Townsville Fire captain Suzy Batkovic capped a brilliant 2017/18 season by winning the WNBL’s Grand Final and regular season MVP awards, becoming just the second player of all-time along with close friend and former Australian Opals team-mate Lauren Jackson to win both WNBL awards in the same season, with Jackson having achieved the feat in 2002/03 playing for the Canberra Capitals. Although Batkovic is honoured to receive MVP awards the award she values above all else is the WNBL Championship and she was also able to achieve this goal with Townsville winning the 2017/18 Grand Final series 2-1 against the Melbourne Boomers to win their third championship in four seasons following on from their back to back triumphs in 2014/15 and 2015/16.
Batkovic made her WNBL debut for the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) at 15 years of age in 1996. In a 334 game WNBL career spanning close to 22 years Batkovic has scored over 5,500 points, taken over 2,850 rebounds, played in five 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 37 years of age winning a sixth WNBL MVP award in seven seasons and also winning the Rachel Sporn medal as Grand Final MVP for the first time in her career. In the most important game of the season – game 3 of the Grand Final series Batkovic recorded her 17th double-double of the season, amazingly she reached this mark before half-time of the decider. In the three game grand final series Batkovic averaged 22.3 points and 12 rebounds per game which was higher than her output during the regular season in both categories.
After Townsville’s game 3 victory against the Melbourne Boomers Fire head coach Claudia Brassard commented on Batkovic’s season and GF series “Suzy’s an unbelievable player. She’s obviously ageless with the way that she battles and she did such a good job battling Lizzie and that’s not easy by any means. She was producing for us at both ends of the floor and the season she’s had has been incredible. She wouldn’t have been happy with game one, but she came out and had blinders in games two and three. That’s just the type of player she is. I’m just really happy for her that she finally won that medal.”
During the 2017/18 regular season left-hander Batkovic maintained her status as a dominant force, ranking third in the league for points per game, second for rebounds, fifth for blocked shots and seventh for steals whilst providing tremendous leadership for the Townsville Fire.
Townsville Fire centre Suzy Batkovic created more history by winning the WNBL’s 2017/18 Regular Season Most Valuable Player Award, winning the award for the third consecutive season, and the sixth time in her career. Batkovic is the only player to win three consecutive WNBL MVP awards and has now achieved this feat on two separate occasions, 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. After fellow front-court player and close friend Abby Bishop won the 2014/15 MVP award Batkovic has won the past three MVP awards in a row, playing for the Townsville Fire during this hat-trick. A Townsville Fire player has won the WNBL MVP award five times, all in the last 10 seasons with the club’s first winner being forward Rohanee Cox in 2008/09, Batkovic has won the award playing for Townsville four times in five seasons from 2013/14 to 2017/18.
Batkovic is currently playing with Montpellier in the French LFB – her first season in Europe since 2009 and made an instant impact in her first game of the 2018 season – scoring 40 points and having 16 rebounds in the 93-88 victory. On 5 February, 2018 Batkovic signed with the Townsville Fire for the 2018/19 WNBL season, commenting “it’s great to be back at the Fire. I never considered playing anywhere else – we just needed to sort through the details – and now the focus will return to defending our title. Hopefully the majority of last year’s squad return and we can try and win it again.”1 Batkovic is set to achieve two major milestones in 2018/19 – needing to play another 16 games to reach 350 WNBL games and she requires 199 more point to overtake Rachel Sporn and become the league’s all-time leading scorer.
