Bec Cole’s meteoric rise to be named in the 2018/19 WNBL All-Star five in her first season with the Jayco Rangers

In her first season playing for the Jayco Rangers Bec Cole was one of the revelations of the 2018/19 WNBL season, setting career-highs for scoring, rebounds, steals and shooting accuracy. In her eight WNBL seasons before the 2018/19 season Bec had only averaged double figure points in one season – 11.8 points per game with the Melbourne Boomers in 2014/15. Throughout the 2018/19 season Cole was one of the most efficient backcourt scorers in the league, having the ability to drive aggressively to the basket, make mid-range shots and was a much greater threat from long range than in previous seasons. Playing as a shooting guard in 2018/19 Cole elevated her game to a new stratosphere to rank second during the WNBL Regular Season for scoring with 19.4 points per game, an incredible 65% increase on her previous best. Cole used her quick hands, reading of the play and speed to full effect to rank second in the league for steals per game, one of her greatest strengths was the capacity to turn steals in the Rangers defensive half into fast-break points. Although Cole spent less time handling the ball in 2018/19 than in previous seasons due to the positional change from point guard to shooting guard she ranked ninth in the league with 3.6 assists per game, setting a new career best for the seasons that she played at least five games.

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From mid-December to early-January Dandenong shooting guard Cole was named the league’s Player of the Week twice in four rounds – Rounds 10 and Rounds 13. Cole was rewarded for her outstanding season by winning the Jayco Ranger’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. Cole was also recognised for her brilliant 2018/19 season by being selected in the WNBL All-Star five and finished runner-up in the league’s MVP Award on 99 votes – 20 votes behind University of Canberra Capitals forward Kelsey Griffin who also led the league in scoring, rebounding and won the Grand Final MVP award for the third time of her career.

Bec was one of three players who earnt their first WNBL All-Star five selection in 2018/19 along with two Americans who play in the WNBA for the Las Vegas Aces – Melbourne Boomers point guard Lindsay Allen and Adelaide Lightning forward Nia Coffey. In their first season with their respective WNBL clubs Griffin and Asia Taylor were each selected in the All-Star five for the third time. Taylor was selected for the third season in a row, having been selected in 2016/17 and 2017/18 when she played for the Sydney Uni Flames. Griffin’s two previous selections had been in 2014/15 and 2015/16 when she played for her first WNBL club – the Bendigo Spirit.

Cole had an outstanding junior career, representing her state team, Victoria Metro every year and starring for the Australian Gems at the 2011 FIBA Under 19 World Championships, captaining her side, ranking second at the tournament for assists and second for Australia in scoring.

After getting a taste of the WNBL by playing three games with the AIS as a 16 year old in 2009/10 Bec played 22 games for the AIS in 2010/11 and impressed with her playing ability and leadership which resulted in her being named the AIS’s captain for the 2011/12 season. Rebecca started the 2011/12 season brilliantly, averaging 9.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in the first two games of the season but during an AIS training session in October 2011 she ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament and collateral ligament in her right knee and also tore her meniscus. Due to these injuries Cole required a knee reconstruction.

Playing as a shooting guard and a point guard during her career 178 centimetre tall Cole reached 150 WNBL games in her 10th season on a WNBL roster in 2018/19 at 26 years of age with her milestone game being on Sunday, 23 December, 2018 at the State Basketball Centre against her former team – the Melbourne Boomers. Cole played 27 games in three seasons on the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) roster from 2009/10 to 2011/12, 108 games for the Boomers from 2012/13 to 2017/18 and all 21 games for the Dandenong Rangers in 2018/19. Due to knee reconstructions Cole missed the entire 2015/16 WNBL season and only played two games in 2011/12. At the other end of the spectrum Cole has played at least 21 games in a WNBL season six times including five times in her past six seasons.

2018/19 was Cole’s 10th season on a WNBL roster including the 2015/16 season with the Melbourne Boomers when she didn’t play a game due to the second knee reconstruction of her career. A key factor in Cole moving to the Jayco Rangers for the 2018/19 WNBL season was the opportunity to play as a shooting guard. Strong form in 2018 at SEABL level for the Melbourne Tigers and in various three on three tournaments together with impressive pre-season form meant that Cole was ideally placed to have a career best WNBL season in 2018/19 however I don’t think anyone could have predicted the stratosphere she would elevate her game to. With the most significant improvement being shooting accuracy, setting career-highs for shooting accuracy -making 38% of three pointers and 51% of her field goals, ranking her in the top 10 of the league in the latter category.

Having achieved a significant milestone by being named in the 2018/19 WNBL All-Star five at the WNBL end of season awards on Monday 18 February Bec was emotional, commenting to wnbl.com.au on this achievement “It was a very special feeling hearing my name read out. I just felt extremely honoured and grateful. It means a lot to me to be recognized alongside these other incredible female athletes I get to play against week in and week out.”1

Bec Cole’s phenomenal 2018/19 season is comprehensively covered below and her career before the 2018/19 season is summarised.

2018/19 WNBL season with the Jayco Rangers

After Cole signed with Dandenong for the 2018/19 season Jayco Rangers Elite Teams Administration Manager Trish Fallon commented “We’re thrilled to have Bec join the Jayco Rangers for WNBL19. Bec is a dynamic scoring guard who brings an attacking style of play, tough competitiveness and the drive to win; all the traits needed to help the Rangers move towards a successful season. I know that Bec’s work ethic on and off the court will truly make her a fan favourite here at Dandenong.”2

Throughout the 2018/19 WNBL season Tom Bathgate and Rebecca co-hosted several episodes of The Rangers Podcast. In episode 1 Tom asked Cole “How is your body feeling now?” Rebecca responded “The body is feeling great, as you get older you learn more about your body, what it loves, what it doesn’t, what recovery you want to use, all of that sort of thing. My body, honestly, I haven’t felt stronger, more powerful, more explosive than I have in a while. In the last couple of years I have found something that I really enjoy, yeah going into the gym and working on my whole body is what makes me stay on the floor and not get injured. I want to be able to play on the court as long as possible, so anything I can do to keep playing until my body says no, I will be doing that.”

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On the WNBL returning to free to air television on SBS for the 2018/19 season as well as continuing to be televised on Pay TV by Fox Sports Bec commented “It is amazing, when we were off for those two seasons and we weren’t getting televised it hurt me personally, as well as just for the whole league because we have so many amazing athletes and amazing women who are such good role models and the fact that they weren’t able to be televised for our families to watch or young children who are aspiring to be like us. It was hurtful because we work so hard and our talent wasn’t able to be displayed but the fact that Fox Sports came on board last season and like you said great coverage there and now we have free to air as well, it is just so great that women’s basketball is out there being recognised, it is going to be an exciting season.”

Speaking about the WNBL compared to the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) Rebecca commented “WNBL is a whole nother level, you sort of forget when you have been in SEABL in the off-season league and then you go back to training or your first practice game, it is crazy how just the intensity is so much higher and the physicality is so much rougher. It is so much more fun but you do realise that in the off-season the way you work, you are lifting heavy amounts but you are also doing lots of sets and reps whereas when we get into season we have to dial it back because you are just exhausted from running around the court all the time.”

Whilst Bec hadn’t played WNBL basketball with the Dandenong Rangers before, she had some experience with the club as a development player at 15 years of age before she joined the AIS.

Most members of the Dandenong Rangers 2017/18 roster returned to the club for the 2018/19 season with eight players returning, being point guards Tessa Lavey and Amelia Todhunter along with front-court players Carley Mijovic, Kayla Pedersen, Tayla Roberts, Kiera Rowe, Rebecca Pizzey and Sara Blicavs. New additions to the Rangers line-up for 2018/19 were Cole, two-time Opals Olympian guard/forward Rachel Jarry and Betnijah Laney who the Jayco Rangers signed as their second import just weeks before the season commenced. Sara Blicavs started the season on the sidelines, recovering from having a knee reconstruction after injuring it against Adelaide during a WNBL game at Dandenong Stadium in November 2017. Larissa Anderson was the Rangers head-coach for the fourth consecutive season, the club lost a semi final in 2015/16, made the Grand Final in 2016/17 but won only seven games in 2017/18 to finish seventh.

