Suzy Batkovic wins a record breaking fifth WNBL Most Valuable Player Award

On Thursday 9th March JCU Townsville Fire centre Suzy Batkovic won the 2016/17 WNBL Most Valuable Player Award (MVP), becoming the first player to win the prestigious award five times, surpassing long-time Opals team-mate Lauren Jackson’s tally of four MVP awards. Batkovic is the only player to win three consecutive WNBL MVP awards, having won her first three awards from 2011/12 to 2013/14, the first two playing for the Adelaide Lightning and the last one playing for current team, the Townsville Fire. In the only season of the last six that Batkovic didn’t win the MVP award she finished third in 2014/15, behind Canberra centre Abby Bishop and Townsville frontcourt  team-mate Cayla George. Suzy won back to back MVP awards in 2015/16 and 2016/17, in the first of these two seasons she was also part of the Townsville Fire team that won their second consecutive WNBL Championship. A Townsville Fire player has won the WNBL MVP award four times, all in the last nine seasons with the club’s first winner being, forward Rohanee Cox in 2008/09, Batkovic has won the award playing for Townsville three times in four seasons from 2013/14 to 2016/17.

Batkovic made her WNBL debut for the AIS at 15 years of age in 1996, in a 308 game WNBL career spanning more than 20 years Batkovic has scored over 5,000 points, taken over 2,500 rebounds, played in four WNBL Championships and shows no signs of slowing down. When most of her AIS peers have retired she keeps on adding to her burgeoning resume, at 36 years of age winning a fifth WNBL MVP award in six seasons. Townsville Fire captain Batkovic has confirmed that she will play on in 2017/18 with the main motivation being to win another WNBL Championship with the Fire to add to the club’s first two titles, won back to back in 2014/15 and 2015/16.

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During the 2016/17 regular season left-hander Batkovic maintained her status as the most influential frontcourt player in the WNBL, ranking second in the league for points per game, second for rebounds and seventh for blocked shots, highlighting her versatility she also ranked in the top 20 for assists and top 30 for steals. Batkovic also led the league for defensive rebounds and free throws made with 8.0 and 4.7 per game respectively.

Batkovic won the 2016/17 WNBL MVP award with 129 votes, six votes ahead of runner-up Perth Lynx shooting guard Sami Whitcomb, University of Canberra Capitals centre Marianna Tolo finished third on 115 votes and also won the 2016/17 WNBL Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year award. To celebrate their awards a presentation was made to both Batkovic and Tolo at half-time of game 1 of the Grand Final series between the Sydney  Uni Flames and Jayco Dandenong Rangers on Saturday March 11th. Players from the two clubs in the Grand Final filled positons four to seven in the MVP award, being Sydney point guard Leilani Mitchell in fourth on 107 votes, Dandenong forward Sara Blicavs fifth on 73 votes, followed by Sydney import forward Asia Taylor and Dandenong shooting guard Steph Cumming in equal sixth position on 70 votes. Batkovic was one of three players to finish in the top five of the MVP for the second season in a row, Whitcomb finished third in 2015/16, with Mitchell filling fifth position.

Four of the eight players that played at least 350 minutes for Townsville in 2015/16 returned in 2016/17, Batkovic, guard/forward Mia Murray (nee Newley), shooting guard Micaela Cocks, and forward Darcee Garbin. Batkovic played her fifth season for Townsville in 2016/17, comprised of the club’s inaugural season – 2001/02 and the past four seasons from 2013/14 onwards. Murray and Cocks played their sixth season for Townsville in 2016/17, having each joined the club in 2011/12, whilst Garbin was playing her second season for the Fire. Chris Lucas after five consecutive seasons as head coach, culminating in back to back championships in the last two seasons moved to live in Adelaide for family reasons and was later appointed the head coach of the Adelaide Lightning for the 2016/17 season. A critical member of Townsville’s big to back championship teams, forward/centre Cayla George (nee Francis) joined Hungarian club UNIQA Sopron for the 2016/17 season.