Batkovic’s six WNBL MVP awards is the all-time record followed by Lauren Jackson with four and Kathy Foster with three. Lauren Jackson is almost universally recognised as Australia’s greatest basketball player of all-time, with the forward/centre having dominated for the Australian Opals and in various leagues across the world during her career. As well as her four WNBL regular season MVP Awards Jackson also won the league’s Grand Final MVP Award four times and the WNBA’s MVP award three times. Between 2002 and 2012 Batkovic and Jackson were Australian Opals team-mates at four major championships including the 2008 Olympic Games where Australia won the silver medal with Jackson and Batkovic playing influential roles, both ranking in the top two for the Opals for points and rebounds at the tournament. Given that Jackson has also been a team-mate and opponent of Suzy’s in the WNBL few people are better placed to comment on Suzy’s career in the league. After Batkovic received the WNBL’s 2017/18 Regular Season MVP Award Jackson commented to the Townsville Bulletin “Suzy’s played so many years in the league and has been so consistent. She’s 37, her body’s held out and she’s been amazing. It’s a credit to her and she’s definitely the best player this league has seen over the period of her career. I’m so happy for her. It’s a credit she’s managed to look after the body as well as she has and she’s able to get out there and do her thing.”2
During the 2016/17 season the Townsville Fire had a core rotation of eight players who each played more than 350 minutes for the season, five of these players returned to Townsville for the 2017/18 season – Batkovic, Mia Murray, Kelly Wilson, Micaela Cocks and Darcee Garbin. The departures were imports Amy Kame and Natasha Cloud who didn’t play in the WNBL in 2017/18, as well as naturalised Australian Kayla Standish who joined the Perth Lynx. Townsville’s most high profile recruit for the 2017/18 season was forward Cayla George who played in Townsville’s 2014/15 and 2015/16 championships and represented the Australian Opals at the 2016 Olympics and 2014 World Championships. Other recruits that were part of the Townsville Fire core rotation in 2017/18 were imports Sydney Wiese and Laurin Mincy along with Australian point guard Mikhaela Donnelly. 2017/18 was Claudia Brassard’s second season as Townsville Fire’s head coach, being just the fourth person to hold this role. Brassard had been an assistant coach under Chris Lucas from 2013/14 to 2015/16 and a previous captain and club MVP winner at Townsville.
Over the course of the 2017/18 WNBL season only six players averaged more than 16.0 points per game, highlighting Suzy’s consistency she scored more than 16 points in 18 of her 21 regular season games. Batkovic took at least 10 rebounds 13 times during the regular season to record a double-double in all 13 of these games.
Batkovic was selected in the WNBL Team of the Week for six of the 13 rounds – ranked equal third in the league along with Asia Taylor for most TOTW selections for the season, behind Liz Cambage and Courtney Williams who were each selected seven times. Five players were selected more than three times with Sami Whitcomb being ranked fifth with five selections. Batkovic made the team of the week in Rounds 2, 4, 7 and in three consecutive weeks from Round 9 to Round 11.
In seven of her first eight games of the 2017/18 season 194 centimetre tall centre Batkovic scored at least 20 points, earning her first team of the week selection for her role in an 11 point Round 2 victory against the University of Canberra Capitals at Townsville Stadium in which she scored 20 points and had 12 rebounds to set game-highs in both categories and displayed her wide-ranging skill set – also having an equal team-high four assists and a game-high three steals.
Batkovic was named the Round 4 WNBL Player of the Week, scoring more than 25 points in both games for the round to set the game-high in each game with at least 10 points more than the second ranked player. On Friday October 27 in a road game against the University of Canberra Capitals Batkovic scored 27 points – 13 more than the second ranked player for the game, making 11 of her 23 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 48%. Suzy dominated in several other facets of play, also having a game-high 11 rebounds, made a game-high five steals and had four assists – ranked second for the Townsville in the 15 point victory. In a seven point victory at Townsville Stadium on Sunday October 29 Batkovic scored 26 points – 10 more than the second ranked player for the game and shot the ball superbly from the field to have an accuracy of 61% comprised of making 11 of her 18 field goal attempts. Batkovic also had six rebounds, four steals and two assists whilst playing a pivotal role in restricting Melbourne Boomers 203 centimetre tall centre Liz Cambage to 12 points.
In a 23 point Round 7 victory against Adelaide at Titanium Security Arena Batkovic registered her highest rebounding tally for the season to that stage with 15 including four offensive boards, she also scored a team-high 23 points. In her following game in Round 8 against the Melbourne Boomers at Townsville Stadium Batkovic set her season high for rebounds in a game with 17 – six more than the second ranked player for the game, Melbourne Boomers centre Liz Cambage missed the game with suspension. In the 73-66 victory Batkovic also had three assists and her rebounding haul included five offensive boards.