Members of the Rangers 2017/18 core rotation that didn’t return to the club for the 2018/19 season were shooting guard Steph Blicavs and Spanish import point guard Laia Palau. Steph joined the Adelaide Lightning alongside another former Ranger guard in Aimie Clydesdale who changed clubs 12 months earlier than Steph. The departure of Steph who is a four-time Jayco Rangers MVP winner and the club’s all-time leading scorer in the WNBL created the opening for the club to recruit a shooting guard, a spot that Rebecca was able to fill and remain living in Melbourne. With Steph’s departure and her sister in-law Sara missing most of the season one of the players on the Rangers 2018/19 roster was going to win the club’s MVP award for the first time as Sara Blicavs was the only player on the roster to have won the Rangers MVP award previously, being a joint winner with Steph Blicavs in 2016/17. Steph had also won the award in 2009/10, 2015/16 and 2017/18.

After signing with the Jayco Rangers in mid-May 2018 for the 2018/19 WNBL season Cole commented “I’m really excited to be joining the Jayco Rangers for this upcoming season and I can’t wait to be a part of my new club. I think timing is everything and it feels like the perfect time for my new basketball chapter with Dandenong to begin. I’ve always loved the style of game Dandenong have played and I think it really suits me and what I can offer the team.”3 A key reason for Cole changing clubs was the ability at Dandenong to play as a shooting guard which she and her head coach at Dandenong – Larissa Anderson felt was her natural position. Commenting on the difference between the 1 and 2 spots Bec said “I was a two-man until I went to the AIS and they wanted me to be a 1. I have so much respect for point guards because that was the hardest transition I ever had to do. It is team first and then it is you, you gotta make sure everyone is in the right spots, you have to be that strict leader on the floor. You are the person who runs the show. So much respect for Lavey and Mealz and they do such a good job with our team. Being in the 2-3 spot you get a little more freedom because you are not having to think exactly about all that, you just sort of get to play, that is obviously a lot more enjoyable for me.”

During the pre-season the players voted for who they wanted to be the captain of the Jayco Rangers. Tenacious point guard Amelia Todhunter was voted in as captain with Rachel Jarry being the vice-captain. Whilst 2018/19 was Jarry’s first WNBL season with Dandenong she had been a team-mate of Todhunter’s in the Bulleen Boomers 2010/11 WNBL championship. Later on Cole played two seasons at the Boomers with Jarry (2012/13 and 2013/14) and Todhunter (2013/14 and 2014/15). Cole and Todhunter had also been tem-mates on the Australian team at the 2017 three on three World Championships alongside another member of the Rangers 2017/18 team in Carley Mijovic and Bendigo Spirit forward Nadeen Payne.

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To open the 2018/19 WNBL season the Rangers faced one of the toughest tasks in the WNBL, a road trip to Townsville on Sunday 14 October to play the defending champions. Dandenong’s starting line-up against the Fire was comprised of Lavey and Cole in the back-court and Laney, Jarry and Pedersen in the front-court. Townsville led by 10 points, 33-23 with six minutes and 28 seconds left in the second quarter. The Rangers reduced the margin to seven points 42-35 at half-time, and dominated the third quarter 23-13 to lead by three points at three quarter time. Townsville led 63-61 with seven minutes and 48 seconds remaining, the Rangers showed great composure from that point on to go on a 12-5 run to win 73-68. Cole made the perfect start with her new club, playing a significant role in the upset victory over Townsville, scoring a team-high 18 points, shooting at 53% from the field, took seven rebounds and was named in the WNBL Team of the Week for Round 1.

In a Friday night Round 2 game at Dandenong Stadium against Sydney the Rangers again fought back from a double figure deficit to record a thrilling victory, 66-62 after outscoring Sydney 22-11 in the final quarter. Cole impressed again, scoring a game-high 21 points, shooting at 58% from the field, had four rebounds, three assists and a game-high three steals. In both of the Jayco Rangers first two games of the season superb defensive performances in the second half enabled them to fightback and record thrilling victories – restricting Townsville to 26 second half points and limiting Sydney to just 20 points after the main break.

After winning their first two games of the season the Rangers had four consecutive losses with the third of these losses being by 26 points against Bec’s former club the Melbourne Boomers at Dandenong Stadium. In her first game against Melbourne Cole scored a team-high 19 points, had three assists, three rebounds and an equal team-high two steals.

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In the Rangers fourth consecutive loss Bec was the only Ranger to score more than 10 points, scoring a game-high 27 points in a 74-99 road loss against the Adelaide Lightning at Titanium Security Arena. Cole made 10 of her 19 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 52%, had three assists and a game-high three steals, on multiple occasions turning steals in the Rangers defensive half into fast-break points.

The Rangers returned to the winners list with an 81-65 victory against the Bendigo Spirit in a Friday night game on the road at Bendigo Stadium in Round 6 after leading 44-29 at half-time. Cole scored 16 points, shooting at 58% from the field, had two rebounds, a game-high five assists and two steals. In the Rangers second road game of Round 6 they were defeated 65-77 by the University of Canberra Capitals at the National Convention Centre after trailing by 18 points at half-time. Against the Capitals Rebecca scored a team-high 16 points, had three rebounds and a team-high six assists. Cole was rewarded for her Round 6 performances with selection in the WNBL Team of the Week.

In a Round 7 Saturday afternoon game against the Adelaide Lightning at the Traralgon Sports Centre Cole scored an equal game-high 20 points, had three rebounds, an equal team-high four assists and a team-high four steals in Dandenong’s 70-60 victory. Rebecca shot the ball at 52% from the field and made two of her four three-point attempts.

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Six days later Dandenong hosted Adelaide again, this time at the Rangers regular home-court of Dandenong Stadium however the result was reversed with Adelaide recording an 86-80 victory. Cole scored 21 points – ranked second for the Rangers behind Mijovic with 26 points, made eight of her 16 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 50%, had three assists and two steals.

In their only game for Round 9 and the final WNBL game of the weekend the Rangers hosted ladder leaders the Perth Lynx and caused one of the upsets of the season with the Rangers entering the game at Dandenong Stadium in seventh position on the ladder. Dandenong started the Sunday afternoon game in blistering fashion to lead Perth 32-19 with a minute and 20 seconds remaining in the first quarter. After leading by eight points at half-time the Jayco Rangers dominated the third quarter 29-8 to set up a 96-76 victory against Perth with the club playing their best game of the season to that stage, excelling on the defensive end which flowed through to their offense. Cole scored 21 points at an accuracy of 54% from the field and had an equal game-high six assists along with two team-mates – Betnijah Laney and Tessa Lavey. The Rangers shot the ball at 51% from the field and had 25 assists in a brilliant team performance in which five Rangers scored at least 13 points with Cole being joined in this category by Kayla Pedersen (21 points), Betnijah Laney (17), Carley Mijovic (16) and Rachel Jarry (13). These five players combined to make 31 of their 50 field goal attempts for a collective accuracy of 62% from the field.

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Cole was one of two special guests to appear on Series 5 Episode 10 of Basket Case: A Podcast About the WNBL on 12 December 2018 along with Sydney Flames Assistant Coast Mark Alabakov. In his role as head coach of the Melbourne Tigers SEABL team in 2018 Alabakov coached Rebecca. Alabakov was the first special guest to appear on this episode of Basket Cast hosted by Carol Wical and Helen Theoharkis and was asked to introduce Cole, he was glowing in his praise, commenting “Rebecca Cole, what can we say, one of the most competitive and offensively aggressive players that we have in the WNBL, has added a three-point shot to her game. Is a real alpha on the floor and plays every minute like it’s the last minute of the Grand Final Series and is exactly the type of athlete that you would want to have on your team if you are going to war on the basketball court.”