In April 2016 Claudia Brassard was appointed Townsville’s head coach, becoming just the club’s fourth head coach. Brassard had been an assistant coach under Lucas for the previous three seasons and a previous captain and MVP winner at Townsville. Two players that had played for the Townsville Fire previously returned to the club for the 2016/17 season, point guard Kelly Wilson and forward Kayla Standish. The club’s core eight player rotation in 2016/17 was completed by imports, guard Natasha Cloud and guard/forward Amy Kame.

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During the 2016/17 regular season Batkovic was named in the WNBL Team of the Week nine teams, ranked second behind Whitcomb with 13, and was named the Player of the Week a league best three-times, Rounds 1, 9 and 17. The top four players in the WNBL MVP were all named the Player of the Month once, with Batkovic receiving the award in December 2016.

In the first eight rounds of the 2016/17 season Batkovic was named in the WNBL Team of the Week once – Round 1, however from Round 9 to Round 19 she earnt eight TOTW selections, ranked first in the league during this 11 round period.

Townsville had three consecutive losses in Rounds 3 & 4 against Dandenong, Sydney and Bendigo. Whilst Batkovic was only Townville’s third highest scorer in the Round 5 home game against Sydney with 16 points she did score her most important basket of the season in dramatic, albeit unorthodox fashion against Sydney. In an enthralling game of basketball which ebbed and flowed, a difficult off –balance three-pointer from Mia Murray whilst being guarded by Asia Taylor tied the scores at 74 points apiece with nine seconds remaining in the last quarter. Taylor responded with a lay-up after a Belinda Snell assist with four seconds remaining to give Sydney a two-point lead. On the next play Kelly Wilson inbounded to Batkovic who fumbled the ball close to the basket, dropping to the ground Suzy regathered the ball and whilst on her knees and facing away from the basket shot a reverse lay-up over her head, the miracle shot went in to tie the game. Townsville got a two point win over Sydney in overtime to gain some much needed momentum after having three consecutive losses in Rounds 3 & 4 against Dandenong, Sydney and Bendigo.

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In a Friday night Round 9 game against the Perth Lynx at Bendat Basketball Centre Batkovic scored an equal game-high (with Sami Whitcomb) 25 points, took a game-high 13 rebounds – five more than the second ranked player for the game and made three assists in the seven point loss. Suzy took six offensive rebounds, highlighting her dominance in this area of the game no other player registered more than two. Less than 24 hours later in the second game of the road double at Adelaide Arena Batkovic registered her second double-double of the weekend. Suzy scored 18 points on seven of 12 field goals for an accuracy of 58% to be the second highest scorer for the game behind Murray with 26 points. The win over Adelaide ended a four game losing streak for Townsville, captain Batkovic was instrumental in her team’s return to the winners list, playing a phenomenal all-round game to record 19 rebounds and six assists. For her outstanding performances in Round 9 Batkovic was named the WNBL Player of the Week.

In a Round 10 Saturday night home game against the Melbourne Boomers Batkovic extended her double-double streak to three games in the 27 point victory. Batkovic made nine of 16 field goals for an accuracy of 56% and also made 16 of her 19 free-throw attempts to score a game-high 34 points – 16 more than the second ranked player for the game. Melbourne had no match for 193 centimetre Batkovic in the paint and of the 41 total fouls committed by both teams combined, just over a third (14) were by Boomers players on Batkovic. Suzy took a game-high 14 rebounds including three offensive to earn her second TOTW selection in a row.

In a New Year’s Eve Round 12 game at Townsville Stadium Batkovic scored a team-high 18 points, took a game-high 15 rebounds including four offensive and made an equal game-high four assists in the 13 point victory against Melbourne to record her fourth double-double in five games and be selected in the Team of the Week for a fourth straight week. The previous week Suzy fell just short of a double-double, scoring 24 points and taking nine rebounds in the six point Round 11 victory against Adelaide on the road.