Against the Dandenong Rangers in a Wednesday night Round 9 game at Dandenong Stadium Suzy scored a game-high 19 points and had a team-high nine rebounds. In the Fire’s second road game for the round on Saturday night against Sydney at Brydens Stadium, Townsville were in a commanding position, leading 65-55 at three quarter time, however Sydney fought back in the last term to close the gap. Batkovic was influential in Townsville getting a three-point victory – 88-85, scoring eight points, taking two rebounds and having three assists in the final term. Suzy finished the game with 26 points and 11 rebounds to set game-highs in both categories and also had five assists. Batkovic was selected in the Round 9 WNBL team of the week – her fourth selection for the season. The Round 9 win against Sydney was the first in a five game streak of Suzy scoring at least 20 points.
During a Thursday night Round 10 home game against Adelaide on Batkovic had 25 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks to set game-highs in all three categories. Batkovic also had a team-high three steals and two assists, however with only one other Fire player scoring more than eight points Adelaide recorded a comfortable 79-64 victory. In their second game of round 10, a Saturday night encounter against Bendigo at Bendigo Stadium Townsville scored the first 11 points of the game and dominated from start to finish, winning 99-62. Suzy made nine of her 16 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 56%, to score 20 points – ranked second for the game behind Townsville guard Sydney Wiese who scored 29 points. Batkovic also had 10 rebounds and two assists, earning selection in the WNBL team of the week for the second week in a row.
For the third time in four games Suzy scored more than 24 points, making seven of her 14 field goals and a season high 11 free-throws from 13 attempts for an accuracy of 85% to score 25 points against the Jayco Rangers in Round 11. Batkovic also had seven rebounds, three assists, an equal game-high two steals and a game-high two blocks in the 12 point victory at Townsville Stadium.
In Townsville’s final regular season game Batkovic set her season-high with 31 points in the 32 point victory against the Perth Lynx, recording her highest field goal accuracy of the season – making 12 of her 18 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 67%. Suzy made one of her three three-pointers, all six free-throws, had a game-high 13 rebounds – five more than the second ranked player for the game and three assists.
Townsville finished the 2017/18 regular season third on the ladder with a record of 14 wins and seven losses, level with second placed Sydney Uni Flames and one game behind minor premiers the Perth Lynx who after starting the season with only one win in their first five games had a club record 14 game-winning streak. The Melbourne Boomers finished fourth with 12 wins and nine losses. The top three teams had all made the WNBL finals in 2017/18 with the Townsville Fire making the finals for the seventh consecutive season. The Melbourne Boomers were making their first finals appearance since 2013/14 when they also finished fourth. Townsville finished the 2017/18 regular season with a league best percentage of 114 and although they recorded six wins by at least 23 points they also had five losses by 15 points or more.
The semi finals continued to be a three game series in 2017/18, however the format changed with the higher ranked team playing on the road in game 1 and at home in games 2 and 3 (if required) which created considerable discussion that the change disadvantaged the higher ranked teams. Due to losing their regular season series with Sydney 1-2 Townsville finished in third position and Sydney second. The first two games between the clubs during the regular season had been very close with Sydney recording a three point Round 3 road win and the result being reversed in Round 9 with Townsville winning by three points on the road. In their final clash of the regular season in Round 13 on December 29 Sydney had an easy 26 point victory 107-81 at home.
Sydney had thrashed Townsville in their 2016/17 semi final series and had retained four of their five starters from last season for the 2017/18 season with the only change being Leilani Mitchell leaving the club and being replaced by another Australian Opal guard in Katie-Rae Ebzery. The Sydney Uni Flames were the only club to have all five starters in 2017/18 being Asia Taylor, Belinda Snell, Ebzery, Jennifer Hamson and Alex Wilson average more than 12 points per game which placed them in the top 20 of the league. Sydney were very reliant on their starters as they didn’t have any other players that averaged more than 5.0 points per game.
The structure of Townsville’s roster was very different to Sydney’s and whilst Sydney had the stronger starting line-up Townsville had more depth on the bench. Batkovic was the only Townsville player to average more than 11 points per game however the Fire had another seven players that averaged more than 5.0 points per game being Cayla George, Darcee Garbin, Mia Murray, Sydney Wiese, Laurin Mincey, Micaela Cocks and Kelly Wilson. With the condensed season and significant travel required the Townsville Fire brains trust thought it was imperative to have a deep roster for the 2017/18 WNBL season. They definitely achieved this with two of the players starting on the bench being 2015/16 Grand Final MVP – guard Michaela Cocks, and forward Darcee Garbin who was co-captain of the Emerging Opals team that won gold at the 2017 World University Games and was Australia’s best player at the tournament.