On returning from long-term injuries and the increased intensity of games compared to training Rebecca commented to Basket Case “You sort of forget the intensity, physicality, the agility, the power that you use and team training is so different to a game and even coming back from injury say into the off-season is a completely different level to coming back into the WNBL which is the pro-league in Australia. Your body gets used to it every week, it adjusts, and that is a new normal for you.”

When asked by Carol Wical on Series 5 Episode 10 of Basket Case “What were the things besides the uniform colour that drew you to Dandenong?” Rebecca responded “For me timing is everything, and I really went into the off-season after last WNBL just wanting to play the 2 spot again, that is my natural position. I really wanted to get aggressive again and fall back in love with the game which I maybe had a bit of a struggle the season previously. Being able to play in the two spot was really massive for me and I have had a great opportunity so far this season to do that and I feel like I keep getting better every week the help of Larissa, the coaches and the team.”

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When speaking about the move in the SEABL to the Melbourne Tigers for the 2018 SEABL season Cole commented “Mark (Alabakov) got in contact with me and he said what he wanted from me and what he believed I could do and again Tigers is a great club, and I worked with Marky Mark in the off-season doing individuals, working on my game, getting better, he was a great help for that. He just had all the confidence in me because he had coached me previously, I think the off-season was just fun where I was able to work on my game and getting lots of minutes, I think that off-season definitely helped in getting me to where I am right now this WNBL season.”

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On December 20, 2018 Australian Opals head coach Sandy Brondello was a special guest on the WNBL Show Podcast co-hosted by Megan Hustwaite and Michele Timms. Brondello commented “The main reason for coming home is to cast my eye over all the players and the games have been fantastic, the standard of the league continues to get better and better with the kind of players that we have. I’ve been very impressed with the games but also some of the players that have stood out for me. Players that haven’t been in the Opals squad before, I’m casting my eye wide because it is about who are the future Opals, who has a chance now and our squad in January will be a bigger squad just so I can have a look at them. I think Rebecca Cole’s been playing fantastic for Dandenong, she’s a natural fit for the one and showing that with her athleticism. Lauren Nicholson has continued to improve and improve this last year, they’re the kinds of players I’m getting the opportunity to have a look at. I can’t wait to get the whole group together because I’ve been very impressed with the standard.”

Tom Bathgate and Bec co-host the Rangers podcast and in episode 4 on 21 December Tom asked “Bec you just came off a big, big Round 10 weekend, wins over both Bendigo and Sydney and you have also been awarded Player of the Week by the WNBL, how does it feel?” Bec responded “It feels awesome, the girls and I were just so happy with the performance that we brought on the weekend in both games and definitely backing up our second game, we were happy about that. Earlier in the season we probably let ourselves down, so knowing that we have come into form, we have three more weeks of double headers, we are pretty excited about it.” Tom commented “Like I said you won the Player of the Week this week, you had a big night on Friday and you had a big day on Sunday, we have all thought what has been the change with Bec this year and Bec I put it to you that this podcast live, not live, brought to you by the Public Corner, home of great coffee and great food in Dandenong, this podcast is the reason that you are playing so great.” Bec responded “100%, of course Tom. I think it is a bit of everything, the change has been really good for me, playing the 2, I just have a lot of confidence right now and anything I can do for my team I will do and all of us are just playing so good together and it is just so much fun out there on the court.” On the Round 10 Friday night game against Sydney Tom commented “A very even scoring night across the board except for you Bec, you were the little standout that would catch the eye if we look at the box-score, 31 points, 12 of 14 from the field, was the basket just huge for you on Friday night?” Bec replied, “I don’t know, in the last quarter I was just feeling it, and I was like I may as well keep shooting whilst I am feeling it, because you never know, you might not get this feeling again so I just thought I would make the most of it.”

In the 33 point win against Sydney at Brydens Stadium in the Rangers first game of Round 10 on Friday 14 December  playing 27 minutes and seven seconds court-time Bec scored a game-high 31 points – 15 points more than the second ranked player for the game, shot the ball at 85% from the field, had four rebounds, three assists, a game-high five steals – three more than the second ranked player for the game, and a block. All five of the Rangers starters scored at least 12 points and the team amassed a tally of 106 points with the starters contributing 84 points, the team as a whole had 28 assists.

In Round 10 the Jayco Rangers had their inaugural Indigenous Round, Basketball Victoria Project Manager Matt Dunstan commented “Basketball Victoria has made a commitment to reconciliation. We are excited to be partnering up with the Dandenong Rangers and the local Aboriginal and Torres Islander communities to recognise and celebrate their proud history and culture. We are proud that we can work with the basketball family and open up our doors and welcome in all members of the community.”4 In the Dandenong Rangers second game of the round, at home against the Bendigo Spirit the Rangers wore indigenous-themed uniforms designed by local Wurundjeri artist Ky-ya Ward, with the six layers in the artwork representing the six layers of the Wurundjeri Country. Against Bendigo in the Rangers second Round 10 game Cole scored a game-high 20 points, shooting at 53% from the field, took six rebounds and made a phenomenal 11 assists – five more than the second ranked player for the game and had just two turnovers. In the 87-63 victory the Rangers shot the ball at 51% from the field and made 30 assists – 13 more than Bendigo.

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After Round 10 the Rangers were in fourth position on the WNBL ladder two thirds of the way through the season, just ahead of the Adelaide Lightning however all four of Dandenong’s games across Rounds 11 and 12 were against the top three sides on the WNBL ladder – Melbourne Boomers, University of Canberra Capitals twice and the Perth Lynx. The Rangers lost three of these games by more than 20 points, the exception being a road game against the Perth Lynx at the Bendat Basketball Centre in a Friday night Round 12 game where the Rangers trailed by four points at three quarter-time before being outscored 14-26 to be defeated 80-95. In Dandenong’s two Round 11 losses Cole maintained her usual output to score 20 points against Canberra and 18 points against Melbourne however in Round 12 she was well held, scoring 13 points against Perth and eight points against Canberra.

In episode 4 of the Rangers Podcast on 21 December, 2018 Tom Bathgate said “You have never been an elite three-point shooter, but this season that has been one of the keys for you, not just scoring at volume but scoring really efficiently, has something changed in your shooting stoke over the off-season or are you just seeing it better?” Bec responded “I have definitely if anyone knows me been just trying to work on my game as much as possible and a three-point shot was one of those things I had to work on, and working with Mark Alabakov in the off-season and then Larissa as we started pre-season and indies, both of them helped, I guess it is just repetition really, but a lot of it just comes to confidence as well. You might look at my (shooting) form and think it is not the best but if it goes in who really cares.”

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Cole played her 150th WNBL game on Sunday, 23 December, 2018 at the State Basketball Centre at 26 years of age against her former team – the Melbourne Boomers. In the post-game press conference Melbourne Boomers General Manager Justin Nelson said “Bec, game 150 today, probably 135 (it was actually 108) of those were with the Boomers.” Rangers head-coach Larissa Anderson interjects “But her best 15 have been with the Rangers.” Nelson continues “How did it feel to be back in familiar territory?”. Bec responded “Thanks for the shout out at the start of the game J N. Dad and I were laughing earlier today, finally made it to 150, finally got there. So funny that it ended up being against my old team but I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way, love playing for the Rangers, it was good to get to 150  and it was still nice having some old supporters out there in the stands, it was a good feeling.”

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Dandenong entered the New Year with a record of seven wins and 10 losses to retain a faint hope of playing finals, needing to win their last four games of the season and also relying on other results to go their way, most notably needing Adelaide to lose their remaining four games of the season.