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In Round 14 on the road against Canberra Batkovic became just the 17th player of all-time to reach 300 WNBL games. Suzy features prominently on several WNBL all-time lists, ranking fourth for most blocked shots, third for points scored, and second for rebounds.  On the eve of her 300th WNBL game an article on WNBL.com.au ‘Legends laud Suzy Batkovic ahead of game 300’ past and present teammates and coaches reflected on Suzy’s phenomenal career. Lauren Jackson commented “Suzy’s longevity in the game is going to make her one of the best players this country has produced. She is a great friend of mine and a long-time teammate dating back to when we were 12 or 13. I am so incredibly proud of her and what she has achieved – she has handled so much adversity and risen to every challenge. She is just as an amazing person as she is player and I’m so happy to call her a dear friend.”1 Current Townsville Fire head coach Claudia Brassard said “Suzy is one of the greatest WNBL players ever and I feel extremely privileged to coach her. She brings immediate success to any team she plays for – as demonstrated by her four championships. She is one of the most competitive people I have met and she just knows how to win.  Her impact at both ends of the floor is really quite phenomenal, and I have not seen many other inside players that can dominate a game like she can.”2 A link to this WNBL.com.au article is provided below:

http://wnbl.com.au/legends-laud-suzy-batkovic-ahead-of-game-300/

On reaching 300 WNBL games Batkovic commented “It’s an accomplishment that I’m extremely proud of after commencing my career as a 15-year-old.  The WNBL has played an enormous role in my career- both internationally and domestically – and has allowed me to become the player that I am today.”3

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During a 20 point win against Bendigo at home in Round 15 Batkovic earnt her seventh Team of the Week selection of the season and second in a row, scoring 28 points on 13 of 24 field goals at an accuracy of 54% and took 14 rebounds including four offensive.

In Round 17 Batkovic was named Player of the Week for the third time in 2016/17, performing superbly during Townsville’s road double wins against Dandenong and Bendigo. During the 14 point Saturday night win against Dandenong Batkovic scored a game-high 26 points and shot the ball superbly both from close range and long range, making eight of her 13 two-point attempts and two of her three three-pointers for a field goal accuracy of 62%. Batkovic took 11 rebounds and made four assists, ranked third for the Fire behind Wilson with seven and Murray with six. The following afternoon Townsville looked to be cruising to a comfortable victory, leading Bendigo 49-28 at half-time. In an amazing fightback Bendigo reduced the margin to just three points with 39 seconds remaining in the game. Suzy made six of six free-throws in the final 39 seconds of the Fire’s six point win. In 38 minutes and 55 seconds court-time Batkovic scored 31 points with a field goal accuracy of 52%, took seven rebounds and made four assists.

At the half-way point of the season Townsville had a record of five wins and seven losses and looked to be in serious danger of missing the finals however a strong finish to the season resulted in the Fire winning nine of their last 12 games to make the finals for a sixth consecutive season. Townsville finished in fourth position with 14 wins and 10 losses, four games behind minor premiers, the Sydney Uni Flames and one game behind the Jayco Rangers and Perth Lynx in second and third place respectively. Bendigo and Canberra remained in finals contention until late in the season and each recorded 13 wins and 11 losses.

Sydney comprehensively outplayed Townsville in game 1 of their semi final series at Brydens Sydney University Stadium on 25th February, after leading by 11 points at half-time Sydney dominated the third-term 38-14 and went on to comprehensively win 111-69. Game 2 at Townsville Stadium on 3rd March was much closer, with Sydney leading the Fire by seven points at three quarter-time. Two successful free-throws from Batkovic with three minutes and 11 seconds remaining reduced the margin to four points. From that point on Sydney outscored Townsville 14-3 to end the two-time defending WNBL Champions season.

Batkovic was one of the leading contenders for the WNBL’s 2016/17 Most Valuable Player (MVP) award and was expected to poll very strongly from Round 9 onwards. Perth shooting guard Sami Whitcomb who led the league for points and steals with 24.1 and 2.8 per game respectively and ranked in the top 10 for assists was the favourite for the award. On the Thursday after Townsville’s season concluded Batkovic was announced as the WNBL’s 2016/17 MVP and commented in a video on WNBL.com.au “I’m blown away and extremely honoured to win a fifth MVP. I was extremely honoured to sit level on four with Lauren, but to go out and win it a fifth time is extremely humbling. I was taken aback when I got the call – I was a little bit speechless. You never go (into a season) thinking about it or trying to earn it, it’s just about playing consistently and doing what I can to help the team.” On Townsville’s 2016/17 season Batkovic commented “There were positives to take out of the season as well as some negatives [but] with a new coach and a pretty new team I thought we learnt a lot and now we have to build and keep working. This club is so professional on and off the floor and everyone is on the same page which is huge. I know this club inside out so I have no doubt the Fire will come back next year stronger and chase finals again.”

