Melbourne Boomers guard Brittany Smart played her 50th WNBL game on Sunday November 12 in a thrilling three point victory against the Adelaide Lightning at the State Basketball Centre. During the 2016/17 season Smart in her second WNBL season made a significant contribution to the Boomers in several facets of play to rank in the top 30 of the league for points, assists and rebounds per game as well as total blocks and steals. In late February 2017 American import Smart won two awards at the Melbourne Boomers 2016/17 awards night, the Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award as well as the Players’ Player Award.
In March 2017 Smart signed with the Boomers for the 2017/18 WNBL season, commenting “It really is a privilege to be a part of the Boomers Family for a third year. It has become a strong circle of hard working and loyal people with a promising future and an amazing fan base. I’m grateful to be able to continue my career at a club where everyone is striving for greatness on and off the court. The Boomers fans are incredible, they love their basketball and support us with such passion. I can’t wait to be back out there playing in front of them.”1
Impressive form for the Sandringham Sabres in the first half of the 2015 South East Australia Basketball League (SEABL) season resulted in the Melbourne Boomers being interested in recruiting Smart for the 2015/16 WNBL season. Smart signed with the Boomers for that season and is now in her third WNBL season with the club, having averaged at least 10.0 points, 2.0 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game in each season.
Brittany Smart was born on 28 May, 1985 in Xenia, Ohio in the United States of America and excelled during her college career for Cedarville, being selected in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division II All-American first team in 2005, 2006 and 2007. In her final season as a senior Smart won the league’s highest individual honour, being named the 2007 NAIA Division II National Player of the Year. During her College career from 2004 to 2007 Smart set many scoring records for both Cedarville and the NAIA Division II, including scoring 3,236 points in her college career to set a new NAIA Division II record.
After College Smart played basketball for clubs in Belgium and Sweden from 2007 to 2014. Late in 2010 playing for Swedish club Kvarnby Smart tore her anterior cruciate ligament and had surgery in January 2011 which caused her to miss the play-offs. Smart continued playing for Kvarnby until 2013 when she played in the play-offs with the club. Smart moved to another Swedish club Lulea BBK and played in the club’s 2014 Swedish women’s national basketball championship winning side.
Smart joined the Sandringham Sabres as an American import for the 2015 SEABL season, she played 19 games for the Sabres, averaging 23.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. Smart’s outstanding season was recognised with selection in the 2015 All-SEABL team as well as a top 10 finish in the SEABL MVP Award.
2015/16 WNBL season with the Melbourne Boomers
In July 2015 after the Melbourne Boomers signed Smart for the 2015/16 WNBL season head coach Guy Molloy commented “We were obviously devastated when Bec Cole suffered a major knee injury that will rule her out of the coming season, but we re-grouped and have found an impact player ready to go in Brittany. Not only is Britt a true pro and a great competitor, but she is putting numbers on the board, leading the SEABL in scoring and shooting the three at a terrific 41 per cent clip. We eagerly look forward to Britt making her WNBL debut with the Melbourne Boomers.”2
The Melbourne Boomers had a new look team in 2015/16 as only four of the 10 players that played at least 140 minutes court-time in 2014/15 returned to the club the following season – guards Tess Madgen and Rebecca Cole, and forwards Olivia Thompson and Shanae Greaves. Two former Boomers who had played in the club’s 2010/11 WNBL championship returned to the club, forward Alice Kunek after two seasons with cross-town rival Dandenong Rangers and centre Elyse Penaluna after missing 2014/15. Guard, Maddie Garrick had been a back-up guard for the Bendigo Spirit for the previous three seasons and would be playing increased court-time at the Boomers. Throughout her promising career point guard Cole had missed considerable basketball due to serious knee injuries, and as AIS captain in 2011/12 she played only two games for the season before injuring her knee and requiring a knee reconstruction. Cole had a break-out year for Melbourne in 2014/15 averaging 11.8 points and 2.9 assists per game, however due to another knee injury she started the 2015/16 WNBL season on the sidelines. Cole’s injury was a key reason in Smart being recruited by the Boomers. Cole was eventually ruled out for the entire 2015/16 season but made her WNBL return with the Boomers in 2016/17. Smart had played alongside Kunek with the Sandringham Sabres during the 2015 SEABL season. Guy Molloy was in his third season as head coach of the Boomers, having taken over the role for the 2013/14 season and also had previous experience of being a head coach in the WNBL for five seasons previously comprised of one season with the Canberra Capital in 1989 and four seasons with the WAIS Breakers from 1993 to 1996.