In a Friday night Round 13 road game against the Townsville Fire at Townsville Stadium Dandenong defeated the reigning WNBL champions in Queensland for the second time in 2018/19. Rebecca again played a pivotal role in the victory, scoring a game-high 27 points, having four rebounds, five assists and two steals. Cole shot the ball proficiently from the field, making 11 of her 17 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 64%. Despite the victory Dandenong’s chances of making then 2018/19 finals ended on the same night when Adelaide defeated Sydney to improve to a record of 11 wins and seven losses.

In a Sunday afternoon road game against the Sydney Uni Flames telecast on Fox Sports and SBS the Rangers recorded their second win of the weekend by defeating Sydney 85-60. Cole was exceptional against Sydney, scoring nine points in the first quarter to help set-up a 21-13 lead at quarter-time. Bec finished the game with 25 points, two assists and four steals in 27 minutes and 31 seconds court-time. Rebecca made 11 of her 16 field-goal attempts for a superb accuracy of 68%.

On Tuesday 8th January, Cole was named the WNBL’s Round 13 Player of the Week after averaging 26.0 points, shooting at 67% from the field, 2.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 3.0 steals per game during the Rangers two road victories for the Round.

On Thursday 10 January, 2019 Rebecca was included in the Australian Opals 2019 squad, being joined by two of her Jayco Rangers teammates Tessa Lavey and Sara Blicavs in the 27 player squad which included all 12 players that were part of the Opals silver medal winning team at the 2018 World Cup. The Australian Opals will be having two training camps with training camp 1 held on the Gold Coast from April 12-18 and the second camp to be held in Phoenix, Arizona from July 20-31. The team for the 2019 Asia Cup will be announced in August and the tournament will be held from September 22-29.

After a tight first half in a Round 14 home game against the Townsville Fire at Dandenong Stadium the Rangers led 46-43, however Townsville dominated the first five and a half minutes of the third quarter to go on a 19-4 run to lead by 12 points. In the following minute and a half Bec scored the only six points of the game to reduce the margin to four points with three minutes and 10 seconds left in the third quarter, twice using her quick hands and anticipation to get the steal and then score a lay-up, making the and one on one of these plays. Townsville controlled the rest of the game to record an 81-68 victory. Bec scored an equal game-high 20 points, shooting at 61% from the field and made an equal team-high three steals.

Days before the Jayco Rangers final game of the 2018/19 season against cross-town rivals the Melbourne Boomers, American import and reigning WNBL Defensive Player of The Year Kayla Pedersen announced her retirement. The Melbourne Boomers dominated the early minutes to lead 23-8 with three minutes and 20 seconds remaining in the first quarter. The Rangers were able to fightback to draw level at 57 apiece in the third quarter however Melbourne regained control to win the game 89-78. Rebecca scored a team-high 26 points, shooting at 57% from the field comprised of making 11 of her 19 field goal attempts, had four rebounds, a team-high five assists and a game-high three steals.

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In the post-game press conference following the Rangers final round loss to Melbourne Larissa Anderson was asked “With respect to the girls that are in the Opals squad, good recognition for good work for the season.” Anderson responded “Yeah absolutely, definitely, Laves obviously has been right there in the thick of it and Sara, it is really exciting that she can come back and be given the chance to go to these first couple of camps and see how she goes. Coley, I think she has just had a phenomenal season and showed what she is really capable of. I was really adamant when I recruited her that she wasn’t going to be playing any one, I have always believed she was a two man. I was very excited about recruiting her and showing what she could do. It was a fresh start for me to coach someone like that and her to come with me as well, to her credit she has just been amazing to coach, had a phenomenal season and to her credit taken everything on board and flown with it, really proud of her.”

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A crucial improvement in Cole’s game has been the development of her three-point shot, in 2018/19 she made 26 of her 69 three-point attempts for an accuracy of 38%, easily surpassing her previous best of making 13 three-pointers in both the 2010/11 and 2013/14 seasons. As well as being one of the highest scorers in the league Cole has also been one of the most efficient scoring guards in the league during 2018/19, shooting at 51% from the field. Playing the best basketball of her career Cole was named in the WNBL’s team of the week four times in the first 13 rounds of the 2018/19 season – Rounds 1, 6, 10 and 13 and was rewarded for her outstanding form by being included in the Australian Opals 2019 squad.

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On 25 January the Jayco Rangers held their WNBL Awards night at the La Trobe Financial Headquarters in Melbourne’s CBD. Cole was a deserving winner of the Jayco Rangers Most Valuable Player Award after playing easily the best season of her WNBL career. Bec’s 19.4 points per game were 5.3 points per game more than the second ranked Ranger – Laney. During the 2018/19 WNBL season Cole played all 21 games for the Rangers as their starting shooting guard, averaging 19.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.1 steals and 31 minutes and 23 seconds court-time per game. Bec led Dandenong for points and steals, ranked second behind Laney for assists and minutes played, and fourth for rebounds behind Laney, Pedersen and Jarry. Cole set career highs for scoring with a 64% improvement on her previous best of 11.8 points per game in 2014/15, rebounds, steals, shooting accuracy and assists excluding the 2011/12 season in which she only played two games.

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The WNBL All-Star five was voted on by the coaches and captains of the WNBL clubs at the end of the regular season with a short-list of 20 players that received MVP votes during the season eligible to be voted for. Bec Cole was selected in the back-court along with Lindsay Allen whilst the front-court was comprised of Kelsey Griffin, Asia Taylor and Nia Coffey. On being selected in the 2018/19 WNBL All-Star five Cole commented  “Getting this recognition makes me motivated to keep working hard and doing my best going forward. At the end of the day I couldn’t have done it without my amazing teammates and coaches during WNBL 2018-19.”5

Bec became the eighth Jayco Rangers player of All-time to be selected in the WNBL All-Star five and the first Dandenong player to achieve this milestone since the club’s greatest ever player Penny Taylor was selected in the All-Star five for the third and final time in her final WNBL season in 2014/15.

The Dandenong Rangers joined the WNBL in 1992, below is a list of the eight Dandenong Rangers players who have been named in the WNBL All-Star five a total of 15 times between them whilst playing for Dandenong:

Dandenong Rangers selected in the WNBL All-Star five

Selections           Player                                   Seasons selected

3                        Penny Taylor                      2000/01, 2001/02 & 2014/15

3*                     Kathleen MacLeod          2010/11, 2011/12 & 2012/13

3**                  Jenna O’Hea                      2011/12, 2012/13 & 2013/14

2                        Jacinta Kennedy               2003/04 & 2005/06

1*                     Samantha Thornton        1993

1*                     Carly Wilson                       2002/03

1**                  Leilani Mitchell                 2013/14

1                        Bec Cole                              2018/19

* In addition to the selections listed above was also selected in one WNBL All-Star five playing for a team other than Dandenong.

** In addition to the selections listed above was also selected in the WNBL All-Star five twice playing for a team other than Dandenong.

Following each game of the 2018/19 Regular season both head coaches, along with the head referee cast votes for the league’s Most Valuable Player Award on a 3, 2, 1 basis. As expected University of Canberra Capitals forward Kelsey Griffin was a convincing winner of the 2018/19 WNBL Most Valuable Player Award, polling 119 votes from a maximum 189. Cole finished second on 99 votes followed by Allen in third place on 94 votes. The remaining members of the WNBL All-Star five completed the MVP top five with Asia Taylor finishing in fourth place on 83 votes ahead of Nia Coffey in fifth position on 80 votes. Despite missing nine games and playing less than 10 minutes court-time in two other games six-time WNBL MVP Award winner Suzy Batkovic finished in sixth place on 61 votes. In her final season. At the WNBL Awards night it was announced that from 2019/20 the WNBL’S Most Valuable Player Award will be named the Suzy Batkovic Medal. Batkovic is the WNBL’s leading All-time scorer and ranks second in rebounds.

