Driven by passion and pressure Cayla George achieved her teenage goals

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On 12 January 2020 Melbourne Boomers power forward/centre Cayla George became the third player in WNBL history to take 2,500 rebounds in their career, joining Rachel Sporn and Suzy Batkovic in this select group.

Early in the 2019/20 season George played her 250th WNBL game in her 12th season in the league, in her past 11 WNBL seasons George has averaged at least 8.0 rebounds per game to regularly rank in the league’s top five in this category including two seasons – 2010/11 and 2015/16 when she was the league’s leading rebounder. Whilst rebounding is a major strength for Boomers co-captain George she has a well-rounded game and was the only player in the 2019/20 WNBL season to rank in the top 15 for scoring, rebounds, steals, assists and blocked shots per game. George also had an impact in aspects that aren’t recorded on the stat sheet including defense, leadership and passion. George’s outstanding 2019/20 season resulted in her winning the Michele Timms medal as the Boomers Most Valuable Player (MVP) and finishing third in the WNBL’s MVP award – the second top three finish in her career, having been the runner-up in 2014/15.

Cayla made her WNBL debut at 16 years of age with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in 2005/06 and has amassed 270 WNBL games comprised of 54 for the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), 46 for Adelaide, 46 for Logan, 78 for Townsville and 46 for Melbourne. In all three seasons at Townsville George was part of a formidable front-court duo with Batkovic and the Fire won the WNBL Championship in all three seasons – 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2017/18.

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In the three Australian summers that George didn’t play in the WNBL she played in Europe, playing for French clubs Nantes Rezé and Pay d’Aix Basket in 2012/13 and 2013/14 and played in a  Hungarian Championship with Uniqa Sopron in 2016/17. In all three seasons playing in Europe George averaged more than 11.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. The experience of playing and living in a different environment allowed George to grow as a player and a person.

From 2008 to 2013 George made some appearances for Australia’s national team the Opals, often against New Zealand however she didn’t represent Australia at any major championships. George played her first major championship for the Opals at the 2014 World Championships and has been a fixture in the Australian side ever since, being one of only two players along with point guard Tessa Lavey that has represented Australia at the past three major Championships, also being a member of the Opals team at the 2016 Olympic Games and 2018 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

The 2016 Olympic Games weren’t as successful from both an individual and team perspective with George playing limited court-time and Australia suffering an upset two point loss to Serbia in the quarter-finals. At the World Cup tournaments Australia won a bronze medal in 2014 followed by a silver medal in 2018 and at both these tournaments George ranked in the top three for Australia for rebounds. Cayla was a member of the Australian Opals leadership group at the 2018 World Cup and played a pivotal role in Australia defeating host nation Spain in a semi final. With just under three minutes remaining the scores were tied at 64 points apiece, Cayla scored the next five points of the game comprised of two free-throws and a corner three to gain the ascendancy for the Opals. From 2018 onwards George has regularly started for the Australian Opals including at the 2018 World Cup and the Commonwealth Games earlier in 2018 where Australia won the gold medal.

On playing for the Opals George comments “Honestly, playing for the Opals is like my favourite thing to do ever, wearing the green and gold is something that is just like so humbling and so rewarding and it is just the biggest adrenaline rush ever, especially when there is so much pressure on the Opals because of the legacy before us and I love that pressure, I love that I am a part of that legacy, I love that we have expectations on us and yes that can sometimes be really daunting but that pressure, when you succeed with that type of pressure on you it is just like euphoria, it is just incredible, back in 2018 when we won the silver medal, when we beat Spain to make the gold medal game, like that type of euphoria.”

From when she was a teenager Cayla had aspirations to play in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) in the United States of America and her performances for the Opals at the 2014 World Championships helped her get an opportunity to play in the WNBA in 2015 with the Phoenix Mercury coached by Sandy Brondello who has been the Australian Opals coach from April 2017 onwards. George has played 95 WNBA games across three seasons having played for the Phoenix Mercury in 2015 and 2017 and for the Dallas Wings in 2018 where she was a teammate of fellow Opal Liz Cambage.

For most of her basketball career George has played a prominent role on her teams as a starter playing for WNBL teams, in Europe and for the Opals from 2018 onwards, however there have been other times when she has been a role player off the bench, including in the WNBA and earlier on playing for the Opals.

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In a video posted on 15 November 2019 by the Melbourne Boomers “Cayla George on her journey to becoming a professional basketball player” Cayla commented “I feel like being a professional you have to be adaptable. I like to think that’s something I am quite good at. Whatever role a team needs me to play, if you need me to be more of a leader, not play as many minutes or be a starter, whatever you need from me, I’ll do my best to be that. To be able to fit into teams in Europe, in America, here, you don’t know what your coach is going to expect from you, you’ve got to be able to adapt to certain things, on the run, in games too.”

It is not uncommon for professional athletes to struggle adjusting to life after their sporting career’s conclude, 31 year-old George is not going to be one of these athlete’s, when she does retire many years down the track. George runs two businesses Rehmee and Coco – an on-line store which sells products including apparel and candles and caylageorge.com which involves George mentoring young female basketball players both on and off the court.

In May 2020 Cayla commented on her two businesses and her playing future “It is all for a purpose, like life after basketball, I don’t want to quit basketball and I am not ready to retire at all, the R word is not even close to my brain. I am still feeling good, I am playing well, I am loving being out there, I miss it right now. I would like to continue inspiring young girls to be the best version of themselves with whatever they decide to do, whether it be an accountant, a horse-rider, a basketball player, a skirtballer – netball, or whatever they decide to do. I just want to keep inspiring young women because it just needs to be done.”

Cayla George’s journey is comprehensively covered below from having aspirations as a teenager to play in the WNBL, in basketball leagues around the world and play for the Australian Opals. Driven by passion and pressure George achieved these goals and whilst she has got much more to achieve on the court she ultimately would like to leave a bigger legacy off the court than she does on the court.

Below is a link to a short documentary on Cayla George published on Milestones and Misses:

https://milestonesandmisses.com/2020/06/22/cayla-georges-journey-to-achieve-her-goals/

Early life, junior career and WNBL career with the AIS

Cayla Francis was born on 1 May 1989 in the South Australian town of Mount Barker, located 34 kilometres south-east of Adelaide. Cayla grew up on a farm until her parents separated when she was eight years old, she then lived with her mum Andrea and sister Ebony.

The first sport Cayla played was netball which her sister Ebony also played. When she was nine years old Cayla started playing basketball and then later on had to choose one sport to focus on. When asked was it difficult to choose basketball over netball?” Cayla responded “Not at all, I thoroughly enjoyed basketball and I was pretty OK at it and my sister’s thing was netball so I always wanted to try and be different from her as well, she was a really good netballer, is a really good netballer and I went the other way and went basketball so I enjoyed that I could run all over the court and I wasn’t restricted to a third, anyone could shoot it, so I liked that factor too.”

There is a saying that ‘You should never meet your heroes” because if you do meet them it will be difficult for them to live up to your expectations which could result in the perception of your heroes changing and you being disappointed. Cayla has had a very different experience, commenting  “Being an Adelaide girl I grew up watching the Lightning, inspired by Rachel Sporn, Jae Kingi, that’s the Lightning names that I remember growing up and then I think one of my school books, I can’t remember what year I was in, but in 2004, the Olympic year I had the Opals on my school cover, one of my books and it had the likes of Suzy Batkovic, Sandy Brondello, Trish Fallon, so those three in particular, I mean I played with Suzy in Townsville won three championships with her, Sandy’s now my Opals coach, she was my Logan coach, Phoenix Mercury coach and Trish Fallon is the team manager so it is just funny how things come full circle, I was a young girl just aspiring to be like them and now I’m kind of friends/teammates and have won some things with these incredible women, incredible athletes. I even have a joke with Trish when we are on tour and camps and stuff that if we were from the same era cos we’re kind of very like-minded, similar personalities so I always say that we would have been besties if we were in the same era of Opals but she’s a legend, so all of them are legends in their own right. But yeah they were on my schoolbook back in 2004 which is pretty cool.”

As a junior Cayla played basketball for the Eastern Mavericks and represented South Australia at every under-age level, mainly representing South Australia Country however in one year she played for South Australia Metro. Performances for her state earned her an opportunity at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). Cayla made her WNBL debut with the AIS at 16 years of age in 2005/06, her team-mates at the AIS included Mariana Tolo, Abby Bishop, Katie-Rae Ebzery, Louella Tomlinson, Amy Lewis, Mia Murray (nee Newley), Emma Langford and Renae Garlepp (nee Camino). During her debut WNBL season Cayla played 11 games for the AIS, averaging 8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.