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Batkovic was selected in the 2016/17 WNBL All-Star five, the sixth selection of her career, moving her to equal fifth on the all-time list for most selections with Jackson and Alison Cook, behind Rachael Sporn (8), Michelle Timms (7), Kristi Harrower (7) and Shelley Sandie (7). Batkovic had previously been selected in the WNBL All Star five in 2009/10 playing for Sydney, 2011/12 and 2012/13 playing for Adelaide and 2013/14 and 2015/16 playing for Townsville. In 2016/17 Batkovic was one of three players selected in the WNBL All-Star five for the second consecutive season along with guards Whitcomb and Mitchell. The 2016/17 WNBL All-Star five was completed by American import Asia Taylor and Marianna Tolo who earnt her second selection, having previously made the team in 2010/11. Tolo’s Australian Opals 2016 Olympic Games team-mate Mitchell made the WNBL All-Star five for the third-time and has played for a different team in each season she has been selected – the Jayco Rangers in 2013/14, Adelaide Lightning in 2015/16 and the Sydney Uni Flames in 2016/17.

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During the 2016/17 WNBL season Batkovic played all 26 games for Townsville, averaging 20.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.2 blocked shots and 32.5 minutes per game. Batkovic led Townsville for points, rebounds, blocked shots and minutes played, ranked third for assists behind Wilson and Cloud and second for steals behind Cloud. Batkovic’s rebounds increased 24% in 2016/17 compared to 2015/16, whilst her scoring, assists and minutes slightly increased and her averages for blocked shots and steals fell slightly.

WNBL career from 1996 to 2001/02

After her first three seasons in the WNBL no-one would have predicted the heights Suzy Batkovic would reach during her basketball career, including representing Australia at three Olympic Games and breaking the record for most WNBL MVP awards won. At 15 years of age Suzy Batkovic made her WNBL debut for the AIS in 1996, due to starting to play basketball at a later age than most of her team-mates Batkovic’s basketball development was behind many of her peers, however coaches recognised her raw talent. In her first three seasons with the AIS Batkovic played a total of 46 games, averaging 3.1 points, 2.0 rebounds and 0.1 assists per game. In her fourth WNBL season in 1998/99 Batkovic blossomed into one of the AIS’s best players and was ranked fourth in the league for field goal accuracy with 51.1%, behind two team-mates, Lauren Jackson (54.1%) and Penny Taylor (52.6%), along with Adelaide forward Rachael Sporn (52.8%). Batkovic’s output for points, rebounds and assists in 1998/99 surpassed her total in the three seasons combined from 1996 to 1998 in each of these categories. During 1998/99 Batkovic played 19 games for the AIS, averaging 11.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game.