In her first 11 games of the 2015/16 WNBL season Smart only played over 27 minutes in a game once and usually started games on the bench however in Round 10 she averaged over 35 minutes per game in two Boomers victories, excelling with the increased responsibility due to captain Tess Madgen being on the sidelines with an ankle injury. In a five point Melbourne Boomers victory on the road against the Bendigo Spirit Smart scored 16 points, had five rebounds and four assists. Smart played a phenomenal game the following day in a three point victory at the State Basketball Centre against Canberra, falling just short of recording a triple-double, scoring a team-high 21 points, had 11 rebounds and nine assists. Smart made five of her nine three-pointers for an accuracy of 56% and set game-highs for rebounds and assists. Brittany was named the Round 10 WNBL player of the week and was named in the league’s team of the week alongside Boomers team-mate Garrick.
During 2015/2016 the Melbourne Boomers were rarely able to get their best side out on the court and when they did achieve this frequently one or two players were restricted due to an injury with starters Tess Madgen and Elyse Penaluna hampered by an ankle injury and knee injury respectively.
Melbourne finished the 2015/16 season in eighth place after recording eight wins and 16 losses, however their percentage of 94.1% highlighted how competitive they were, the Boomers were six games ahead of the University of Canberra Capitals who finished last in the nine team WNBL, and two games behind the seventh placed Adelaide Lightning. The Boomers lost several close games during the season after being in winning positions and were overrun in a couple of other games due to being undermanned due to injuries. Madgen and Penaluna each missed six games for the season whilst Smart missed seven games due to injury and 2014/15 starter Cole spent the entire season on the sidelines due to her knee injury.
During per first WNBL season Smart played 17 games for the Melbourne Boomers during 2015/16, averaging 10.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 25.3 minutes per game. The Melbourne Boomers were the only club in the WNBL that had four players make at least 30 three-pointers for the season, led by Garrick with 57, and followed by Kunek (45), Madgen (35) and Smart (30). Smart ranked fifth for Melbourne for points per game, second for assists, third for rebounds and steals and equal fifth for blocks. Smart led the WNBL for three point percentage in 2015/16 with 49.2%, making 30 of her 61 three-pointers.
Melbourne Boomers change in ownership and 2016/17 WNBL season
Nine clubs competed in the WNBL during the 2015/16 season, however one club – the SEQ Stars went into liquidation early in 2016 which meant that less clubs would be competing in the WNBL during the 2016/17 season. In early May 2016 the licenses of the Melbourne Boomers and Adelaide Lightning were in the hands of Basketball Australia, with private takeover proposals being made to Basketball Australia for each club. It was a possibility that neither the Boomers or Lightning would be competing in the WNBL during 2016/17 which would have reduced the league to six clubs.
In late May 2016 it was announced that the ownership of the Melbourne Boomers was being transferred to a new group including Tony Hallam, the Chairman of Etihad Stadium. Australia’s greatest ever basketball player Lauren Jackson joined the club in an off-court executive role as Commercial Operations Manager. Jackson was a three-time WNBA MVP winner, played in three WNBA championships with the Seattle Storm, won four medals with the Australian Opals at Olympic Games and played 172 WNBL games with the AIS and Canberra Capitals, averaging a phenomenal 22.2 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. Jackson’s ability to draw on experiences playing in basketball leagues and dealing with front offices in leagues all over the world proves invaluable now working in the Melbourne Boomers front office and providing a conduit between the playing group and the off-court team.