Townsville comprehensively won game 1 of their semi final series against Sydney at Townsville Stadium on Thursday January 4, 78-49 with the Townsville bench outscoring the Sydney bench 33-14 and no Sydney player scoring more than 11 points as the Flames shot at just 24% from the field. Batkovic scored 19 points and had 16 rebounds to set game-highs in both categories whilst also having an equal game-high two blocks and three assists.
Game 2 of the semi final series at Brydens Stadium was a thriller with Townsville leading by three points at three quarter-time. Twice in the final term Townsville extended the lead to six points however Sydney struck back to lead 65-64 with a minute and one second remaining. Townsville scored the last two field goals of the game with one each to Sydney Wiese and Cayla George to prevail by three points 68-65, enabling Townsville to progress to the club’s fifth Grand Final in six seasons. Batkovic recorded a double-double, scoring an equal team-high 14 points, and taking a team-high 10 rebounds whilst also having an equal game-high three blocks and three assists.
The Melbourne Boomers upset the top ranked Perth Lynx in the other semi final two games to nil to set up a Grand Final series between Townsville and Melbourne. Whilst the grand final series was also three games the format was different to the semi finals with the lower ranked team hosting game 2 and the higher ranked team hosting game 1 as well as game 3 if required.
Townsville had won their regular season series against the Melbourne Boomers 3-0 with an average winning margin of eight points, however all three games were played in the first eight rounds of the season. Melbourne’s roster had a similar structure to Townsville with a dominant front-court player in Liz Cambage (23 points and 10.5 rebounds per game) and another five players who averaged more than 5.0 points per game being forward Jenna O’Hea, guards Maddie Garrick, Brittany Smart and Rebecca Cole and forward Kalani Purcell. Five members of Townsville’s 2017/18 roster had played in at least one of the club’s WNBL Championships in 2014/15 and 2015/16 being Batkovic, George, Murray, Cocks and Garbin whilst Wilson had been a member of the Bendigo Spirit team that won back to back championships in 2012/13 and 2013/14. Only two members of the 2017/18 Melbourne roster had been a member of the team’s only WNBL championship in 2010/11 – Cambage and current captain O’Hea however two other players had been a part of Championships with other WNBL club’s – Garrick alongside Wilson at Bendigo in 2012/13 and 2013/14 and Louella Tomlinson with the Jayco Rangers in 2011/12.
Melbourne scored the first six points of game 1 of the Grand Final series at Townsville Stadium however Townsville responded by scoring the next eight points to take the lead. Townsville led 21-20 after a high scoring first quarter however the second quarter was an arm wrestle with each side only managing 10 points. The Fire restricted Melbourne to 10 points again in the third quarter whilst scoring 17 points themselves to lead 48-40 with a quarter remaining. Melbourne closed the gap to one point with six minutes and 15 seconds remaining, however Townsville then went on a 10-2 run to open up a nine point lead, the Fire eventually won game 1 69-64 to take a 1-0 advantage in the Grand Final series. Batkovic scored a team-high 16 points, had a game-high 15 rebounds and made all six of her free-throws.
Whilst Townsville had a passionate 2,200 person crowd supporting them at Townsville Stadium in game 1 it was a very different atmosphere when they played game 2 on the road in front of a sell-out crowd of 3,655 people at the State Basketball Centre in Melbourne. An 18-11 second quarter for Townsville set up a 35-26 lead at half-time of game 2. A Batkovic jump shot with five minutes and 57 seconds remaining in the third term extended the Fire’s lead to 14 points, however Melbourne fought back to reduce the margin to four points, 47-43 at three quarter-time. Another Batkovic jump shot with three minutes and 39 seconds remaining gave Townsville a 55-50 advantage however Cambage scored eight of the next 10 points in the game to give Melbourne a one point lead with eight seconds remaining. Batkovic received the ball in the low post and whilst under pressure from Purcell put him up a shot with her preferred left hand from the right hand side of the key, the ball rolled around the top of the ring but didn’t drop giving the Boomers a one point victory.
