and provide leadership has been of great value for Dandenong. Jacinta’s ability to block shots has improved as the season has progressed, after blocking only five shots in her first 16 games of the season Jacinta has blocked a total of 10 shots in her past seven games including three blocks in a game twice, against Bendigo on 30th January and Sydney on 6th February.
With one games remaining in the regular season, an home game on February 21 against the SEQ Stars the Dandenong Rangers are second on the WNBL ladder with 15 wins and eight losses, trailing only reigning WNBL champions Townsville with 16 wins and six losses. Perth are third on the ladder with 14 wins and eight losses followed by SEQ with 13 wins and eight losses. The Dandenong Jayco Rangers can still finish anywhere from second to fourth and are one of only two teams along with Townsville to lock on a finals berth. A win against the SEQ Stars in their final game of the season would guarantee the Dandenong Rangers a top-three finish, with the reward being a much sought after home final. Fifth placed Bendigo Spirit on 12 wins and nine losses and sixth placed Sydney on 12 wins and 10 losses can still make the finals.
The 2015/16 WNBL season has been the most even since Jacinta’s previous season in the WNBL, 2005/06. In the last nine completed WNBL seasons from 2006/07 onwards the most losses that a team that finished on top of the ladder had during the regular season was five by Sydney in 2006/07 and Townsville in 2014/15, in the seven seasons in between the team that finished on top of the ladder lost a total of just 17 games, equating to an average of 2.7 games per season, ranging from a solitary loss by Bulleen in 2009/10 to four losses by Adelaide in 2011/12. In an eight club league in 2005/06 only two games separated the top three teams that all finished with a record of 14 wins and seven losses and the team that finished sixth with 12 wins and nine losses. The 2015/16 WNBL minor premiers are likely to finish the regular season with six or seven losses.
A key reason in Dandenong being second on the WNBL ladder is their remarkable record in close games this season, of their 14 games decided by eight points or less during the 2015/16 season they have won 12 and lost only two. Dandenong’s depth has been extremely important throughout the 2015/16 season given that due to injury they have frequently had one or more of their core players missing.
Two factors that will increase the confidence of the Dandenong Rangers entering the 2015/16 WNBL finals is their phenomenal record in close games this season and the level of experience the roster has in winning championships, both at WNBL and SEABL level. Of the 11 players on the Rangers roster that have played at least 50 minutes court-time during the 2015/16 season seven of them have played in a WNBL Championship including five players with the Dandenong Rangers, Alison Downie (2003/04, 2004/05 & 2011/12), Jacinta Kennedy (2003/04 & 2004/05), and three players from the 2011/12 Championship being Steph Cumming, Tegan Cunningham and Aimie Clydesdale. Two other players have played on WNBL championships with other clubs being Sara Blicavs with Bendigo in 2013/14 and Amelia Todhunter with the Bulleen (now Melbourne) Boomers in 2010/11. Kennedy and Cumming can draw on the experience of playing on a WNBL championship with the Rangers and another WNBL club with Kennedy having played in Canberra’s title in 2001/02 and Cumming being a part of Townsville’s championship last season. Between them Dandenong’s core of 11 players have 12 WNBL championships.
Jacinta Kennedy is one of the all-time greats for the Dandenong Rangers in the WNBL, a club that has made five grand finals and won three championships. Kennedy played for the Dandenong Rangers in three of these five seasons and was the club’s standout player, winning the Dandenong Rangers MVP in all three seasons, twice being named to the WNBL All-Star five and also won a Grand Final MVP. During her brilliant 155 game WNBL career Jacinta has average 10.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, and has shot the ball at 46.7%. Whilst Jacinta missed a prolonged period of basketball due to starting a family she doesn’t regret her decision and was able to support Josh’s soccer career, enabling the Kennedy family to have life experiences such as living in Germany and Japan. Having a family so young enabled Jacinta to make a return to the WNBL with Dandenong, albeit after two seasons in the SEABL where her professionalism and dedication shone through and her standard of play steadily improved. At home games at Dandenong Basketball Stadium during the 2015/16 season Josh, Jayda, Isabelle and Lachlan have been able to watch Jacinta play for the Dandenong Rangers, the two girls have proudly worn their Dandenong Rangers number 9 Kennedy singlets. Jacinta commented on her family being able to watch her play basketball “It’s a proud moment for me to see them in the stands. We have lived in our own family bubble overseas but the kids had no idea basketball had been a part of my life. They come to all our home games and run down onto the court after the game.”10
Reaching 150 WNBL games in January this year was a significant achievement for Jacinta, especially given the journey she had been on both on and off the court since her previous milestone of 100 WNBL games 11 seasons earlier in 2004/05 and the high benchmark she set for herself to justify a spot on the Dandenong Rangers WNBL roster, however Jacinta reaching 150 WNBL games didn’t receive much attention. You get the feeling this wouldn’t have phased Jacinta in the slightest, as she is far more concerned with the results and well-being of the collective, whether this be her family or basketball team – the Dandenong Rangers than her individual performances or accolades. At the start of the 2015 SEABL season in April Kennedy still had reservations on whether she could improve her basketball to a standard that would justify a spot on a WNBL roster. Throughout the 2015 SEABL season and the 2015/16 WNBL season Jacinta Kennedy has well and truly proven that she is worthy of a spot on a WNBL team, as highlighted by playing every game for the Dandenong Rangers and ranking in the top 15 of the WNBL for offensive rebounds, total rebounds and blocked shots. More importantly forward/centre Jacinta has played an important role in the Dandenong Rangers being second on the ladder and after a nine and a half year absence from the league, in a fortnight’s time Jacinta Kennedy will return to a stage she is very familiar with and has experienced much success on – the WNBL finals.
By Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777