On her debut WNBL season with the AIS Cayla said “Yeah, ironically my first AIS game in the 05/06 season was up in Townsville against Townsville who I eventually won three championships with so that was really daunting but also exciting. I mean you come in as a rookie and everyone wants to make sure you are welcomed to the league and everyone is extra physical with you and I remember having to guard Claudia Brassard who was my Townsville assistant coach and head coach in my third year so we often have laughs about. I don’t know if it was in the WNBL or a QBL game that she was playing for Townsville and I was playing for Cairns and I gave her a black eye accidently on a rebound but she played hard, again full circle which is obviously really cool. But yeah It is fun to think about that time when I got to run out and play in the WNBL, I didn’t feel out of place, I just remember being nervous and trying to make sure that I was doing the scout and doing the right things to stay on the floor.”

After not winning a game in 2005/06 the AIS won their very first game of the 2006/07 season against the Dandenong Rangers with Cayla scoring 14 points, it was to be AIS’s only victory of the season.

In her second WNBL season at 17 years of age Cayla was one of the revelations of 2006/07, ranking in the top five of the league in several categories – third for rebounds per game, second for defensive rebounds and fourth for blocked shots. During 2006/07 George played 21 games for the AIS, averaging 13.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots per game playing as a power forward/centre. Cayla registered seven double-doubles, scored a season-high 23 points against Townsville in Round 9 and had a season-high 15 rebounds against Perth in Round 10. Cayla received the WNBL’s Betty Watson Rookie of the Year Award and after receiving the award commented on her season “I went out there and aimed to post a double-double every game. I love the game and I really enjoyed it this season. I have developed so much this year at the AIS. It’s a really great experience and I am so glad I had the opportunity to be here. It is a great team to play with and I really love them. Without them I wouldn’t have won this award.”1

Cayla was Australia’s youngest player at the under 21 World Championships in Russia during June and July 2007 being five months younger than fellow front-court player Abby Bishop. Australia won six of their first seven games of the tournament with their only loss being by two points in their opening game of the tournament against the United States of America. The two nations met again in the gold medal game with the USA recording a comfortable victory 73-96, resulting in Australia winning the silver medal. Cayla averaged 7.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots to lead Australia in both categories and ranked fifth for minutes played behind Jenna O’Hea, Renae Garlepp (nee Camino), Kathleen MacLeod and Abby Bishop.

In July and August 2007 Cayla represented Australia at the under 19 world championships held in the Slovak Republic. During the tournament Australia recorded seven wins and two losses to finish fifth. Cayla averaged 12.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game to rank second for Australia at the tournament behind Bishop in both categories, and she led Australia for blocked shots.

Cayla played her third and final season with the AIS in 2007/08. After not winning a game in 2005/06 the AIS won one game in 2006/07 than showed significant improvement in 2007/08 to win nine games and finish in ninth position in the 10 team WNBL three wins ahead of Perth and one win behind Christchurch. George recalled “I do remember that that was a really solid AIS team that had been brought together and we had worked really hard, I think we were only a few games out of making the playoffs that year, the finals which for an AIS team was pretty good because I think the last time they had made the finals was a fair chunk of years before that and then years, years before that when Lauren Jackson was there and Kristen Veal and Suzy Batkovic and a lot of other amazing, elite women, they won the title (in 1999) there. It wasn’t really a common thing that the AIS since then made finals but yeah I think we had a pretty solid season. Yeah it was just a fun year, I have got great memories of the girls that were there and I really enjoyed playing with Tolo, we had a really good big partnership, still to this day.”

Tolo and Newley were teammates of Cayla’s for all three seasons at the AIS and later on would be teammates of Cayla’s with the Australian Opals and Townsville Fire respectively. Cayla played 22 games for the AIS in 2007/08, averaging 14.7 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.0 blocks per game, leading the league in defensive rebounds per game and ranking second for total rebounds.

On her experience at the Australian Institute of Sport and the impact it had on her Cayla commented “I definitely was pretty nervous going into the AIS but I certainly was really excited to receive that scholarship, it is definitely something that I wanted to achieve and I wanted to move with the best athlete’s around Australia to train and be a part of what everyone else was doing and try and work together collectively to win medals for the junior Australian teams and also compete in the WNBL and try and place a platform while at the AIS to compete as a professional, post AIS scholarship so it was certainly an exciting time. It was tough, I was young, having to do my own washing, to not have mum there that was tough but we had a really great crew there in my era and I am still really great friends with a big chunk of them now. Everything is there on a platter for you so you either take it or you don’t and I feel like I really utilised my opportunity there, I was there for almost three years and have no regrets. I certainly thoroughly enjoyed my time there, but because of that didn’t feel the desire to go to college because I felt like that was kind of the same thing where I feel as now eras are different and a lot of the girls are going to college, but it is very different to how it was back when I was on scholarship. The AIS was an incredible experience and definitely set a really solid foundation for me moving forward as a professional.”

In 2005 and 2008 Cayla returned to Mount Barker to play for the Eastern Mavericks in the Central Australian Basketball League (CABL) and was named in the league’s All-Star five in both seasons.  Cayla played a crucial role in the Mavericks winning the 2008 Championship, averaged 22.4 points and 18.9 rebounds per game to lead the league in both categories and won the Halls medal as the best player in the CABL, polling 38 votes to finish ahead of Murray (29 votes) and Lauren Mansfield (26 votes).

On long-term goals she had as a teenager to eventually play for the Opals and in basketball leagues around the world George commented “In my mind that is what I wanted to do, I was gonna play for the Opals, I was gonna play overseas and I was gonna play in the WNBA. Now, how that looked like and when it was going to happen, I didn’t have that timeline but I just knew that I really wanted to do it so I almost put horse blinkers on, you know so I kind of wasn’t so distracted by everything else around me and at times it was hard, because it is hard work, physically and mentally, like to watch other people’s journey’s, and gee gosh, they are there already, oh gosh like I am not good enough and just the self-doubt that you go through. Even to this day as an athlete, as a human, the constant battle of deflecting self-doubt and staying confident and knowing that you are competent, it was tough but I honestly never doubted it and I just wanted to do it so badly and didn’t stop til I got there and that sounds like really cliche, like good on you, work hard and you will get there but it really was a case of I did not stop until I got it.”

Adelaide Lightning

After graduating from the AIS Cayla returned to Adelaide and played two seasons for the Adelaide Lightning. Adelaide finished fourth on the WNBL ladder in 2008/09 with 15 wins and seven losses, they defeated Bendigo in an elimination final 81-73 before being defeated by Townsville 78-91 in a semi final. In 2008/09 Cayla ranked fourth in the league for rebounds per game and second at Adelaide behind Tracy Gahan and ranked fifth in the WNBL for offensive and defensive rebounds.

Adelaide narrowly missed out on the finals in 2009/10, finishing sixth with 13 wins and nine losses, the same record as Bendigo who finished fifth to get the last finals spot, and only one game behind Townsville in fourth place. Cayla won Adelaide’s MVP Award, ranked third in the league for rebounds per game, led the league for defensive rebounds and ranked fourth for blocked shots. During her two seasons with the Adelaide Lightning Cayla played 46 games, averaging 15.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots per game.

On her two seasons playing for the Adelaide Lightning Cayla commented “It was nice to be home for a little bit after being away for a few years at the AIS. I loved my time in Adelaide, I loved being home with my nanna and pop a little bit. I would go see them often and that is probably the last time I lived in Adelaide to be honest back then. It was an enjoyable couple of seasons with a couple of close friends that I have met throughout my journey. The year before I got there they had won the championship so we had a bit of a target on our back the next year which is fine, that is kind of normal. Great experience as a young girl thrust into a starting 4/5 role after finishing my three years in the WNBL team for the AIS. I certainly lived for that pressure and I am used to that pressure, but playing on a professional women’s team now there is still a lot of pressures on me but I can’t really remember feeling too daunted by it, I just remember accepting the challenge and enjoying that there was a lot of expectation of me. When there was bad games obviously that’s when that pressure that I was talking about, when you put so much on yourself and people around you can put pressure on you but when you succeed it is like woah, it is like overwhelmingly amazing but when you don’t succeed and you fail because a lot of that pressure it makes it kind of even worse, like oh my gosh I am terrible, ohhh, it’s like finding ways as I have gotten older to get out of those and I think a lot other athletes will agree with me, sometimes you can get into a really dark hole, you are like oh my gosh, I am not good enough why do I even play this game, because of that pressure that you failed to overcome but I wouldn’t change it. I live for that pressure because without that pressure basketball probably wouldn’t be as fun and I probably wouldn’t have pushed myself as hard to where I have been able to get to if that makes sense.”