In 1996 the AIS managed only one win from their 18 games and finished last of the 10 teams in the WNBL. Over the next three seasons the AIS steadily rose up the ladder to finish seventh in 1997, fourth in 1998 and on top of the ladder in 1999 with 16 wins, two games clear of Perth in second place. In 1997 and 1998 the AIS gained invaluable finals experience, playing two finals in each season for a win in their first final before being defeated in the club’s second final, a semi-final in 1997 and a preliminary final in 1998. The club continued their progression to defeat Perth 81 points to 62 in the 1998/99 major semi-final to progress to the Grand Final. Although the AIS had clearly been the best team throughout the 1998/99 WNBL season some people questioned how a team of teenagers without Grand Final experience would handle the pressure in the 1998/99 Grand Final against an experienced Perth line-up featuring Jenny Whittle, Telly Bevilaqua, Gina Stevens, Rohanee Cox and Narelle Fletcher. With three minutes remaining in the Grand Final scores were locked at 77 points apiece, the AIS retained their composure to play brilliant basketball in the dying minutes to defeat Perth by nine points 88-79 and win the WNBL Championship. The 1998/99 AIS team contained several players that would become stars in the WNBL and regulars for the Jayco Opals Australian Women’s team, with Batkovic’s AIS team-mates including Jackson, Taylor, Kristen Veal, Deanna Smith and Belinda Snell, all six of these players including Batkovic would each go on to be selected in at least one WNBL All-Star five, with Jackson being selected in this team and winning the WNBL MVP in the AIS’s 1998/99 championship winning season. Highlighting how dominant the players from the AIS class of 1998/99 have been, between them they have won more than half of the WNBL MVP awards in the 19 seasons from 1998/99 to the present, combining for 11 MVP’s comprised of five for Batkovic, four for Jackson and two for Taylor. Making this domination even more impressive, in four seasons, 2004/05 and three consecutive seasons from 2006/07 to 2008/09 none of the trio played in the WNBL. Batkovic and Jackson have spent considerable time as team-mates for junior teams representing New South Wales, in the WNBL with the AIS and also for Australia, they have also played against each other many times in the WNBL.

Batkovic joined the Sydney Panthers for the 1999/2000 season, the distance to the town she grew up in, Newcastle, from Sydney is 159 kilometres. Batkovic was able to learn from two players with vast experience representing the Australian Opals and past WNBL MVP award winners during 1999/2000, Robyn Maher and Trish Fallon. Batkovic was again one of the most accurate shooters in the WNBL, ranking third for field goal accuracy, and also ranked third for blocked shots and fourth for rebounds. After finishing sixth on the ladder in 1999/2000 Sydney improved to finish second in 2000/01 with 16 wins, one win behind the minor premiers, Canberra. Sydney defeated a Canberra line-up led by Lauren Jackson 69 points to 65 in the Grand Final to win the club’s third championship, having previously won in 1993 and 1997.

In 2001/02 Batkovic joined the Townsville Fire for their inaugural season and ranked in the league’s top five in five categories, being rebounds (1st), blocked shots (equal 2nd), points (3rd), field goal accuracy (4th), and steals (5th). Suzy played 21 games for Townsville averaging 20.0 points, 12.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 2.1 blocked shots and 1.7 steals to set new career highs in four of these five categories with the exception being assists.

Playing in International leagues from 2002 to 2009 and Australian Opals career

After the 2001/02 WNBL season Batkovic spent seven years playing in international league’s commencing with a stint at French club Valencienne and was a part of the team that won the 2004 Euroleague title. During her time abroad Batkovic also played in leagues in Spain, Russia, and Italy and also played for WNBA club Seattle Storm in 2005 and 2009 alongside Australia Opals team-mate Lauren Jackson. In 2006 Batkovic was selected in the Euroleague World All-Star team and in 2009 she was a member of the team that were the Italian A1 champions, Cras Taranto.

In 2001 Batkovic became a regular for the Australian Opals and has gone on to represent her country at a World Championships in 2002 and three Olympic Games in 2004, 2008 and 2012, she won the Maher medal as Australia’s international women’s player of the year twice, 2001 and 2008. At all four major championships Batkovic has been part of an Opals team that won a medal, winning silver in 2004 and 2008, and bronze in 2002 and 2012. At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing Batkovic played all eight games, averaging 11.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 21.6 minutes per game to lead the Opals for rebounds per game, rank second for points, fifth for steals and fifth for minutes per game behind Kristi Harrower, Lauren Jackson, Belinda Snell and Penny Taylor, with the latter three all being team-mates from the AIS’ WNBL Championship winning team in 1999.

Batkovic played all eight games for Australia at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, averaging 11.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 21.9 minutes per game. Suzy led the Opals for steals, ranked third for points, second for rebounds and third for blocked shots.