Junior career and WNBL debut with the AIS

Rebecca Cole was born on 19 March, 1992 in Mount Waverley, a suburb in Victoria 16 kilometres south-east of Melbourne. Rebecca is the youngest daughter of dad Gary and mum Ros. Gary played 40 games for the Australian Socceroos between 1975 and 1984 as a striker, scoring 20 goals for his country including a then Australian record seven goals in an international match against Fiji on 14 August 1981. Gary excelled in the NSL and twice led the league for goals scored with 21 goals in 1980 and 16 goals in 1981, playing for Heidelberg Alexander in both seasons. After his playing career Gary has had a successful business career and held several off-field soccer roles, part-time coaching roles, a full-time coaching role at the AIS and he was Melbourne Victory FC’s first director of Football, spending six years in this role from 2005 to 2011 with the Victory winning two A-League Championships during this time.

Rebecca started playing basketball at seven years of age, her junior association was the Nunawading Spectres. When Rebecca was growing up she represented Victoria in track and field, netball and basketball. In episode 2 of The Rangers Podcast Rebecca commented “I got to an age, I think it was 15 and I had to choose what one I wanted to take seriously because I did not have enough time in my life. I dropped track and field first because I just loved team sport so much. Between netball and basketball, I think basketball I just liked the physicality, and the fact you could play every position on the floor, you are able to go to an Olympics and you can play overseas, there just seemed to be more outlets as well through basketball.“ Bec’s events in track and field were 200 metres and 400 metres and she played as a centre in netball, which utilised her running ability.

Rebecca was a fixture for Victoria Metro basketball teams at under-age level. Cole was part of the Vic Metro team that won the Under 16 National Championship in July 2007 defeating NSW Country in the gold medal game 66-59. Rebecca was a development player with the Dandenong Rangers when she was 15 years old.

Rebecca’s outstanding performances for Victoria at national championships resulted in her joining the AIS. On episode 2 of the Rangers Podcast after being asked “What was your process of getting Into the WNBL?” Bec responded “Everyone’s process is a little bit different but for me personally I went to the Australian Institute of Sport known as the AIS after high school so I was with the best 12 to 15 girls in the country of my age. I was there for two and a half years, at that stage the AIS girls actually played in the WNBL so from that clubs were able to have a look at us, scout us and see whether or not they wanted us in their teams and after we graduated from the AIS spoke to some teams, see where we want to go. That’s what my process was getting into the WNBL.” At 16 years of age Rebecca made her WNBL debut for the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) during the 2009/10 season, playing three games, averaging 3.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game.

Cole played a full season for the AIS in 2010/11, her team-mates included Sara Blicavs, Maddie Garrick, Tessa Lavey, Tayla Roberts, Carley Mijovic, Alex Bunton, Rebecca Allen, Nadeen Payne, Olivia Thompson Casey Samuels and Kerryn Harrington. The Rangers 2018/19 roster had a strong presence from the 2010/11 AIS crop with Cole being joined at Dandenong by Blicavs, Lavey, Mijovic and Roberts whilst Garrick, Allen and Thompson have been former team-mates of Cole’s when she was playing for the Boomers. On 16 January 2011 against the Sydney Flames Rebecca scored a then career high 20 points for the AIS. During her first full WNBL season Cole played 22 games in 2010/11 for the AIS, averaging 8.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.

Vic Metro won the Under 18 National Championship in April 2011, defeating Vic Country 68-51 in the final with Cole scoring 20 points and taking five rebounds.

Bec captained Australia at the 2011 FIBA Under 19 World Championships in Chile in July, the team included eight of her team-mates from the 2010/11  AIS WNBL team being Sara Blicavs, Maddie Garrick, Tayla Roberts, Carley Mijovic, Alex Bunton, Rebecca Allen, Nadeen Payne, and Kerryn Harrington with the three other members of the team being Aimie Clydesdale, Gretal Tippett and Ashleigh Karaitiana. Australia were undefeated in Group C, defeating France 67-45, China 77-46 and winning by forfeit over Nigeria. In a 65-61 victory against Spain on 26 July Cole scored nine points and had a game-high six assists – three more than the second ranked player for the game. Australia met Spain again in a semi-final on 30 July and Cole was one of the Gems best players, scoring a game-high 14 points and had an equal game-high five steals however Spain were able to turn the tables from the nation’s previous encounter to defeat Australia 55-49. In the bronze medal game Australia lost to Brazil 67-70, Cole scored 12 points – ranked third for Australia behind Allen Roberts with 16 points each, had three steals and a game-high seven assists. Cole played all eight games for the Australian Gems, averaging 11.5 points, 6.0 assists, 2.8 rebounds 2 steals and 30 minutes court-time per game. At the tournament Cole ranked second for Australia in scoring behind Roberts, first for steals and assists with 48 – 33 more than the second ranked Gem, sixth for rebounds. Cole shot the ball at 47.1% from the field and 75% from the free-throw line. Overall at the 2011 FIBA Under 19 World Championships Cole ranked second for assists per game, equal 11th for steals and 13th for scoring.

Before the start of the 2011/12 WNBL season Cole was named captain of the AIS. Rebecca thrived with this responsibility and in the first two games of the season averaged 9.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game whilst shooting at 53% from the field. In an AIS training session in October 2011 she ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in her right knee and also tore her meniscus.

After Rebecca’s injury AIS head coach Phil Brown commented “Rebecca Cole is the heart and soul of this team, and to lose her for the season is devastating, both for her and for the side. She was the leader of the group on and off the floor. She is such a hard-working, talented young player, and is just a really positive influence on all the players.”6 Although Rebecca wasn’t able to spend much time on the basketball court during her recovery from the knee injuries she spent considerable time in the gym strengthening her body.

Career with the Boomers

Cole signed with the Bulleen Boomers for the 2012/13 WNBL season with Boomers coach Tom Maher commenting “Rebecca has been on our radar for a number of years and we were delighted she signed with us upon her graduation from the AIS.”7

2011/12 was the AIS’s last season in the WNBL as changes were made to the Basketball program at the AIS. Whilst the program is still located at the AIS it is now referred to as the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence (COE). Up until 2018 Basketball Australia COE teams competed in both the men’s and women’s SEABL leagues and from 2019 onwards they will be competing in NBL1. The AIS leaving the WNBL resulted in the number of teams in the league falling from 10 to nine and the number of finalists being reduced from five to four for the 2012/13 season.

During 2012/13 Cole played 13 games for Bulleen, in limited game-time she averaged 2.9 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. Cole’s knee wasn’t 100% which led to her ending her season early to have more surgery. On making this decision Rebecca commented to Roy Ward in early January 2014 “Last year it was not in good condition at all, my knee was always swollen so towards the end of the season I was like ‘let’s have a look at it again’. Playing basketball is something I love so I didn’t want an injury at 20 years old forcing my dream down the drain.”8 Later in the interview for the Fairfax Media article Rebecca commented to Roy on her relationship with her father Gary and the benefits of having a parent that has played elite level sport – in Gary’s case soccer in the NSL and for Australia. Rebecca said “We have a close relationship in general, but because he was a player he knows what it’s like to be in that position. If I was in a hole he would tell me to get my chin off the ground and get to it – he knows how to push me the right way.”9

After being restricted to a total of only 15 WNBL games across the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons Cole was able to build momentum, increase her confidence and steadily improve over her next two WNBL seasons. Guy Molloy was appointed the Boomers head coach for the 2013/14 season and continues to hold this position. In a Round 11 game against Adelaide at Adelaide Arena on 15 December 2013 Cole scored 17 points and made six steals. Melbourne were undermanned in 2013/14 with Rachel Jarry playing just three games for the season due to a knee injury and starting centre Chelsea Poppens required a knee reconstruction after rupturing her anterior cruciate ligament in late January 2014. Despite the injury set-backs Melbourne finished fourth on the ladder at the end of the regular season with 14 wins, two wins behind Dandenong and Townsville in second and third place and seven games behind minor premiers Bendigo Spirit. In an away semi final Melbourne pushed Townsville all the way before being defeated by five points, 78 to 73. In 2013/14 Cole played a career-high 25 games for the Melbourne Boomers and averaged 7.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists per game and 1.2 steals per game. Cole ranked second for the Boomers and eighth in the WNBL for total steals during 2013/14, behind team-mate Rebecca Allen who led the league in this category and just ahead of fellow Boomers Amelia Todhunter and Chelsea Poppens who ranked equal 10th in the WNBL.