Logan Thunder

After two seasons playing for Adelaide Cayla joined rival WNBL club the Logan Thunder, located  approximately 45 kilometres south of Brisbane in South East Queensland. Olaf Lange was Logan’s head coach and his wife Sandy Brondello who played 302 games for the Australian Opals and won the 1995 WNBL MVP was an assistant coach. Logan had 12 wins and 10 losses to finish fifth on the ladder in 2010/11 and secure the last finals spot, having the same record as the Dandenong Rangers in fourth place. It was the first time Logan who were in their third WNBL season had made the finals. In an elimination final at Dandenong Stadium Logan trailed by 14 points in the first quarter, however as they had several times throughout the season the Logan Thunder recovered from a double figure deficit to record a fight-back victory, defeating the Rangers 83-73, In the win Cayla recorded a double-double, scoring 14 points and taking 11 rebounds. During 2010/11 George led the WNBL in total rebounds and defensive rebounds per game.

Logan recorded 12 wins and 10 losses in 2011/12 to finish in seventh position, finishing one game behind Sydney who secured the last position in the final five and with the same record as sixth played Bendigo. In 2011/12 Cayla ranked third in the WNBL for total rebounds per game, ranked second for defensive rebounds and third for blocked shots. In two seasons at Logan Cayla played 46 games, averaging 12.8 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.5 blocks per game, George’s scoring output increased from 11.3 points in 2010/11 to 14.5 points per game in 2011/12.

Cayla commented “I think Olaf is one of my favourite coaches I have ever been coached by, he was really patient with me and I was really young then too (laughs), so I mean he would have had to be really patient with me, but he tweaked my game, he gave me so much confidence moving forward, yeah really helped me solidify some things in the league and helped me make my mark a bit more on the Opals squad and like I really enjoyed my time under Olaf.” Cayla also spoke about Logan assistant coach and current Opals coach Sandy Brondello taking part in training, saying “Sandy, she used to train with us at Logan she used to tape up, roll her ankle and then tape up and keep training again, she was incredible, she was a monster and the bench team would be up by two because Sandy would be nailing all these jump shots like vintage Brondello (laughs), she was great.”

European leagues

After seven consecutive seasons playing in the WNBL from 2005/06 to 2011/12 Cayla played in Europe for French clubs during the next two Australian summers in 2012/13 and 2013/14. Cayla commented on playing in Europe ”So going into Europe was always something that I wanted to do so to get thrown into the deep end, I think I was 22, 23 when I went to Europe with Tolo, we were on the same team together, so to have another Aussie with me doing our first European experience together, it made it a lot easier. We were in a beautiful town in the south of France, called Aix-en-Provence, a lot of Aussies had gone through there, Renae Garlepp had played there, Kristi Harrower had played there, Hollie Grima had played there so they were very welcoming to us Aussies and we had two other Canadians on the team and a bunch of young Frenchies and one vet Frenchie and so we had a really solid team but the young Frenchies didn’t play that much so like we were playing big minutes which is fine. I enjoyed it, it was a really great learning experience and I loved playing with Tolo. I just wanted to experience a different style of basketball, the European style and really challenge myself in that sense so the two years that I spent there because I was in Aix-en-Provence and in the next year I was in the Eurocup with Nantes Rezé which is a team just four hours west of Paris. So I feel like collectively those two seasons combined allowed me to just really gain some international experience, mentally, physically just to adjust and shift my game a little bit for the better and then I came back to Townsville after my two years in Europe and I felt like I was a lot better for it.”

George played for Pay d’Aix Basket in 2012/13 averaging 12.5 points and a team-high 9.9 rebounds per game and spent the 2013/14 season with another French club Nantes Rezé Basket, averaging 11.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

George played for Uniqa Sopron in Hungary during 2016/17 and helped the club win their 11th Hungarian championship with the club defeating Szekszard 3-1 in the final. George played 26 games for Uniqa in the Hungarian League, averaging 11.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 0.8 blocked shots per game to lead her team in rebounding and blocked shots and ranked fourth for scoring.

Townsville Fire

Cayla returned to Queensland for the 2014/15 WNBL season, playing for a team located in North Queensland – the Townsville Fire who joined the league in 2001/02. Townsville had been defeated in the 2012/13 and 2013/14 WNBL Grand Finals by the Bendigo Spirit, in both seasons the Grand Final was a single game.

During Cayla’s previous WNBL season in 2011/12 with Logan there were 10 teams in the league, when she returned in 2014/15 only eight teams were in the league, her former team the Logan Thunder withdrew from the league due to financial difficulties and the AIS stopped competing in the WNBL.

In 2013/14 Suzy Batkovic played for Townsville, led the league in scoring and rebounding and won her third consecutive WNBL MVP Award. During 2014/15 Batkovic and George, both 193 centimetres tall formed a dominant Townsville front-court duo that proved to be extremely difficult for opposition teams to match up against. Other players in Townsville’s core rotation for the 2014/15 season included Rachael McCully (nee Flanagan), Steph Blicavs (nee Cumming), Micaela Cocks, Mia Murray and Jillian Harmon. Chris Lucas had been Townsville’s head coach from 2011/12 and in his three seasons before 2014/15 the Fire had made the finals in each season.

In Round 1 of the 2014/15 WNBL season Townsville at home trailed Bendigo by three points at three quarter time. George gained the ascendancy for the Fire by scoring 12 points in the final quarter and also blocking a three-point attempt in the dying seconds when Bendigo attempted to tie the scores and send the game into overtime, Townsville won the game 70-67. In her return to the WNBL George was named the league’s Player of the Week for Round 1. On joining the Townsville Fire and her first game with the club Cayla commented “I was pretty nervous because there was some high expectations going into that game, from probably the hype of look who we have recruited just after two years overseas, Cayla Francis is back and like I said before I love that pressure. I love that people put those expectations on me because I like to succeed in those situations and prove people right or prove people wrong. I guess it took me a little while to warm up to the game, Chris Lucas (Townsville head coach) had recruited really well that year, they had obviously lost in the previous two finals, so yeah we as a team really thought that it was our turn. Obviously the process going into any season is that every game is important, let’s get as many wins as possible, let’s get ourselves in the best possible position. Bendigo were up in Townsville, up there it is really hard to win for opposition teams. We wanted to make sure that it was a fortress and start off the season right. I guess I turned the jets on in the fourth quarter just trying to prove a point that here I am and make a bit of a mark on the league and I think that last block that I got was against Belinda Snell because they got her the ball to shoot a three and I blocked Snelly. But yeah it was an incredible game to be a part of and it solidified my mark in that Townsville Fire team that season and it didn’t take me too long after that game one I really settled in and felt really comfortable for the rest of the season.”

In Round 13 of the 2014/15 WNBL season Cayla was named the league’s Player of the Week for the second time of the season for her performances in Townsville’s two wins for the round, having 15 points, 10 rebounds and four assists against Adelaide followed by 20 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two blocks against the West Coast Waves.

Townsville finished the 2014/15 regular season on top of the ladder with 17 wins and five losses, two games ahead of Bendigo in second place and five games ahead of Dandenong in third place. In a semi final against Bendigo George played a brilliant all-round game, scoring a team-high 20 points, took a game-high 14 rebounds comprised of seven defensive and seven offensive, made five assists and blocked a game-high three shots. Townsville trailed 38-39 at half-time but dominated the third quarter 22-7 on their way to a 82-63 victory to progress to the Grand Final.

In the Grand Final Townsville become the first club based in North Queensland to win a National Championship, defeating Bendigo 75-65 to win the club’s first WNBL Championship in captain Rachael McCully’s last game.

Upon her return to the league in 2014/15 with the Townsville Fire Cayla’s biggest improvement was her three point shooting, making 32 of her 76 three-pointers for the season to have an accuracy of 42.1% and during the regular season ranked fifth in the league for three-point accuracy, her team-mate Micaela Cocks led the league with an accuracy of 54.9% for three-pointers. Across her previous two WNBL seasons with Logan in 2010/11 and 2011/12 George made a total of 15 three-pointers.

Cayla played all 24 games for Townsville in 2014/15, averaging 17.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 blocked shots. Cayla ranked third in the WNBL for rebounds per game just behind Abby Bishop (10.6) and Batkovic (10.5), led the league for offensive rebounds, ranked third for blocked shots and defensive rebounds and fourth for scoring behind Bishop, Penny Taylor and Batkovic. George finished runner-up in the 2014/15 WNBL MVP Award on 107 votes behind Canberra Capitals centre Abby Bishop on 135 votes and just ahead of team-mate Batkovic on 105 votes. Cayla was selected in the 2014/15 WNBL All-Star five along with Bishop, Taylor, Kelsey Griffen and Tess Madgen.