All three Grand Final games were a sell-out with 8,000 spectators attending during the three game series which was also broadcast live by Fox Sports on pay TV. In the WNBL’s first ever game 3 of a Grand Final series Batkovic set the tone early with nine points and four rebounds in the first five and a half minutes of the game. By half-time Suzy had registered a double-double, highlighting just how impressive this feat was, only two players averaged a double-double during the 2017/18 season, Batkovic and her direct opponent for most of the Grand Final series – Melbourne Boomers centre Liz Cambage. At the end of the 70-57 game 3 victory Batkovic had scored 28 points, 13 rebounds and three assists to register game-highs in the first two categories and an equal team-high for assists. It was the third time Townsville had won the WNBL championship with all three titles being won in the past four seasons, becoming the first club to win three titles in four seasons since the Canberra Capitals between 2006/07 and 2009/10, the Capitals had also won the 2005/06 title, giving them four championships in five seasons, a feat Townsville will attempt to match in 2018/19.
During the three game 2017/18 Grand Final series three judges – Roy Ward (The Age), Trent Slatter (Townsville Bulletin) and Carly Wilson (Fox Sports) cast their 3,2,1 votes for the Rachel Sporn Grand Final MVP award after each game. Batkovic received 21 votes from a maximum of 27 votes to win the Grand Final MVP award ahead of Liz Cambage on 13 votes with Sydney Wiese and Brittany Smart equal third on six votes. It was the first time Batkovic had received the WNBL Grand Final MVP award and completed the only item that had been missing from her incredible resume.
After the Townsville Fire had won game three of the Grand Final series to secure their third WNBL championship in four seasons Batkovic commented “I was just so happy for the girls that we finally got what we set out to do. I am getting a little bit older and I know how hard we have to work to get here. I just felt like we worked really well together defensively and that was our biggest thing. That’s what we went in focused on. I haven’t won it (grand final MVP) before, but I haven’t really cared too much because we’d won the championship. The biggest thing for me was to bring that trophy back to North Queensland.”
During the 2017/18 WNBL season Batkovic played all 26 games for Townsville, averaging 20.4 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.1 blocked shots and 29.5 minutes per game. Batkovic led Townsville for points, rebounds, steals and minutes played, ranked second for blocked shots with 29 – one behind George, and ranked third for assists behind Wilson and Donnelly. Batkovic’s points and rebounds per game were both slightly down (less than 3%), on her 2016/17 numbers whilst her steals increased by 60% and her minutes dropped by 9% which was largely due to how many blowout games Townsville were involved in – both wins and losses.
Between Game 1 and Game 2 of the Grand Final series the results of the WNBL’s 2017/18 MVP award were announced with Batkovic winning the award with 117 votes, 13 votes ahead of runner-up Melbourne Boomers centre Liz Cambage who also led the league in scoring. Perth Lynx shooting guard Courtney Williams polled 95 votes to finish in third place ahead of Sydney Uni Flames forward Asia Taylor on 85 votes and Perth Lynx point guard Sami Whitcomb on 82 votes. Votes are submitted by coaches and referees for the WNBL MVP award after each regular season game. Batkovic’s ability to play all 21 regular season games gave her more opportunities to poll votes than most of her main rivals as due to injury Cambage and Courtney Williams each missed a game and Asia Taylor missed two games with an eye injury. MVP runner-up Cambage was also suspended for one game and was ejected twice. Batkovic has had to deal with injury issues herself – stress fractures in her back but has been able to continue playing. In January 2018 Batkovic commented to the Townsville Bulletin on four stress fractures in her back “Last season I had some issues again, so I went from two stress fractures to four. The doctors weren’t sure when the two new ones had popped up, but they think somewhere within the 12 months of last season. I’ve got four little Christmas trees, little spikes on the scan. They’re just maintained as best I can. You just play in the moment and ignore whatever’s hurting. I’m so competitive that whatever is hurting is put to the side as best as I can. I look at that scoreboard and make sure it’s ticking over on the right side.”3
The top five vote getters in the MVP award had earlier been selected in the 2017/18 WNBL All-Star five. It was the seventh selection of Batkovic’s career, moving her to equal second for most selections with Michele Timms, Kristi Harrower, and Shelley Sandie, behind Rachael Sporn on eight and ahead of Jackson and Alison Cook who were each selected six times. 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, 2015/16 and 2016/17 playing for Townsville.