The highlight of Cole’s 2014/15 season was in Round 12 when she was named the WNBL Player of the Week after scoring 20 points in a 96-66 victory against Adelaide at the State Basketball Centre, making six of her eight field goal attempts for an accuracy of 75%. Melbourne finished sixth on the WNBL ladder with 11 wins and 11 losses, equal with Sydney Uni and the University of Canberra Capitals, and missed out on the finals with the ladder positions of these teams being determined on the head to head record in the matches between the three teams with Sydney winning the tie-breaker to finish fourth. During the 2014/15 season Cole played 22 games for the Melbourne Boomers and averaged a then career-best 11.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, this was the only WNBL season before the current 2018/19 season that Cole had averaged double figure points per game.

In February 2015 Rebecca was recognised for her break-out 2014/15 WNBL season, being named in an extended 34 player Australian Opals squad from which the final 12 player team for the 2016 Rio Olympics would be selected. Cole was one of five Melbourne Boomers players selected in the 34 player squad along with Rachel Jarry, Rebecca Allen, Tess Madgen and Natalie Burton. Later in 2015 Cole attended her first Australian Opals training camp.

In May 2015 playing for the Nunawading Spectres in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) Cole tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. Cole required a knee reconstruction for the second time in her career and as a result she missed the entire 2015/16 WNBL season.  In June 2016 after Cole had made her return for Nunawading in the SEABL she wrote an article regarding her knee injury and comeback. On the initial aftermath following her injury Rebecca wrote “I tore my left ACL on court. When it happened, I started screaming. Not because of the pain, but because I knew what the implications were. I had just finished at Opals camp and still had the World University Games to come and I felt like my dreams had just been crushed. The highest high shortly followed by the lowest low. I remember vividly my coach calling me that night and he was in shock. I was crying and he didn’t know what to say. And coaches always know what to say. He had seen all the hard work I’d put in and knew that that was me out of action for the next 12 months and uncertainty surrounded my future.

I took two days off. I sulked, I was angry, but being angry wasn’t going to get me back on the court.

The healthier you are going in to surgery, the better you are coming out of it. So I was already ‘training’ by day 3…but this time I was training for surgery and not for Australia.”10

In the article which was published on The Player’s Herald and SBS.com.au Rebecca also wrote about the support she received during the rehabilitation process, writing “It’s at that time, when you’re at your lowest, that your support network becomes far more important. My boyfriend played elite soccer and was one my pillars of strength throughout. My dad used to play for the Socceroos. My mum is my everything. On the days I was angry, they’d let me vent, yell, cry, whatever I needed. It’s the stuff off the court that they related to and their words of wisdom made me realise that yes, I’d be out for 12 months but I could still play the sport I love once again. And at that point I’d be stronger physically and mentally than ever before. You learn a lot about yourself during this time.”11

Below is a link to Rebecca’s article published on SBS.com.au in June 2016 following her return from injury at SEABL level with Nunawading:

https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/zela/article/2016/06/24/its-long-way-back-top-bec-cole

Rebecca was on the Melbourne Boomers roster for the 2015/16 season and it was hoped that she would be able to return from her knee injury during the season, however eventually she was ruled out for the entire 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 nor the Lightning would be competing in the WNBL during 2016/17 which would have reduced the league to six clubs.

Later on in 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 (now Marvel) Stadium. Australia’s greatest ever basketball player Lauren Jackson joined the club in an off-court executive role as Commercial Operations Manager. Bec was one of two players along with Maddie Garrick representing the club at the announcement in their Melbourne Boomers singlets, alongside key Boomers staff members Guy Molloy, General Manager Justin Nelson and Lauren Jackson.

Of the nine Melbourne Boomers that played more than 200 minutes during the 2015-16 season only four returned to the club for the 2016/17 season, Maddie Garrick, Alice Kunek, Olivia Thompson and Brittany 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, forwards Jess Bygate and Tegan Cunningham recruited from Adelaide and Dandenong respectively. After playing for Adelaide in 2015/16 Kelly Bowen returned for the Boomers, whilst the club also signed then 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.

On 13 October 2016 following her WNBL comeback game Cole was the Round 2 Friday Feature on the WNBL’s YouTube Channel and discussed her return to the WNBL after missing 20 months in the league due to her knee injury. On missing the entire 2015/16 WNBL season and returning in Round 1 of the 2016/17 season Rebecca commented “It was really tough times sitting out for that whole season. It does mean a lot (coming back) because this is my passion, it is my dream. Being back out there with Guy, the coaches and of course the girls it was awesome. Just hearing your name getting called out when you are getting introduced and slapping your teammates hand, it was a bit emotional to be honest and after the game it was just a relief, like ohh, I have done it, I’m good and on to the next one. Yeah knee’s feeling really good, since the surgery I have put a lot of hard work in behind the scenes and just getting it strong, getting my confidence back on the court playing. It just felt like Christmas day when I was back out there playing again. The fans are great. That is one of the best parts about being back, kids coming up to after the game, they were wearing my singlet jersey, it just feels so good again seeing the familiar faces coming out.”

Whilst making her return to the WNBL was a milestone Rebecca was well aware that was not the end in her recovery, writing “People don’t realise that the first game back isn’t your big finale of rehab. It actually takes time getting back to the form you were in before you were injured, which unfortunately doesn’t come back over night. You’re an elite athlete so you don’t lose everything about being a basketballer. That said, being an elite athlete you hold yourself to a high standard so once you’re back on court you face a whole new mental and physical obstacle.”12 This process that Cole went through early in the 2015/16 season is a similar process to the one current Rangers team-mate Sara Blicavs went through late last year, making her return in Round 10 of the 2018/19 season, 56 weeks after rupturing her ACL and requiring a knee reconstruction.

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The Melbourne Boomers finished the 2016/17 season with a record five wins and 19 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. Cole played 24 games for the Melbourne Boomers in 2016/17, averaging 9.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Playing as the starting point guard Bec ranked fourth at the Boomers for points per games, first for assists, led the club in total steals and ranked fourth for total minutes played with 598 behind Kunek (697), Garrick (641) and Smart (604).

The Boomers retained four guards from their 2016/17 roster – Smart, Garrick, Cole & Conti, however had 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 was 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.

Bec commenced the season as the MMelbourne Boomers starting point guard with other members of the starting line-up being Maddie Garrick, Jenna O’Hea, Kalani Purcell, Liz Cambage. The Melbourne Boomers finished the regular season with a record of 12 wins and nine losses to finish fourth, three wins behind minor premiers the Perth Lynx and two wins behind Sydney and Townsville who finished second and third respectively. It was the first time the Boomers had made the finals since 2013/14 when they also finished fourth.

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In their semi-final series the Melbourne Boomers upset minor premiers the Perth Lynx two games to nil, winning Game 1 at the State Basketball Centre by 16 points and dominated the final quarter of Game two at the Bendat Basketball centre 30-16 to defeat Perth by nine points after trailing by five points at three quarter-time.