At the change of ownership announcement Hallam said “Our goal is to turn the Melbourne Boomers around within three years and, after that, we plan to invest any profits back into the team. Simply put, we’re doing this because the Boomers are worth saving. For thousands of girls who aspire to play at the elite level in Melbourne, the importance of the survival of the Melbourne Boomers is self-evident – they need access to a national competition. However, it’s not just about the elite. It’s about providing an opportunity to see and interact with wonderful, strong, healthy role models. It’s about the opportunity to feel the connectedness that comes with supporting a home team. It’s about giving families the opportunity to have a night out that everyone can share and enjoy. With the news the Boomers are here to stay and with Lauren joining us in a key role, we want to see the Melbourne community jump on board as members and support us – both basketball and women’s sport.”3
Of the nine Melbourne Boomers that played more than 200 minutes during the 2015-16 season only four played for the club during the 2016/17 season, Garrick, Kunek, Thompson and Smart. Boomers captain Tess Madgen departed to play in the Polish League, whilst forward Shanae Greaves joined Sydney Uni Flames, Kristen Veal retired and Kate Oliver didn’t play in the WNBL. Elyse Penaluna had completed the pre-season with the Boomers and was set to be the club’s co-captain with Kunek, however just days before the 2016/17 season started Penaluna announced that she would miss the entire season due to further complications with her knee injury. Melbourne’s recruits for the 2016/17 season were American import centre Chante Black, and forwards Jess Bygate and Tegan Cunningham recruited from Adelaide and Dandenong respectively. After playing for Adelaide in 2015/16 Kelly Bowen returns for the Boomers, joining her 2014/15 Melbourne teammate, guard Rebecca Cole who had recovered from her knee injury. Melbourne also recruited 16 year-old point guard Monique Conti who was a member of the Australian Sapphires team that won gold at the 2016 under 17 World Championships held in Spain during June and July, Conti excelled at the World Championships to be one of three Sapphires selected in the All-Star five.
In a two point loss against Townsville in Round 6 Smart scored 19 points and had seven rebounds, and had a shot in the dying seconds to send the game to overtime which narrowly missed. In Round 9 against Sydney Smart scored 21 points and had four rebounds.
Smart was named in the WNBL team of the week for Round 11, scoring 10 points and having six rebounds, six assists and two steals in the Melbourne Boomers 20 point victory against the Canberra Capitals at the State Basketball Centre. Smart scored 16 points against the Townsville Fire in Round 12 to earn back to back WNBL team of the week selections.
In a low scoring Round 14 road game against Dandenong Smart scored 18 points in an overtime loss. An ankle injury after Perth centre Ruth Hamblin fell on her in the first half of the Round 15 game at the State Basketball centre led to Smart missing two games. At the time of the injury Smart had scored a team-high 10 points against Perth.
The Deakin Melbourne Boomers finished the 2016/17 season with a record five wins and nineteen losses to finish seventh, eight games behind Canberra and Bendigo in fifth and sixth place respectively and two games ahead of the last placed Adelaide Lightning. During the season the Boomers made a change to their roster with Black getting cut and being replaced by Canadian import Kalisha Keane. The Boomers were competitive in most of the games they played however frequently paid the price for a five minute lapse during which time their opponent gained the ascendancy. Melbourne had eight losses by five points or less and finished the season with a percentage of 92%. Black was cut during the season and signed Canadian import Kalisha Keane take her place. With Penaluna missing the season and the Boomers being unable to sign free-agents for much of the free agency period due to uncertainty over the club’s survival they had an under-sized line-up in 2016/17 and ranked seventh out of eight teams for rebounding.
During 2016/17 Smart played 22 games for the Melbourne Boomers, averaging 12.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game. During 2016/17 Smart ranked 16th in the WNBL for points per game, 27th for rebounds, 23rd for assists, 15th for total steals and equal 29th for total blocks. At the Melbourne Boomers awards night in February 2017 Smart received the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award as well as the Players’ Player Award. Smart led the Melbourne Boomers for points per game, ranked third for rebounds per games behind Chante Black and Olivia Thompson, fourth for assists per game, third for total steals and equal third for total blocks. As well as being damaging with her outside shooting Smart was also affective with mid-range jump shots and driving to the basket throughout 2016/17 which contributed to her averaging just over three free-throws made per game.
2017/18 WNBL season with the Melbourne Boomers
In mid-March 2017 when Smart signed with the Melbourne Boomers for the 2017/18 season head coach Guy Molloy commented “Britt is such an exciting player and a real go-to scorer. Since we plan to recruit a powerful front line, Britt becomes an even more dangerous player next season. Excitingly for our organisation, Britt shows passion for this club in everything she does. The Boomers Family will be very happy to hear Britt will be with us again next season, as we all are.”4
The Deakin Melbourne Boomers retained four guards from their 2016/17 roster – Smart, Garrick, Cole & Conti, however have a new-look front-court in 2017/18, recruiting two-time Olympian and 2010/11 WNBL MVP Liz Cambage along with Louella Tomlinson who led the WNBL for blocked shots in 2015/16. Cambage is one of two members of the Boomers only Championship winning side of 2010/11 re-joining the club along with guard/forward Jenna O’Hea who was an Australian Opals team-mate of Liz’s at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Melbourne also recruited New Zealand forward Kalani Purcell, American forward Courtney Duever and 20 year-old Australian forward Ashleigh Grant.