On her 2014/15 season with the Townsville Fire George commented “It made me feel that, me going to Europe was the best thing for me to do for those two years and get that international experience and it not only helps your on-court game but it helps you become really resilient with a lot of things, you have got to deal with a lot of different scenarios over there, travel and English speaking or lack of. So it really built up my resilience and I handled a lot of adversity over there. Coming back over here a little bit older, a bit more mature on and off the court so I feel like that season to come in for me and be solid and be really consistent and for me my mindset is never oh I am chasing that MVP, like that’s never in my entire career been ever my mindset. It has always been like how can I help this team win, what do I need to do and so they already had a superstar in Suzy inside so it was about working with her, complementing her, and obviously just playing really well collectively and having fun. I am always about having fun and having a good culture so for that year to come runner-up in the MVP was just a bonus to how it went for us as a team.”

In March 2015 Cayla signed with the Townsville Fire for the 2015/16 season. On 8 May 2015 Cayla married her partner, Kailou George who is from Townsville.

Townsville finished the 2015/16 regular season on top of the ladder with 17 wins and seven losses to win their second successive minor premiership. Perth finished in second place with 16 wins and Dandenong and SEQ finished in third and fourth place respectively, each with 15 wins and nine losses. It was the most even regular season since 2005/06 when the top three teams all finished with a record of 14 wins and seven losses.

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After losing a home major semi final against Perth 72-91 Townsville bounced back strongly to defeat the SEQ Stars 91-71 in a preliminary final and progress to the first ever best of three WNBL Grand Final series against Perth, the two clubs had split their four encounters to that point of the season and each team had recorded a win on the road. Due to their major semi final victory Perth had home court advantage for the first ever WNBL best of three game Grand Final series, hosting game 1 and game 3 (if required) whilst Townsville hosted game 2.

After trailing by five points at three quarter-time in game 1 Townsville dominated, outscoring Perth 28 points to seven in the final quarter to win 73 points to 57. Game 2 of the Grand Final series followed a similar pattern to game 1 with Perth holding a four point lead at three-quarter time. In the final quarter Perth again proved to be no match for Townsville with the Fire dominating the final term 23-9 to record a 10 point victory, 80 points to 70 to win the 2015/16 WNBL title and make it back to back championships.

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In 2015/16 George played all 28 games for Townsville, averaging 13.6 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 0.5 blocked shots per game, led the WNBL in rebounds, ranked fourth for blocked shots and finished seventh in the league MVP Award with her team-mate Batkovic winning the WNBL MVP Award for the fourth time of her career. George was named in the WNBL’s Team of the Week four times during 2015/16 – Rounds 8, 12, 15 and 18 and was also named the League’s Player of the Week for Round 8.

After signing to play in Europe and miss the 2016/17 WNBL season George commented to the Townsville Bulletin “It was a really tough decision, I’ve loved my time here in Townsville and a three-peat was enticing but you can only play basketball for so long so I’ve decided to head back to Europe. Being home and having the chance to play with my friends and some girls I grew up with has been amazing but I’ve got a new challenge in Europe and I’m excited to be over there with a new team.”2

After one season in Hungary George returned to Australia and signed with Townsville for the 2017/18 season. Townsville head coach Claudia Brassard commented to the Townsville Bulletin on the recruitment of George, saying “I think we really missed her on the defensive end last year. I think she averaged 12 rebounds a game and that lets Suzy run down the floor a little more and lightens her load.”3 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.

Upon returning to the Townsville Fire for the 2017/18 season Cayla spoke about adjusting to being a role player with the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA compared to performing a more prominent role with Townsville. Cayla commented “I’ve been craving to be that go-to player. It’s what I love to do and bring whatever I can to the team in a positive way. In the WNBA, I’m not a go-to player by any means. I’m a role player and that’s something that I adjust to when I’m there, but I’ve been a go-to player for a lot of my life. I guess the experiences that I had over there, it certainly helps mentally and physically just going up against those big girls week-in, week-out. Whatever the team needs from me, I’m more than happy to bring that. It’s got me even more fired up to come back here and play a bigger and better role.”4

Batkovic, Murray and Cocks continued to be members of Townsville’s core rotation in 2017/18 just as they had been in 2015/16 whilst Kelly Wilson and Darcee Garbin joined the club in 2016/17 and returned in 2017/18. Additions to the Fire’s core rotation for 2017/18 were George, Australian point guard Mikhaela Donnelly and imports Sydney Wiese and Laurin Mincy.

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In Round 1 of the 2017/18 WNBL season Townsville played on the road at the State Basketball Centre against the Melbourne Boomers who had Australian Opal Liz Cambage playing at centre. George scored 17 points and took a phenomenal 22 rebounds including 20 defensive and made three of her six three-pointers in Townsville’s 63-54 victory to be named in the WNBL’s Round 1 Team of the Week.

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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. 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.

Townsville defeated Sydney two games to nil in a semi final series, winning game 1 by 29 points, 78-49. Game 2 was much closer with Townsville scoring the last two field goals of the game with one each to Wiese and George to prevail by three points 68-65, enabling Townsville to progress to the club’s fifth Grand Final in six seasons. The first two games of the Grand Final Series between Townsville and Melbourne were won by the home team with Townsville defeating Melbourne 69-64 in game 1 and Melbourne winning a thrilling game 2 58-57. In the deciding game 3 Townsville won 70-57 to win their third WNBL Championship in four seasons, with George being a part of all three titles. George played 26 games for Townsville in 2017/18, averaging 10.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.

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When asked “What was it like playing alongside Suzy and training against her, I’d imagine there would have been some pretty intense training sessions going up against her?” Cayla responded “Yeah, it was pretty intense at the best of times but Suzy and I we gained a pretty solid friendship throughout my time in Townsville and we obviously were pretty successful the three championships, three seasons. I think we worked really well together, we complemented each other, yeah she goes hard and she’s super-competitive so there were some fierce moments at training for sure, but essentially got everyone on the same page and made us all better for it.”

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On Townsville’s three championships and whether she had a favourite Cayla commented “Yeah honestly, my favourite championship was probably still the first one just because of the pressure the Fire had on them to finally get over the line and it was just really overwhelming and amazing. The first one was really special and probably my favourite even though they are all quite highly regarded obviously. My first two championships with Townsville, straight after that I went to Hungary for a year and competed in the Euroleague and I won a Hungarian championship and then the following year I came back and won the championship again with the Fire so four years in a row I won championships which was really quite a blessing and so I came quite accustomed to winning championships. but back to Townsville and the championships, yeah, the first one was probably my favourite.”

After the 2017/18 WNBL season George exercised her free agency rights and signed with the Melbourne Boomers. After George signed with the Boomers, Townsville Fire General Manager Richard Goodbody said “Cayla has played a key role in our championship wins. She was instrumental in our first championship win in 2014/15 – she finished second in the WNBL MVP that season – and has been a fine servant since that time. She remains one of only four players to have represented the club in each of our championship wins and we wish her well as she pursues her basketball goals elsewhere.”5

WNBA

In early February 2015 Cayla and her Australian Opals teammate Leilani Mitchell both signed with WNBA club the Phoenix Mercury. On signing with Phoenix Cayla commented “I’m so excited to have this opportunity. I feel super blessed and am really looking forward to getting over there and facing all challenges head on. I felt so blessed to be with the Opals in Turkey. My journey in getting there was a bit different, but I felt that I played my role to the best of my ability and the additional exposure at the Worlds gave me a great opportunity to be seen.”6

Phoenix Mercury were one of the foundation WNBA clubs when the league commenced in 1997 and their inaugural side included Australian point guard Michele Timms who won medals with the Opals at the 1996 Olympic Games (bronze), 1998 World Championships (bronze) and 2000 Olympic Games (silver), was a trailblazer for Australian’s in terms of playing in overseas leagues and has been inducted into both the FIBA Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Phoenix have won three WNBA championships – 2007, 2009 and 2014 with Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor being the only two players to feature in all three championships.

The Phoenix Mercury coached by Australian Sandy Brondello won the 2014 WNBA Championship, defeating the Chicago Sky three games to nil in the finals. During 2014 Phoenix had six players that averaged more than 18 minutes played and five points per game – Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Candice Dupree, DeWanna Bonner, Penny Taylor and Erin Phillips. Taylor and Phillips were Australian Opals teammates of Cayla’s at the 2014 World Championships where the team won the bronze medal.