Townsville defeated Sydney two games to nil in the other semi final to set up a Grand Final best of three game series between Townsville and Melbourne who had finished the regular season in third and fourth place respectively. Townsville had a passionate 2,200 person crowd supporting them at Townsville Stadium in game 1 and defeated the Melbourne Boomers 69-64. It was a very different atmosphere when the Melbourne Boomers hosted game 2 in front of a sell-out crowd of 3,655 people at the State Basketball Centre. Townsville led 55-50 with three minutes and 39 seconds remaining however Liz 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 Kalani 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. Townsville controlled game 3, winning 70-57 to win their third championship in four seasons.

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Playing as a point guard Cole played 24 games for the Melbourne Boomers in 2017/18, averaging 8.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game. On episode 1 of the Rangers Podcast Bec spoke about playing in the best of three Grand Final series for the Melbourne Boomers against the Townsville Fire, saying “Last Grand Final series there was one game where I was just up and about, the crowd was absolutely amazing and we broke records of many people were attending the game. I am a person that thrives off pressure, I thrive of atmosphere and I was like why not get around it. Playing in those sorts of games, that sort of atmosphere in front of those crowds is something that you honestly don’t forget, you think about it and you get chills up your spine.”

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SEABL Career

Rebecca played for the Nunawading Spectres during the 2014 SEABL season and despite missing four weeks in the middle of the season Cole was runner-up in the 2014 SEABL MVP Award behind Maddie Garrick and was named in the 10 player All-SEABL team. Cole was twice selected as the league’s Player of the Week and also received a Player of the month award. In 2014 Cole averaged 17.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game for Nunawading.

In May playing for Nunawading in the 2015 SEABL season Cole injured her knee and required the second knee reconstruction of her career which ended her season after playing six games. In 2015 Cole averaged 20.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.

After considerable work in the gym and in training sessions on the basketball court Bec made her SEABL return with the Nunawading Spectres in 2016 playing 11 games for the club, averaging 14.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.

As mentioned previously Cole played in her preferred position of shooting guard for the Melbourne Tigers in the 2018 SEABL season and Melbourne’s head coach was Mark Alabakov, two of Bec’s team-mates rom the Melbourne Boomers were fellow starters in the Tigers line-up being point guard Monique Conti and forward/centre Louella Tomlinson.  Apart from Cole and Tomlinson it was a very young team. Melbourne finished sixth on the ladder at the end of the regular season with 12 wins and eight losses to make the finals. The Melbourne Tigers hosted an elimination final at the Oakleigh Recreation Centre against Sandringham and recorded a convincing victory, 89-54, Bec scored a game-high 26 points, shooting at 60% from the field and made two of her four three-pointers, had a game-high seven assists and a team-high two steals. The following week the Tigers season ended when they were defeated 76-54 by Nunawading, Cole scored 18 points, shooting at 50% from the field, took five rebounds and had three assists. Bec played 19 games for the Tigers, averaging 22.6 points 3.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. Cole ranked second in the league behind Lauren Nicholson in points per game and third for assists per game behind Kelly Wilson and Alex Wilson. Bec was selected in the 2018 All-SEABL Second team and shot the ball at 46% from the field and made 26 three-pointers for the season at an accuracy of 38%.

Big V League with the Eltham Wildcats in 2017

Rebecca played for the Eltham Wildcats in the 2017 Big V season, with two time WNBL MVP winner Katrina Hibbert being a playing head coach. In a Round 2 game Cole scored 50 points, had seven rebounds, three assists and six steals in a 86-79 victory against McKinnon. Hibbert commented on Bec’s performance, “I’ve never seen a 50-point game, ever, it was quite a phenomenal performance. Coley gets the ball, pushes it early, she was getting lay-ups, on-ball screens and is really developing her game, which she really wants to work on and that’s why she came over to Big V. Just watching her work at such a high rate constantly is amazing, she never takes a break.”13

Cole finished the Big V season as the league’s leading scorer, averaging 24.8 points per game. In one of several coaching changes in the WNBL off-season in early March 2019 the Sydney Uni Flames appointed Katrina Hibbert as their head coach for the next two WNBL seasons.

Three on three tournaments

Bec Cole has played in several three on three tournaments in the past two years including representing Australia at three tournaments. On episode 10 Series 5 of Basket Case Bec was asked about her experiences playing three on three and commented “I was lucky enough to be able to have a crack at that, the game-style is everything that I am about, explosive, powerful, athletic, competitive and it’s a whole lot of fun and very entertaining to watch as well.” Basket Case co-host Carol Wical said “Heading into the Olympics, that’s going to be pretty wild because obviously there will be two squads being picked I guess for the long-game and the short game.” Bec replied, “Yeah, both play just as aggressively as one another but I think it is great now there is another opportunity for female athletes that play basketball to try out for an Olympics. I am just going to work my butt off, it has always been a dream of mine to go there, so at least there are two pathways now if you are lucky enough to get there, I will just have to keep working hard and see what comes my way.”

In June 2017 it was that a 3-on-3 basketball tournament would be included at the 2020 Summer Olympics in addition to a traditional five on five tournament. At the time of the announcement Australia needed to focus more energy on 3-on-3 basketball, host more tournaments and perform better in international tournaments in order to qualify for the 3-on-3 basketball tournament at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Cole represented Australia at the 2017 FIBA 3 x 3 Women’s World Championship during June in France along with fellow guard Amelia Todhunter and front-court players Carley Mijovic and Nadeen Payne. In an interview with the Pick and Roll Bec commented “None of us have ever competed in 3X3 before,” explained Cole in speaking with The Pick and Roll. “However we want to go and win! With the sport now in the Olympics, we really want to put our best foot forward and do our best for our country.”14

Australia entered the tournament ranked 19th in the world, placing them behind the other four teams in their pool in Netherlands (ranked third in the world), Ukraine (6th), China (11th) and Japan (14th). Australia were defeated by Ukraine 21-12 in their first game of the tournament but won their next two games 21-7 against China and 18-8 against Japan. In their final pool game Australia needed to defeat the pool leaders, the Netherlands who were ranked third in the world to progress to the quarter-finals. Australia led 5-0 early but the Netherlands fought back with very little separating the teams in the dying minutes and at the end of regulation the two teams were locked together, forcing the game to overtime. Netherlands were the first team to score two points in the overtime period, giving them the victory 16-14 and eliminating Australia from the competition. It was the second FIBA 3 x 3 Women’s World Championship in a row that Australia had narrowly missed out on advancing to the quarter finals.

At the 2018 FIBA 3 X 3 2018 Asia Cup held in China in late April – early May Cole represented Australia along with Keely Froling, Maddie Garrick and Carlie Smith. Due to their low world ranking Australia had to first of all qualify for the tournament by finishing on top of Qualifying Draw B. Australia easily achieved this task, defeating Thailand 21-11, Sri Lanka 21-2 and Samoa 22-8 to win all three games and advance to the main draw.  Australia won both their Group D games in the main draw, defeating Japan 20-14 and Iran 22-3 and followed this up by defeating Indonesia 22-3 in a quarter final to progress to the semi-finals.

In the semi-finals Australia faced a New Zealand team comprised of Micaela Cocks, Kalani Purcell, Antonia Farnworth and Chevannah Paalvast. The semi-final went to overtime and New Zealand point guard Micaela Cocks made a two-pointer to win the game for her country 20-18.  Australia convincingly defeated Japan 17-5 in the bronze medal game and New Zealand defeated China 14-11 in the gold medal game. Bec was named in the Team of the Tournament at the FIBA 3 X 3 2018 Asia Cup and was the leading scorer at the tournament with 39 points. Cocks was named Tournament MVP and China’s YingYun Li completed the All-Tournament team.

At the post-game press conference after her 150th WNBL game on 23 December 2018 Bec was asked “It looks like you are in career-best form, do you think your off season focus on three on three has helped (with her form)?” Bec, responded “Yeah, I think going to the Tigers in the off-season, being back in the two and playing the three on three, that’s my game, aggressive, physical, athletic, that was a whole lot of fun but I think that gave me my passion back, I got it back but I feel that definitely helped.”