The starting line-up for the Boomers when they have been at full-strength in 2017/18 has been Cole, Garrick, Purcell, O’Hea and Cambage, highlighting their depth 2016/17 Boomers MVP Smart and Tomlinson have started on the bench. When O’Hea was sidelined with injury Smart started in some games.
In Round 3 at the State Basketball Centre Smart played a brilliant all-round game in a two point overtime victory against the Perth Lynx, scoring 16 points, having seven rebounds and five assists. With O’Hea out with a calf injury Smart played a team-high 39 minutes and 36 seconds court-time and shot the ball efficiently to make five of her seven field goal attempts for an accuracy of 71%, making four of her six three-pointers.
In a Round 6 road game against the reigning champions the Sydney Uni Flames, the Melbourne Boomers were in ominous form, leading 54-32 at half-time and winning 88-65. Melbourne Boomers captain Jenna O’Hea returned from injury which resulted in the Boomers fielding their strongest line-up of the season. Smart started on the bench, but made a significant impact in her time on court, scoring 19 points – ranked second for the Boomers behind O’Hea with 22 points, had four rebounds and made two assists. Smart shot the ball superbly, making eight of her 11 field goals for an accuracy of 72%, making three of her five three-pointers in 25 minutes and 16 seconds court-time. The Boomers had 27 assists against Sydney and made 11 of their 20 three-pointers for a superb accuracy of 55%. In the Melbourne Boomers second game of Round 6 at home against the Adelaide Lightning Smart played the 50th game of her WNBL career to date. The Boomers defeated Adelaide 77-74 with Liz Cambage dominant with a career-high 44 points, whilst also having 12 rebounds. During 2015/16 and 2016/17 the Boomers had a poor record in close games however it is a very different case in 2017/18 with their last three victories at home all being by three points or less having defeated the Perth Lynx by two points in overtime, the Jayco Rangers by three points after trailing by 11 points at three quarter time and the Adelaide Lightning by three points.
At the end of Round 6 the Melbourne Boomers are third on the ladder with a record of seven wins and four losses which has the Boomers well placed to make the finals for the first time since 2013/14. Sydney are on top of the ladder with a record of seven wins and three losses, followed by Townsville Fire (6-3) in second. Adelaide Lightning (6-4) are fourth, Perth are fifth (4-4), followed by the Dandenong Rangers (4-5), Bendigo Spirit (2-7) and Canberra Capitals (2-8). Liz Cambage has provided the Boomers with the front-court presence they needed, averaging 21.7 points and 9.6 rebounds per game and has named the WNBL Player of the Week three times in the first six rounds.
During the 2017/18 season Smart has played all 10 games for the Melbourne Boomers so far, averaging 9.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 25 minutes and 43 seconds court-time per game. Smart ranks in the top 35 of the WNBL for points, assists and steals per game including being ranked 19th for assists.
The usual starting line-up for the Boomers when they have been at full-strength in 2017/18 has been Cole, Garrick, Purcell, O’Hea and Cambage, highlighting their depth 2016/17 Boomers MVP Smart and Tomlinson have started on the bench. When O’Hea was sidelined with injury Smart started in some games. As well as O’Hea and Tomlinson missing several games with injury during the first six Rounds, Courtney Duever suffered a season ending anterior cruciate ligament injury in Melbourne’s Round 2 game against Canberra. The Boomers have a deep roster with a proven top seven players in their rotation that has them well placed to cover any short-term injuries. Versatility is provided by O’Hea and Purcell being able to perform several different roles whilst youngsters Conti and Grant have also shown that they are able to perform a role in the Boomers rotation.
During her three seasons with the Melbourne Boomers Brittany Smart has displayed that she has been able to make an impact as a scorer, in a role as either a starter or off the bench. Whilst she has been most noted as a scorer throughout her college and professional career Smart is able to score in a variety of ways and is also effective with her passing, making her more difficult to defend. Smart’s ability to rank in the top 30 of the WNBL in 2016/17 for points, assists and rebounds per game as well as total blocks and steals highlight’s how versatile her game is and she was rewarded with the Melbourne Boomer 2016/17 MVP Award as well as the club’s Players’ Player award. Whilst Smart’s role in 2017/18 with the Boomers isn’t as prominent on a deeper roster she has continued to make an impact whether starting games on the court or on the bench and is setting new WNBL career-highs for field goal accuracy at 49% and assists with 2.9 per game.
By Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777