Taurasi and Taylor did not play in the WNBA in 2015 and Phillips was signed by the LA Sparks as a free-agent for the 2015 season which meant that only three of Phoenix’s top six ranked players for points scored and minutes played from 2014 played with the club in 2015 – centre Griner, guard/forward Bonner and forward Dupree.

On joining the Phoenix Mercury George commented “I really enjoyed my time under Olaf (at Logan Thunder) and in turn that really made my decision easy when it came to the opportunity to go to the WNBA. I had a couple of options and I decided to go with Phoenix because I knew Sandy. So yeah my decision was made quite easy just for the fact that going into the world of the unknown, the WNBA for me, going to someone I knew in Sandy, I knew the sets because she does the same sets or very similar sets to Olaf, they work together a lot, obviously they are married. So I was like, yep, I will feel comfortable there, I know Sandy, yeah I really was happy with my decision.”

George made her WNBA debut on 5 June 2015 in a home game against San Antonio and led Mercury bench players with 10 points, making five of her seven field goals and took three rebounds. Six days later George made her first WNBA start in a home game against the New York Liberty. On 14 June  George took a team-high 10 rebounds against Minnesota. In a road game against the Tulsa Shock on 13 September George recorded her first double-double in the WNBA, scoring 14 points and taking 12 rebounds. George and point guard Mitchell both played all 34 regular season games for Phoenix in 2015 whilst another Aussie Tess Madgen had a short stint playing eight games. George and Madgen had played junior basketball together in South Australia, have played for the Opals together and in the 2020/21 WNBL season will be team-mates at the Melbourne Boomers.

George commented “The WNBA is different, it’s different style it’s just different challenges to any other league. there are some amazing, fierce competitors, it is the best league in the world. You are going up against tough, bigger bodies with quicker bodies every night. The travelling is crazy, there is no private jets it is all commercial.”

On not returning to Phoenix for the 2016 WNBA season so she could focus on trying to make the Australian Opals 2016 Olympic Games team Cayla commented “I would have loved to have gone back to the WNBA in 2016 but I felt that from a national team perspective if I did that then I would put myself in a position to not make the team because people that were there in front of selectors would probably be in a better position to make it is almost what I was told. So I thought Olympics is a big dream of mine too, I can put this (WNBA) on hold, this dream on hold for a little bit to go fight for another dream, which is what I did.”

Cayla returned to Phoenix for the 2017 WNBA season and commented “It was certainly a really cool experience to be in Phoenix for two years. I loved it, in Phoenix I had great people around me on the court, I had great support crew off the court, I had met some amazing people so living in Phoenix for me was really easy. My second year however, it was really tough, I had a lot of expectations on myself, coming in after already experiencing year one people knew how to play against me so it was more just about adjusting to that, it was a bit tougher in my second year but I think a lot of people find that, they kind of say it is the second year itch I think, not the itch but whatever they call it, it is a thing, it is a thing, so I would talk to Sandy and sometimes Penny about it, she said that she went through similar stuff, obviously different calibre of player, different position and she had a different journey, but we would talk about how the second year was certainly a bit tougher for her as well.”

George was one of three members of the Australian Opals 2016 Olympic Games team that played for Phoenix in 2017 along with Leilani Mitchell and Steph Talbot. Penny Taylor was the Australian Opals captain at the 2016 Olympic Games however that was her last tournament as a player, in 2017 Taylor was the Director of Player Development and Performance for the Mercury. The two stars on the Phoenix Mercury 2017 team were Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi who averaged 21.9 and 17.9 points per game respectively. On July 28 George had 14 defensive rebounds in a road game against the Chicago Sky to set a new WNBA record for defensive rebounds in a game by a bench player.

George played 66 of a possible 68 regular season games during her two regular seasons in Phoenix, comprised of all 34 games in 2015 and 32 games in 2017, having two starts in 2015. Phoenix made the playoffs in George’s two seasons with the club, being defeated 2-0 in the conference finals by the Minnesota Lynx in 2015 and lost in the semi-finals to the Los Angeles Sparks 3-0 in 2017. In her two seasons at Phoenix George averaged 4.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.6 blocked shots and 12.3 minutes per game.

In early February 2018 Phoenix traded George to the Connecticut Sun for the 21st overall pick in the 2018 WNBA Draft. After training camp was completed George was the last player cut by Connecticut. Whilst the 2018 season was in progress the Dallas Wings signed George as a free agent. Wings general manager and president Greg Bibb commented “Cayla brings a versatile game to our roster, with the ability to play multiple positions on the floor. She is an outstanding rebounder and a player who has the ability to extend her shooting range well outside the paint. We are excited to add her to our team.”7

At Dallas George was a teammate of fellow Australian Opals front-court player Liz Cambage, with the duo both playing their third season in the WNBA during 2018 whilst another former Australian Opal in Erin Phillips was an assistant coach at Dallas. George commented on changing clubs in 2018, starting the year on the Phoenix roster “Then got traded to Connecticut and then from that training camp ended up in Dallas which was a really fun year as well, got a lot of opportunity there.”

On having an extended run during 2018 playing with Liz Cambage, with the Opals and also the Dallas Wings George commented “I think it was really fun, I think that you know playing alongside Liz is pretty incredible, she is an incredible person off the court and on the court obviously a very talented player. I like to think that I really helped to calm Liz in certain scenarios and really helped her stay grounded in Dallas which in turn helped us at the World’s because she was in quite a good headspace going into that world’s. It was quite exhausting for me because a lot of my focus was all about Liz, sometimes I would forget about myself but it was for the betterment of the team.”

Dallas finished the 2018 regular season fifth in the Western Conference and eighth overall to secure the last play-off berth with a record of 15 wins and 19 losses. In the first round of the play-offs the Dallas Wings played a single elimination game against the Phoenix Mercury on the road and were defeated 83-101. During 2018 George played 24 games for Dallas including the single elimination game and averaged 3.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 10.4 minutes per game.

George returned to Dallas in 2019 for pre-season training camp however after Dallas had played their three pre-season games they waived George which resulted in her returning to Australia and having a break from playing basketball. In an article by Megan Hustwaite for Basketball Australia George commented “It’s been a bit of a blessing in disguise having that time off. Mentally, it’s been the biggest refresher. I didn’t know I really needed it, it was so welcome.

I’ve been doing my own training, going to the beach with my dogs (Coco and Caesar) and having sprinting races to try and beat them, Caesar is a whippet – he’s fast as. I’ve loved just being a wife to my poor husband Kailou who’s been seeing me off at the airport the last few years so it’s good to have been home, cooking him some nice tucker, he gets leftovers for work the next day and it’s been really great.”8

George has played 95 games in the WNBA including playoffs comprised of 71 games for the Phoenix Mercury in 2015 and 2017 and 24 games for the Dallas Wings in 2018. On her three seasons playing in the WNBA George commented “Really enjoyed my time in the WNBA, whether I go back there or not it is what it is, I would have no idea, I haven’t completely closed the door but yeah, we will see how life plays out, but also I am forever a WNBA player, three seasons deep, great experiences over there, met some great people, it is the best league in the world and I am glad I got the opportunity to tick that off my list of goals that I wanted to achieve back when I was a teen.”

On the ability to be adaptable and play the role your team requires you to play George commented “I have been really fortunate in my career, I have played every type of position you can even think of, I mean for the most part it is the go-to player but with the Opals, the WNBA sometimes it is coming off the bench, sometimes it is not getting court time, sixth man, 12th man, play 10 minutes, play 20 minutes, play five minutes, play one minute, I have done it all really in those scenarios and it just comes down to how mentally tough you are and it doesn’t mean after the game you don’t go home and cry because it is just exhausting having to stay ready even though you might not play a second, or you go on because you are ready and you make one mistake and you are ripped off but the other teammates can make all the mistakes, but they stay on and it is so frustrating so it is exhausting but it is about how quickly you bounce back from that and really embrace your role because every person from one to twelve is important on the team. Through injuries, you just don’t know when your time is to shine so I just would remember always telling myself just stay ready when your number is called, stay ready, stay focussed, stay ready, stay focussed, you will never know when your number is called but be ready, you don’t want to not be ready, you don’t want to not be ready because then you might not get another opportunity. That in itself was exhausting (laughs) it is almost more tiring staying ready then actually playing.”