In recent seasons Batkovic has had to manage some back injuries which has prevented her from playing all-year round and led to a decision to make herself unavailable to represent Australia for an extended period including the 2014 World Championships to enable her body and in particular her back to recover. When Batkovic returned to represent Australia at the 2015 Oceania Championships against New Zealand many people questioned if she could complement an Opals team playing such a fast-paced brand of basketball. Batkovic had no trouble adapting to the Opal’s new style of basketball, playing both games of the Oceania Championships and despite only playing a total of 37 minutes, ranked seventh for Australia she led her country in scoring and ranked third for rebounds. Despite her impressive form during the 2015 Oceania Championships and winning three out of four WNBL MVP awards between the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games Batkovic was controversially overlooked for the Australian Opals 2016 Olympic Games team.

WNBL career from 2009/10 to 2015/16

After not playing in the WNBL for seven seasons from 2002/03 to 2008/09 Batkovic returned to the league at 27 years of age in 2009/10, playing for Sydney and led the league in scoring, averaging 24.6 points per game, ranked second for steals, equal second for blocked shots, fifth for rebounds and was selected in the WNBL All-Star five for the first time.

Batkovic’s 2010/11 season with Canberra was hampered by injuries to her back and an infected elbow, being restricted to 13 of a possible 25 games and having her court-time managed in other games, Batkovic averaged 15.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 24.1 minutes per game.

During 2011/12 and 2012/13 playing for the Adelaide Lightning Batkovic was the premier player in the WNBL, winning the MVP award in both seasons, playing 40 games and averaging 22.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game during this period. In 2011/12 Suzy led the league in scoring, rebounds and steals, ranked fourth for field goal accuracy and fifth for blocked shots. During 2012/13 Batkovic led the WNBL in three categories, points, rebounds and blocked shots. Over these two seasons Adelaide had a brilliant regular season record of 36 wins and ten losses to finish first on the ladder in 2011/12 and third in 2012/13, however they did not have the same level of success during the finals, losing all three finals that they played.

In three seasons from 2013/14 to 2015/16 Batkovic played for the Townsville Fire and in each season the club made the Grand Final and Batkovic finished in the top three of the WNBL MVP award. After Townsville were defeated by Bendigo 94 points to 83 in 2013/14 Townsville were able to replicate Bendigo’s feat in winning back to back WNBL Championships. During the 2013/14 regular-season Batkovic led the WNBL in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. Although Abby Bishop surpassed her as the best player in the WNBL for the 2014/15 season Batkovic won her third WNBL Championship in 2014/15 playing for Townsville and remained one of the best players in the league, ranking third for points per game behind Bishop and Penny Taylor, second for rebounds and steals and fourth for blocked shots. During 2014/15 Townsville continued to improve and were the best team during the WNBL regular season, winning the minor premiership with a record of 17 wins and five losses, two games ahead of the second placed Bendigo Spirit. Townsville won both their finals, defeating Bendigo twice, by 19 points in the semi final and 10 points in the Grand Final to win the club’s first WNBL Championship. Batkovic scored 22 points in the Grand Final victory, whilst long-time Fire team-mate Mia Murray scored 23 points and won the Rachael Sporn medal as Grand Final MVP.

During the 2015/16 WNBL season Batkovic played all 28 games for Townsville, averaging 20.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.3 blocked shots and 31.6 minutes per game. At the end of the regular season Batkovic ranked in the top 10 of the WNBL in three categories, points (1st), blocked shots (3rd), and rebounds (7th) and was named in the WNBL’s team of the week eight times. Townsville finished the 2015/16 regular season on top of the ladder with 17 wins and seven losses to win their second successive minor premiership. Perth finished in second place with 16 wins and Dandenong and SEQ finished in third and fourth place respectively, each with 15 wins and nine losses. It was the most even regular season since 2005/06 when the top three teams all finished with a record of 14 wins and seven losses.

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Townsville hosted the major semi-final against Perth and were outplayed in the first half to trail 38-53 at half-time, whilst it was closer in the second half Perth recorded a comfortable 19 point victory 91 points to 72. Batkovic starred in Townsville’s 91-71 preliminary final victory against the SEQ Stars with 31 points on 11 of 18 field goal attempts, 10 rebounds and three assists.