After receiving the 2017/18 WNBL MVP award Batkovic commented in a video on wnbl.com.au “It is obviously a great honour, but for me it’s what I can do for my team and just trying to win a championship – that is always the first thing on my agenda. I think I am pretty lucky, Townsville have already had a great culture for a number of years and I just try and maintain as best as possible and I am lucky that I have got great teammates around me that do the same.”
Townsville have made five of the past six grand finals, Suzy commented on Townsville’s successful era “I think a massive key has been the way the coaches have recruited, I think having good people on and off the floor is huge and obviously everyone on the same page and wanting the same thing. That’s the ultimate goal to win a championship.”
After playing for Townsville in their inaugural season of 2001/02 Batkovic returned to the club for the 2013/14 season and has spent the past five seasons playing for Townsville. The Townsville Fire had made the Grand Final in 2012/13 so were already well placed when Batkvoic re-joined the club in 2013/14. It is rare for a player to play five consecutive seasons for the same WNBL club but even rarer for both club and player to dominate the league as both Batkovic and the Townsville Fire have during this period. Batkovic has won the WNBL MVP Award four times from 2013/14 to 2017/18, and finished third 2014/15 behind Abby Bishop and Townsville team-mate Cayla George. Townsville have won three WNBL Championships – 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2017/18, whilst they lost the 2013/14 Grand Final to Bendigo and were defeated in the 2016/17 semi finals by eventual champions the Sydney Uni Flames. Batkovic won Townsville Fire’s 2017/18 MVP award – the fifth consecutive season that she had received the award, breaking the record of former Townsville captain Rohanee Cox who won the Fire’s MVP award in four consecutive seasons from 2005/06 to 2008/09. In all five seasons for the Townsville Fire Batkovic averaged more than 18.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and in four of these seasons Batkovic has clearly been Townsville’s best player whilst in 2014/15 the twin Towers of Batkovic and George performed at a similar outstanding level and opinion was split as to which member of the front-court duo had the better season. Batkovic won the Townsville Fire’s 2014/15 MVP Award whilst George was the only Townsville player selected in the WNBL All-Star five.
Batkovic was selected in the 2017/18 WNBL All-Star team, the seventh selection of her career, moving her to equal second for most selections with Michele Timms, Kristi Harrower, and Shelley Sandie, behind Rachael Sporn (8) and ahead of Jackson and Alison Cook who were each selected six times. 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, 2015/16 and 2016/17 playing for Townsville.
On being able to maintain such a high standard late in her basketball career Batkovic commented to WNBL.com.au “For me it is just knowing my body, I have been in my body for 37 years now, so I have learnt a lot of things over the years and one of them is when to push forward and when to pull back. No-one can gauge your body except you, I have probably been really lucky that I have good coaches around that, I have been able to pull back when I need to pull back. I know that at 37 your body doesn’t recover as well as a 23 year old, so it is more about being smart with how I manage myself.”
On the standard of the players competing in the WNBL during the 2017/18 season Batkovic commented “Yeah I think this season has been some of the best post players around the world, it has been tough but it is great to have that competition, you know I am a competitor so it gets me motivated, it makes you better as a player so I think it is really important and I have really enjoyed it.”
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 smashing 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. Batkovic recorded a double-double in the Grand Final victory, scoring a team-high 18 points and taking an equal team-high 10 rebounds along with Jackson who also scored 15 points. Point guard Kristen Veal won the Grand Final MVP with 14 points, 11 assists and six rebounds, equalling the record for most assists in a final.
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 during their career, 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 20 seasons from 1998/99 to the present, combining for 12 MVP’s comprised of six 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 approximately 160 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 in 2001/02 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 Valenciennes and was a part of the team that won the 2004 Euroleague title. During her time abroad Batkovic also played in leagues in Italy, Spain for Ros Casares, and Russia for UMMC Ekaterinburg and also played a total of 55 games 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. Batkovic has won a total of four European Championships during her career.
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.
From 2012 onwards Batkovic has had to manage some back injuries which led to her 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 under head coach Brendan Joyce. Batkovic had no trouble adapting to the Opal’s new style of basketball, playing both games of the 2015 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.