Australian Opals

Cayla made her Australian Opals debut against New Zealand in 2008 and again played against the Tall Ferns at the 2011 FIBA Oceania Championship. At the 2013 Oceania Championships Cayla played both games for the Australian Opals against New Zealand with game 1 played in Auckland on 14 August followed by game 2 in Canberra on 18 August. Cayla played a total of 12 minutes and scored five points during the two victories in 2013.

On playing for the Opals George comments  “The Opals legacy is so incredible, so when I first played for the Opals, without really remembering the exact moment I would have for sure been nervous, anxious, overwhelmed. Even to this day singing the anthem before an international match is just like I could cry almost every time, sometimes I have got to fight back tears, because you are playing for your country and it is just you’re representing yourself, your family, your fellow countrymen, your teammates and I am so proud to be an Aussie and I make sure that anywhere I play in the world they know I am an Aussie. Like when I play in America they are ‘Where are you from?’ I am like (putting on strong Australian accent) “I am from Australia, G’day mate.” I hate people thinking I am an American, I want people to know I am an Aussie, I love playing for the Opals so it is certainly, it was an exciting taste of what could possibly be and gave me a hunger to definitely want more and have a bigger role within the Opals.”

At the 1996 Olympic Games the Australian Opals won a medal at a major championship for the first time, winning the bronze medal, from that point the Opals have been medallists at the vast majority of major championships. From 1996 to 2012 the Opals won a medal at all five Olympic Games and four of the five World Championships held during this period with the only exception being the 2010 World Championships where they finished fifth. At the 2006 World Championships held in Brazil Australia won the gold medal, Penny Taylor was named the tournament MVP and was one of two Opals along with Lauren Jackson that averaged at least 18 points per game to rank in the top three players at the tournament in this category. The other players that ranked in the top six for the Opals for minutes played at the tournament were Kristi Harrower, Belinda Snell, Laura Hodges and Jennifer Whittle.

On 10 September 2014 Cayla was named in the Australian Opals 12 player team for the 2014 World Championships held in Turkey from September 28 to October 6. Whilst Cayla had attended Australian Opals training camps earlier in 2014 she hadn’t been selected for a four game Opals tour of Japan in late July. After missing that Opals tour it appeared unlikely that Cayla would represent Australian at the World Championships however strong form in the SEABL for the Hobart Chargers together with Lauren Jackson’s knee injury resulting in her being ruled out of the World Championships in early September led to Cayla being selected. Part of the reason Cayla returned home from Europe mid-year and joined Hobart was to increase her chances of representing Australia. After being named in the Opals 2014 World Championships squad Cayla commented to Tasmanian Newspaper Mercury on her selection. “Not really, it really hasn’t sunk in at all. I can’t believe it and I don’t know if it will sink in until the first game. I’m just so thrilled and blessed to be part of this program and to have the chance to compete at my first big event. I’m so excited to put on the green and gold and sing the anthem and wear it proud; words can’t describe how excited I am.”9

In an Opals warm-up game against the USA just over a week before the start of the World Championships Australian centre Liz Cambage ruptured her Achilles tendon which forced her to miss the 2014 World Championships. Bendigo Spirit centre Gabe Richards joined the Opals in Turkey as a late replacement for Cambage. Before the injuries to front-court duo Jackson and Cambage there had been several other changes to the Opals team since the 2012 Olympics including Kristi Harrower and Jennifer Screen (both retired), along with Suzy Batkovic and Jenna O’Hea (both unavailable). New Opals head-coach Brendan Joyce named a new look Opals line-up for the 2014 World Championships in Turkey, only three players that represented the Jayco Opals at the 2012 Olympic games also represented Australia at the 2014 World Championships – guard/forward Rachel Jarry, shooting guard Belinda Snell and forward Laura Hodges. Other players in the Australian squad were point guards Erin Phillips, Leilani Mitchell and Tessa Lavey, guard/forwards Penny Taylor and Rebecca Allen, forward Natalie Burton and centre Mariana Tolo.

In Australia’s first game of the 2014 World Championships against Cuba, Cayla in her major championship debut scored 11 points, shooting at 71.4% from the field, had three rebounds and a game-high three blocks playing 15 minutes and 52 seconds court-time in the 90-57 victory. Australia’s starting line-up throughout the tournament was Phillips, Taylor, Jarry, Hodges and Tolo and the team implemented an up-tempo style of basketball.

During Australia’s third and final group game against Belarus Cayla had a team-high eight rebounds in the 87-45 victory. Australia won all three of their Group C games by at least 33 points to finish on top of their group, having defeated Korea 87-54 in game 2. After the group stage Australia defeated Canada 63-52 in a quarter final and lost to the United States of America 70-82 in a semi final. Cayla had nine points and five rebounds in under 11 minutes court time against Canada followed by five points and two rebounds against the USA in a semi final.

Australia started the bronze-medal game against host nation Turkey in the best possible fashion, after Australia scored the first 17 points of the game they were never threatened, winning 74-44. Cayla was one of three Opals in double figures along with Tolo (21 points) and Taylor (13), scoring 11 points and had five rebounds in 13 minutes and 36 seconds court-time.

Having not been on an Opals tours in the lead-up to the 2014 World Championships in Turkey Cayla fitted in seamlessly and was able to perform her role for the team well. During the tournament George played all six of the Opals games, averaging 7.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 1.0 blocked shots and 13.3 minutes per game. Cayla ranked third for the Opals for rebounds per game behind Tolo and Burton (both 5.2), equal first for blocked shots along with Tolo, equal second for three-pointers made along with Mitchell behind Snell, fifth for scoring and ninth for minutes played. Cayla was a better three point shooter than the other power forwards/centres on the Opals team so when she was on the court this allowed Australia to stretch the opposition defenses more. Just like the 2004 Australian Opals from Athens on her schoolbook Cayla had now been part of an Australian team that had won a medal at a major championship.

For the 2016 Rio Olympic Games head coach Brendan Joyce retained most of the Opals team from the 2014 World Championships and had Australia playing a similar style of basketball. Only three changes were made between the two major championships with Belinda Snell, Gabrielle Richards and Rebecca Allen from the 2014 World Championships missing out on a spot on the Opals 2016 Olympics Games team. The three additions for the 2016 Rio team were Steph Talbot, 2015/16 WNBL All-Star five member Katie-Rae Ebzery and Liz Cambage. At the 2016 Rio Olympic Games Penny Taylor retained the captaincy and Laura Hodges and Erin Phillips were named co vice captains after the team voted on the leadership group.

Whilst nine players represented the Opals at both the 2014 World Championships and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games the way that these players were utilised by coach Joyce changed considerably and only two players were starters for the Opals at both major championships – Taylor and Phillips. The three players that moved into the starting line-up in Rio were point guard Leilani Mitchell, athletic forward Natalie Burton and centre Liz Cambage.

When asked ‘What was your reaction when you were told Cayla, you are going to the Olympics?’ Cayla responded “It brings tears to my eyes thinking about it, (sighs) yeah, I cried on the way in before anything was said and I cried on the way out.”

In the Opals opening game against Brazil George scored nine points, making three of her four field goal attempts and in Australia’s final group game against Belarus Cayla scored nine points and took seven rebounds – ranked second for Australia behind Cambage with nine.

The Opals were strongly tested in the group stage at the 2016 Rio Olympics and although they won all five games, in three of these games they trailed by a double-figure margin before fighting back to win. Whilst the Opals were winning their games they weren’t working as effectively as a team as they did during the 2014 World Championships and had been reliant on some individual brilliance in some of their group games. In successive games an Opal broke the record for most points scored by an Australian at the Olympics with Taylor scoring 31 points in a 89-71 victory against France in the Opals third game followed by Cambage scoring 37 points against Japan to lead Australia to a 92-86 victory despite twice trailing by 16 points early in the last quarter.

Australia won all five of their group A games to finish first in their group, two games ahead of three teams that had three wins and two losses – France, Turkey and Japan. In their quarter final the Opals played Serbia who finished fourth in group B with a record of two wins and three losses. The consensus was that to win a medal Australia would need to play more consistently than they had during the group stage and get a more even contribution from their players. The Opals quarter final against Serbia was close throughout the entire game with the Opals leading by one point at three quarter-time 52-51. The Opals trailed by two points with 10 seconds to go and had possession of the ball, a shot by Tolo missed and Australia were defeated by two points 71-73, being knocked out of the Olympic Games at the quarter final stage. At the 2016 Olympic Games George played five of the Opals six games, averaging 4.6 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists and 8.8 minutes per game.