On March 28 Basketball Australia posted a video with Australia’s number 1 ranked 3 x 3 women’s basketball player Bec Cole commenting on the difference she has seen in the shorter version of the game during the past couple of years. Bec said “I think the difference is a lot more people know about it now, through word of mouth or the Pro Hustle last year, the fact that that was able to be televised on Fox Sports is a really good thing so more people are attending games whether it be our family, friends, but also general outsiders or youngsters coming up who are starting to play, that is really exciting to see. More people are realising how fun this game can be, this is another opportunity to potentially go to an Olympics and represent your county. The fact there is now another pathway, an avenue to go do that with three x three is such a great opportunity. This camp really solidifies that 3 x 3 is here to stay in Australia. This is just the beginning, it is going to get bigger. It is a really exciting year, if we can get a group of girls together who get to know the game and get to know each other real well we have a really good shot, we are good at basketball here in Australia.”

Upcoming 2018/19 NBL1 Season with the Dandenong Rangers

On 28 February 2019 it was announced that Bec Cole had signed with the Dandenong Rangers for the 2019 NBL1 season. NBL1 is the premier winter basketball league in Southern Australia consisting of 18 teams, succeeding the South Eastern Basketball League (SEABL) which has been disbanded. On signing with Dandenong Cole commented “I really enjoyed my WNBL season at Dandenong, I found I got the best out of myself at the club and I want to try and continue that. The club has been really supportive of me and has allowed me to pursue my 3×3 goals in the off-season as well. During the NBL1 season I want to continue enjoying my basketball and keep working on my game, but I’m also excited to help lead the great young talent that we’ll have on this team and get the best out of them.”15

The NBL1 season starts tomorrow night (Friday 29 March) with three double headers being played including the Dandenong Rangers hosting the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence. The NBL1 Regular Season concludes on 21 July and the Grand Final will be played on 17 August. Cole will be joined in the women’s Dandenong NBL1 team by two players that played in the 2018/19 WNBL Grand Final with Adelaide in point guard Aimie Clydesdale and forward Colleen Planeta. Other players in the Rangers team include Rosie Fadljevic and Taylah Giliam who both have experience with the Dandenong Rangers at WNBL and SEABL level.

John White who is an assistant coach of the Jayco Rangers in the WNBL will continue his role as head coach of the Dandenong Rangers in the premier winter league which is now NBL1, having been head coach of the team in the 2018 SEABL season. White commented on Cole playing for the Dandenong Rangers in the inaugural season of NBL1, saying “It’s not often you get to work with an athlete and more importantly a person of Bec’s calibre, it’s sensational to have her on board this year. It’s always encouraging working with players who are passionate about getting better and we expect that she’ll set the standard and help guide some of our younger athletes in this area. Bec’s explosive style of play is exciting and she’ll bring some diversity to the group – I love that she has no off switch! I’m excited to see what she brings in 2019.”16

Epilogue

Bec Cole had an outstanding junior career and displayed tremendous leadership qualities which resulted in her captaining both the AIS and the Australian Gems at the 2011 FIBA Under 19 World Championships where she ranked in the top 15 overall for assists, steals and scoring per game. After just two games as AIS captain in the 2011/12 WNBL season Bec suffered a serious injury during an AIS training session in October 2011, rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in her right knee and also tore her meniscus. The knee injury caused Bec to miss the remainder of the 2011/12 season and due to issues with her knee swelling up her 2012/13 season with the Boomers ended early in an attempt to get her knee right.

Bec was able to build some continuity during the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons playing 47 games for the Melbourne Boomers across these two seasons and steadily improving to be included in an extended Australia Opals squad for a training camp and looked to be on track to live up the promise she had displayed playing for the Australian Gems and the AIS. Bec had to overcome more adversity when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee playing in the SEABL for Nunawading in May 2015 and required the second reconstruction of her career.

In episode 2 of the Rangers Podcast in October 2018 Bec was asked “What drives you day and night to be the best that you can be?” Bec responded “Yeah, I really like that question. I think for me when you are out of the game for a little bit you realise how much you love it and it is not having to be better than someone else, you have to just focus on yourself and being the best person, the best basketball player you can be, so I think that is what drives me because I just want to be at the top of my game and go as far as I can. So waking up every morning it is a privilege to be able to do what I do and the daily grind is something that I love. I think that is what keeps me going, I just want to do this for as long as I can.” In episode 1 of the Rangers Podcast Bec commented “I am a bit of a passion player, in life I do my heart on my sleeve, especially whenever I get out on that court I cherish every single moment and I also think it is a bit of fun.”

During the 2016/17 and 2017/18 WNBL seasons Cole played a total of 48 games for the Melbourne Boomers, predominantly as the club’s starting point guard. During this time she also represented Australia at a couple of 3 x 3 tournaments.

After the 2017/18 season Bec wanted to return to her original position of shooting guard as it allowed her to play with more freedom and better utilised her skill-set than playing as a point guard. Playing as a shooting guard in traditional 5 on 5 for the Melbourne Tigers in the SEABL and then with the Jayco Rangers in the WNBL together with participating in various 3 x 3 tournaments as enabled her to rediscover her mojo.

Bec has done a magnificent job of becoming the best basketball player she can be and whilst having two knee reconstructions during her career has been frustrating and has caused her to spend substantial periods of time on the sidelines Bec turned this adversity into a positive, realising that the more work she could do in the gym the more likely she would be able to remain on the basketball court and injury free.

If the WNBL had an award for most improved player in the league Bec Cole would have well and truly been in the conversation to win this award for the 2018/19 season, more than doubling her points output from the previous season and setting career highs for rebounds, steals, substantially improving her shooting accuracy and having a significant impact on games. After the adversity she has overcome throughout her career with injuries it was magnificent to see Bec Cole make a meteoric rise during the 2018/19 WNBL season playing as a shooting guard with the Jayco Rangers to rank second in the league for scoring and assists, ninth for steals and deservedly be selected in the WNBL All-Star five and win Dandenong’s MVP award.

By Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

1 http://wnbl.com.au/dandenong/news/bec-cole-makes-wnbl-all-star-five-for-2019/

2 http://wnbl.com.au/dandenong/news/bec-cole-signs-with-jayco-rangers/

3 http://wnbl.com.au/dandenong/news/bec-cole-signs-with-jayco-rangers/

4 http://wnbl.com.au/dandenong/news/jayco-rangers-to-hold-inaugural-indigenous-round/

5 http://wnbl.com.au/dandenong/news/bec-cole-makes-wnbl-all-star-five-for-2019/

6 https://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-10-18/cole-ruled-out-for-wnbl-season/3577068?pfm=ms

7 WNBL, Media Guide WNBL 2012/13, page 47

8 https://www.smh.com.au/sport/basketball/basketballer-rebecca-cole-faced-big-battles–and-won-20140103-309jp.html

9 https://www.smh.com.au/sport/basketball/basketballer-rebecca-cole-faced-big-battles–and-won-20140103-309jp.html

10 https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/zela/article/2016/06/24/its-long-way-back-top-bec-cole

11 https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/zela/article/2016/06/24/its-long-way-back-top-bec-cole

12 https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/zela/article/2016/06/24/its-long-way-back-top-bec-cole

13 https://www.heraldsun.com.au/leader/north/sport/bec-cole-scores-50-points-in-big-v-action-for-eltham-wildcats/news-story/8fd097dd22b4d18bf7d609d495300d24

14 https://pickandroll.com.au/australian-women-aiming-medal-fiba-3×3-world-cup/

15 http://www.dandenongbasketball.com.au/News/rebecca-cole-signs-for-nbl1

16 http://www.dandenongbasketball.com.au/News/rebecca-cole-signs-for-nbl1

 

 

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