In the first ever best of three WNBL Grand Final series Townsville played Perth, with the Fire making their fourth consecutive Grand Final. In game 1 at the Bendat Basketball Centre Perth went on a 16-3 run to lead by five points at three quarter-time. Townsville dominated in the last quarter, outscoring Perth 28 points to seven to win 73 points to 57. Game 2 of the Grand Final series followed a similar pattern to game 1 with Townsville leading at half-time by nine points only for Perth to dominate the third quarter to gain the ascendancy and hold a four point lead at three-quarter time. In the final quarter Perth again proved to be no match for Townsville with the Fire dominating the final term 25-9 to record a 10 point victory 80 points to 70 to win the 2015/16 WNBL title and make it back to back championships. During the two game Grand Final series Batkovic averaged 20.5 points and 12.5 rebounds – taking a season-high 16 rebounds in game 2. New Zealand guard Micaela Cocks won the Grand Final MVP award, averaging 14 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4 assists per game during the Grand Final series.

In 2015/16 Batkovic became only the third player in the past 15 WNBL seasons to win the regular season WNBL MVP award and play on the championship winning team in the same season, with the previous two players to achieve this feat being fellow front-court players and Australian Opals Lauren Jackson & Liz Cambage in 2002/03 and 2010/11 respectively. After receiving the WNBL MVP award Suzy commented in a video on the WNBL’s You Tube channel “Yeah, still a bit taken aback but also pretty excited. Yeah, just surprised I guess.” Despite all that she has achieved in her illustrious career Batkovic still remains humble and very appreciative of the assistance she has received from others throughout her career, saying “Yeah I guess I do have a laugh every so often, I started playing at such a late age, going to the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) and still learning the rules and what a five man weave was. Having to giggle at times because poor Phil Brown (AIS head-coach), had to put up with me and having to teach me so much more than probably what he bargained for, and keep going to get a scholarship so I am very thankful for a lot of people that have put the time and effort into me and helped me along the way. Without that I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.” Batkovic went on to comment about her team, Townsville “Without my team-mates there is no way I would be getting some of the shots I get, and some people set some amazing screens, defensively we help each other so this is definitely a team sport and as much as there are those individual awards which are great you can’t ever do it without your team.”

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Highlighting Batkovic’s incredible consistency, in seven of her past eight seasons (the exception being her injury effected 2010/11 season with Canberra) she has average at least 18 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. During her 15 seasons in the WNBL over two stints Batkovic has played a total of 308 games at five clubs, averaging 16.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game and has played in four WNBL Championships. Most players would be happy to have this level of production for one season let alone a career spanning more than 20 years. To put into perspective how impressive it is to average these numbers for an entire career, during the 2016/17 season only five players averaged more than 16.5 points per game and only three players averaged more than 8.4 rebounds per game.

Given that the WNBL is widely considered to be in the top four women’s basketball leagues in the world and features most of the members of Australia’s national team, the Opals as wells as some other players that have strong claims to be on the team it is a phenomenal performance for one player – Suzy Batkovic to win five of the past six WNBL MVP awards, and one that we are unlikely to see equalled for an extremely long time. 15 years after averaging a double-double during Townsville’s inaugural 2001/02 season Batkovic in 2016/17 has averaged a double-double for the fifth season of her career, four of these seasons have been with the Townsville Fire, the exception being the 2011/12 season with the Adelaide Lightning.  Throughout her decorated career Batkovic has been able to make substantial contributions for her team in many facets of basketball, whether it be scoring, rebounding, passing, proficient post play, accurate shooting, making steals, blocking shots or providing leadership. Arguably Batkovic’s most impressive trait has been the ability to make a shot or a big play when her team has most needed it. Although rival teams and players in the WNBL are fully aware of Batkovic’s strengths and propensity to use her favoured left hand they are still unable to reduce the substantial influence she has on games.

By Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

 

1 http://wnbl.com.au/legends-laud-suzy-batkovic-ahead-of-game-300/

2 http://wnbl.com.au/legends-laud-suzy-batkovic-ahead-of-game-300/

3 http://wnbl.com.au/townsville_news/batkovic-set-for-300th-wnbl-game/

 

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