On the quarter final loss to Serbia George commented “Tournament play, had probably one of the worst games we had all tournament and Serbia played out of their skin and beat us by two. Tournament play, you gotta be ready, yeah that really hurt, still to this day it really sucks, I hate talking about how at the Rio Olympics we didn’t medal, first team in two decades to not medal, I hate, I HATE that I have to say that I have been a part of that but also, no I am proud that I am a part of that because I am also a part of the change in the next cycle where we won a silver medal in 2018 and going for a medal in Tokyo, it is all part of the journey. It hurt, that’s why I don’t like to talk about it, because it is hurt. The sacrifices and the lifelong dream of going to an Olympics and in that moment I couldn’t even cheer, I was on the bench in the final minutes of the game and I couldn’t even cheer. I was so nervous and scared of what actually ended up happening that I couldn’t even cheer, I was in shock that we were even in a position where that could actually happen, and then it actually happened. It was devastating, devastating, still is devastating because we had a great team that year. It is hard to talk about, it is frustrating to talk about but all things are done and if anything just used as fuel for future things and has been already because silver medallists, we have got big things planned for Tokyo as well but so have a lot of teams so it is not going to be easy but we are hungry.”

On 18 April 2017 it was announced that Sandy Brondello had been appointed as the Australian Opals head coach and that she would perform that role whilst continuing to be the head coach of the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA, however she stopped being an assistant coach to husband Olaf Lange at Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg.

In April 2018 Australia hosted the Commonwealth Games in the state of Queensland where George had played in the WNBL for both the Logan Thunder and the Townsville Fire. It was the second time that basketball had been included in the Commonwealth Games, following the previous time that Australia was the host in 2006. Australia won the 2006 final played in Melbourne against New Zealand 77-39 to win the gold medal. Belinda Snell was the only player to represent the Australian Opals at both the 2006 and 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Opals 2018 Comm Games team

Cayla was part of the Australian Opals starting line-up at the 2018 Commonwealth Games along with Katie Ebzery, Steph Talbot, Jenna O’Hea and Cambage.Australia were very consistent throughout the Pool stage at the 2018 Commonwealth Games scoring at least 100 points in all three games to win every game with their smallest winning margin being 39 points against Canada. In all three Pool A games played in Townsville all 12 Opals scored and the team averaged a phenomenal 31.7 assists per game with Australia defeating in order Mozambique (113-53), Canada (100-61) and England (118-55).

After the pool games were completed in Townsville the Australian Opals travelled to the Gold Coast for the medal games. Australia’s first assignment on the Gold Coast was a semi final against New Zealand who were coached by Melbourne Boomers head coach Guy Molloy and featured several players that played in the WNBL during 2017/18 – Micaela Cocks, Antonia Farnworth, Kalani Purcell and Chevannah Paalvast as well as players with previous WNBL experience in Natalie Taylor and Jess Bygate. After leading 53-28 at half-time the Opals dominated the third quarter 30-6 and went on to win 109-50. The Opals had 30 assists and for the fourth game in a row all 12 players scored. In the semi final George scored 18 points, making six of her eight field goal attempts including all four three-pointers. As a team the Opals were very accurate from long range, making 15 of their 25 three-pointers for an accuracy of 60% in the semi final.

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In the gold medal game Australia controlled the first quarter to lead England 26-10 at quarter-time and went on to record a comfortable victory 99-55 despite centre Liz Cambage being ejected in the second quarter due to receiving a technical foul as well as an unsportsmanlike foul earlier in the game. Even with Cambage who scored 10 points before the ejection out of the game the Opals dominated in the front-court with another three front-court players scoring at least 10 points – George and Kelsey Griffen with a game-high 16 points along with Ezi Magbegor with 11. George made seven of her 13 field goals for an accuracy of 54% and took a game-high 10 rebounds to be the only player in the gold medal game that registered a double-double.

George commented “It was incredible to be a part of the Commonwealth Games and I had just signed in Melbourne (with the Boomers), right before the Comm Games so going back to Townsville I still had a pretty good reception in the three round games that we had up there which was lovely. Honestly, to play for your country is one thing but to play for your country on home soil is something that doesn’t get to happen for everyone and the thought of having another attempt in 2022 potentially is so exciting but the Comm Games were amazing, the village was really well done, we know how to do it us Aussies, like they built it so well, it was almost better than Rio to be honest in preparation and how things were and the buildings, everything was ready, so yeah, look fond memories of Comm Games and yeah it is against Commonwealth countries and we did smack some teams but we did it respectfully and it honestly was preparation for us leading into the world’s later that year. To win a gold medal at the Comm Games just incredible, on the Gold Coast the crowd was all for us, it was a really cool thing and something that I will never forget.”

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The 2018 FIBA Women’s World Cup was held in Tenerife, Spain from 22 to 30 September. George was one of only five players along with Cambage, Ebzery, Lavey and Talbot from the Australian Opals 2016 Olympic Games team that represented their country at the 2018 World Cup. Two players that represented the Opals at major championships previously returned to the team in Jenna O’Hea and Bec Allen whilst five players played at their first major championship in the traditional five on five format of the game being Tess Madgen, Sami Whitcomb, Alex Bunton, Allana Smith and Ezi Magbegor. George and Lavey were the only two Opals to play three consecutive major championships from the 2014 World Cup to the 2018 World Cup.

Jenna O’Hea was named the Australian Opals captain for the 2018 World Cup and George was in the leadership group along with Katie-Rae Ebzery and Liz Cambage. On being voted into the Opals leadership group George commented “Again, super humbling, being an Opal in itself is just so overwhelmingly amazing and I can’t even describe the feeling of being a part of that legacy that had been brought two decades before us with some incredible names you know, I could sit here and name all the names but just incredible women that have gone before us to create this legacy. So to be a part of that is so incredible and then by your teammates named part of the leadership group was just so humbling and a place that years ago wasn’t really on my radar, it was just make that team, by all means make that team, I don’t care if you are the 12th man, the fifth man, I just need to be a part of that team somehow, some way, eventually got that and then thrust into a leadership role which I thrived in, I loved it, I loved having my teammates around me in a good headspace, I loved checking in on everyone, I loved making sure we were all on the same page, I loved culturally instilling some really good vibes just to make sure that we are successful on and off the court and that we have fun doing it.”

Throughout the 2018 World Cup Australia’s starting line-up was Ebzery, Allen, Talbot, George and Cambage. Due to a calf injury Opals captain O’Hea missed Australia’s three group games, in the last of these games against Turkey George scored 12 points, making five of her nine field goal attempts, two of her three three-pointers and made an equal team-high five assists along with Ebzery. Australia won their quarter final in comprehensive fashion, defeating China 83-42.

Australia started their semi final against host nation Spain in scintillating fashion to lead 21-6 with three minutes and 24 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Spain outscored Australia 52-29 in the next two and a bit quarters to lead 58-50 at three quarter time. The Opals fought back to level the scores at 64 points apiece with three minutes remaining in the game. George scored the next five points of the game to gain the ascendancy for the Opals, making two foul shots with two minutes and 56 seconds left followed by a corner three-pointer with 2 minutes and 12 seconds remaining to extend Australia’s lead to five points, 69-64. Australia won the semi final 72-66 after dominating the final quarter 22-8.

It was the first time that Australia had progressed to a gold medal game at a major championship since they played America in the final at the 2008 Olympic Games, 10 years later USA would again be the Opals opponents. In the gold medal game Australia trailed USA 27-35 at half-time. USA dominated the third quarter 26-11 and defeated Australia 73-56, resulting in the USA winning the gold medal and Australia receiving the silver medal.

At the 2018 World Cup Cayla played all six games for the Opals, averaging 5.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 19.7 minutes per game. George ranked second for Australia for rebounds behind Cambage and third for assists behind Talbot and Ebzery.

On the 2018 World Cup semi final against Spain Cayla said “Well they say at an international event a quarter final or a semi final in front of the host nation is one of the hardest things to do so, yeah it was tough to have 8,000 fans booing us, booing Liz, but fortunately for us Liz thrived off that, so she

smashed that game she had like 26 and 11 (it was even more impressive – 33 and 15) or something crazy but I was really fortunate to be able to hit a couple of really big free-throws down the stretch and I remember as I was at the line and everyone is screaming at me in Spanish I heard nothing, I heard nothing and it has never happened to me again, it had never happened to me before but I completely was so focussed, that pressure was so high and I was so focussed that we got this game that I did not hear anything and I swished both of them and then I think not long after that I had a really great assist from Bec Allen because Liz was doubled inside, my man went and helped off cos Liz was right under the basket, I was naked on the wing right in front of our bench and I got to shoot a huge three that eventually kind of solidified our lead with a minute or two to go and helped us kind of solidify the win so that was probably the biggest game I have ever been a part of. Just an incredible experience and even to talk about it with some of the girls we still get a bit emotional and teary eyed because from where everyone’s journey is different. So from where we had Jenna O’Hea who wasn’t a part of the Rio stuff and the Turkey World Cup, her last Opals thing was London so for her to be a part of that. So we were emotional and Tess Madgen, we have been playing together since we were under 12’s in our local league in the Adelaide Hills played for the Eastern Mavs in the rep league there so we have known each other for so long and we were together experiencing this amazing experience that was just such a euphoria because that passion and the pressure all in one collectively equalled an amazing result which was just like so, so far beyond what I could have ever imagined and I didn’t sleep to like two or three o’clock the next morning which made me really tired for the gold medal game. I think all of us were in the same boat though because the emotions were so high for that Spanish game to get us back on the podium and a guaranteed medal was so overwhelming.”