Under new Australian Opals head coach Sandy Brondello Batkovic had been included in the Opals squad for camp 1 in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games in April with Australia’s three pool games to be played in Townsville. On Friday 26 January, 2018 it was announced that Batkovic had signed to play for Montpellier in the French LFB, with their season concluding in May she had to rule herself out of the Australian Opals team for the Commonwealth Games in April. On the decision to play for Montpellier Batkovic commented to the Townsville Bulletin “It wasn’t easy and I think I must have spoken to my partner Dan a billion times about it, working out what was best for me. For where I’m at in my career and my personal life’s changed a lot from over a year ago so I had to do what’s best for myself from a business perspective and for my family. Dan has a daughter, 15-year-old Lily, and she’s with us part-time as well so ultimately as a family I think this is probably one of the best things we can do. It’s great from my perspective, but also for them as well to go and experience the European life a bit and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m obviously disappointed that I won’t be putting the green and gold back on, but that’s the decision I’ve made and I’m going to run with it and see how I go.”4
WNBL career from 2009/10 to 2016/17
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. The Capitals had a record of 18 wins and four losses during the regular season to finish second on the ladder behind one game behind the Bulleen Boomers. The Boomers outplayed the Capitals in the grand final to win 103-78, Batkovic scored a gam-high 28 points in the Grand Final. In 2010/11 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.
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 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.”
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.
In 2016/17 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 for defensive rebounds and free throws made with 8.0 and 4.7 per game respectively. 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. The Townsville Fire lost their semi final series to the Sydney Uni Flames 2-0, being comprehensively outplayed in game 1 and were outplayed in the last few minutes of game 2 after trailing by four points with three minutes and 11 seconds remaining. Batkovic polled 129 votes to win the WNBL MVP award by six votes from Perth Lynx guard Sami Whitcomb to win the prestigious award for the fifth time of her career – setting a new record, surpassing Lauren Jackson with four MVP awards.
Highlighting Batkovic’s incredible consistency, in eight of her nine past WNBL seasons since returning from Europe for the 2009/10 season she has averaged at least 18 points and 8.5 rebounds per game (the exception being her injury effected 2010/11 season with Canberra). During this period Batkovic has won an unprecedented six WNBL MVP Awards and been selected in the WNBL All-Star five seven. In the only season during this time that wasn’t injury effected and Batkovic wasn’t selected selection in the All-Star five in 2014/15 Batkovic maintained a high level of performance and finished third in the WNBL MVP Award.
During her 16 seasons in the WNBL over two stints Batkovic has played a total of 334 games at five clubs, averaging 16.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game and has played in five 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 2017/18 season only five players averaged more than 16.8 points per game and only six players averaged more than 8.5 rebounds per game.
Despite not playing in the WNBL for seven seasons from 2002/03 to 2008/09 Batkovic ranks 12th on the league’s all-time games list and features in the top five for several statistical categories. During the 2018/19 WNBL season Batkovic is likely to play her 350th WNBL game and also break Rachel Sporn’s record for total points scored in the league. In her 334 game WNBL career Batkovic has amassed 5,625 points ranked second on the league’s all-time list behind Sporn with 5,823 points. Batkovic is likely to average between 18 and 21 points per game in 2018/19, the middle mark of 19.5 would result in Batkovic breaking the scoring record in her 345th game. To celebrate Batkovic reaching 350 WNBL games Milestones and misses will publish an article comprehensively covering her career days before she reaches this significant milestone. Batkovic also ranks second for total rebounds with 2,852, with Sporn again being ranked first on the all-tine list with 3,229 rebounds. Batkovic would need to play for two more seasons to take the 378 rebounds required to overtake Sporn. Late in the 2017/18 season Batkovic overtook Jackson on the all-time list for most blocks, moving into third place, her tally of 429 is four ahead of Jackson, 15 behind Tracey Beatty and 243 behind Jenny Whittle in first place.
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. 16 years after averaging a double-double during Townsville’s inaugural 2001/02 season Batkovic in 2017/18 averaged a double-double for the sixth season of her career including four times in her last five seasons with Townsville.
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 six of the past seven WNBL MVP awards, and one that we are unlikely to see equalled for an extremely long time if ever.
By Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777