In the Opals Retrospective video on the 2018 World Cup George commented on her corner three pointer, saying “I am a Christian, I believe in god and I had been praying, I was like god put me in a position where I can have a game-winner, I had been praying for that throughout the tournament, put me in a position where I can shoot the game-winner, shoot a game-winning three and it wasn’t a buzzer-beater which I thought it would be, it was a shot that gave us a really nice buffer heading into the last couple of minutes.” Cayla went on to say “It was a pretty special moment for us as a team just to have that buffer and then to win it was like, the energy, we were so hyped, I don’t even have words, I get all emotional thinking about it.”

Later in the Opals 2018 Retrospective video Cayla commented about a change in the Opals culture saying “definitely a lot more positive, we are probably treated a little bit more like adults, there is respect both ways which is really nice, it makes for a great culture where we all want to do it for each other, there was no individuals, it was really just all for each other and that’s what made it so much sweeter because we were just so close and it was just an incredible group of women and staff and it made it that much more special.”

On playing with Liz during 2018 George commented “She was a big focal point so to keep her in a good head space was important for not only the Dallas Wings side, but the Opals side but I always had to remember to focus on myself as well. But yeah, like I said going into the 2018 World Cup Liz was in a great head space and she balled out that tournament and we got a silver medal and a big part of that was how well Liz played and as a team collectively how we played around her and how successful we were. Playing with Liz it is not as easy as just finding her and throwing the ball up, she is such a big target that we have got to make sure that we are doing the right things around her to make life easier for her, make it easier for us and you know not making it easy on the defence. She is certainly a talent and she is a close friend of mine, very close friend of mine and I love seeing her do her thing around the world and she represents Australia well and she is smashing it in the WNBA and she is really focussed right now and looking forward to the next few years which is an exciting thing not only for her but for the Opals as well so yeah we will just keep her in that good mind-set, I like to think that I’ll continue to help her stay grounded and you know win some medals.”

Australia competed at the Asia Cup for the first time at the 2017 tournament which was hosted by India in late July. Due to playing in the WNBA with the Phoenix Mercury George was unable to compete at the 2017 tournament where Australia won the silver medal, losing the gold medal game to Japan 73-74.

At the 2019 Asia Cup held in Bengaluru, India from September 24 to 29 George started in the opening game alongside Mitchell, Ebzery, Talbot and O’Hea. George registered a double-double from just 16 minutes and 15 seconds court-time in the 123-57 victory against the Philippines, scoring 11 points and took a game-high 14 rebounds – eight more than the second ranked player in this category, fellow front-court Opal Magbegor.

For the Opals second game of the tournament Magbegor replaced Talbot in the starting line-up and the same starters were used for the remainder of the tournament. The fast-paced style of play at the 2019 FIBA Asia Cup tournament troubled Australia. After a loss to China 69-70 in the group stage Australia faced Japan in a semi-final and were defeated 64-76. There was a sizeable gap from Australia, Japan and China to the remaining five teams at the tournament. Australia easily won the bronze medal game against Korea 98-62. George played all six games for the Opals, averaging 9.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 blocks, 0.8 steals and 17.9 minutes per game. Cayla led Australia for rebounding and ranked third for scoring behind Magbegor (12.0) and Allen (11.7),

In February 2020 Australia played three games in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying tournament in Borges, France, the Opals starting line-up throughout the tournament was Mitchell, Allen, Talbot, George and Cambage.

Australia were defeated in the opening game of the tournament by host nation, France 63-72. In a 100-74 victory against Puerto Rico George scored 11 points, making four of her six field goal attempts for an accuracy of 66.7%, made her only three-pointer, took a game-high eight rebounds and made four assists. In their final game the Opals defeated Brazil 86-72 to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. George averaged 5.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game at the tournament.

In November 2019 a new system for Women’s basketball world rankings was launched by FIBA. In the most recent rankings released on 12 February 2020 the three medallists from the 2018 World Cup were ranked in the same order they finished in at that tournament – USA ranked first with 832.9 points, Australia second (714.5) and Spain third (692.2) followed by Canada (649.3) and France (640.8).

Due to the coronavirus the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games were postponed and will commence on 23 July, 2021 which is just under a year away. In May 2020 George commented on the Tokyo Olympic Games being postponed to 2021 saying “Yes, it is very disappointing, but it was very difficult initially because in your mind for the last four years since Rio and even since 2018 we were quite successful at the World Cup, winning a silver, it’s been like on the edge of our seat like hammering to get to the Tokyo Olympics to really you know give it a red hot crack and that’s what you’re mentally and physically preparing for so to have it like ripped out from underneath it is kind of like, eh, you know. So while I have been here at home it has been training for what? It has been really hard to have no goal, my whole career I have been training towards a goal and so to have no goal has been so challenging, everyday so challenging but it has gotten a little easier at times just knowing that WNBL’s back so like let’s do it. I have been helping my sister stay motivated too, she has just had her third baby so she is motivating me as much as I am motivating her because she is trying to get into shape for the netball season up here in Cairns so she comes over to my house and we do a big hour and a half, two hour workout with weights and cardio and stuff so that is actually keeping me really on my toes which is fun and I have got a home hoop here so hopefully I get access to the court here soon because I had one at a school here but it was concrete and my body couldn’t do it, so I couldn’t go to their court anymore. It has definitely been really tough but also glass half-full person, that’s me always. It just gives us more time to prepare to be really successful in Tokyo 2021.”

On 26 March this year it was announced that Sydney would host the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup for five on five basketball from 23 September to 3 October with 12 teams competing in the tournament.

When asked “Another major event, the 2022 FIBA World Cup is being held in Sydney, what sort of impact do you think that is going to have on women’s basketball in Australia?” Cayla responded “I hope a big impact, I hope that it really allows the Australian community to grasp the Opals and have a better understanding of how good we really are and have been the past two decades. I hope that it can really just showcase not only us as the Opals but how great women’s basketball is internationally, there will be the best players in the world competing in our home country, like it is just ridiculous. The opportunity to play in an event like this would be incredible and something that is certainly on my radar but I think for the community, the Australian community to get around it would be super important and I think necessary, like how could you not, if you are a supporter of basketball or just a supporter of sport I think you will enjoy these games, they’re so entertaining, they’re high level, high IQ, athleticism, passion, like oh my gosh.”

“Anyone who I have invited to a basketball game that hasn’t come before, a women’s basketball game, who has come and they have always enjoyed the game, they always wanted to come back for more, they have never gone ‘You know what this isn’t really for me, thank you so much though’ like no-one ever has said that to me. On top of that, that is just a WNBL game, not just a WNBL game but we are talking like the biggest scale in the world like the World Cup, so look I’m excited for people to have a real look at how this sport goes because it is an incredible sport and we are fierce, female, elite athlete’s so I have no doubt they will enjoy it, they just need to grasp it which I am hoping that you know the media and the community do, because you can’t be what you can’t see.”

On 13 July 2020 Basketball Australia named 23 players in the Senior National Women’s Chemist Warehouse Opals squad, it is likely that the 12 players represent Australia at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games in the traditional five on five format of basketball will all come from this squad however the squad is fluid, allowing for changes to be made if required. With just under three months until the start of the 2020/21 WNBL season 19 of the 23 players in the squad have signed with a WNBL club for the upcoming season with the exceptions being experienced Opals Bec Allen and Liz Cambage along with new additions to the squad Tiana Mangakahia and Jaz Shelley. George is one of three players in the squad that will be playing for the Melbourne Boomers in the 2020/21 WNBL season along with Ezi Magbegor who earlier this week made her WNBA debut with the Seattle Storm and Tess Madgen. Cayla’s fellow Boomers co-captain Maddie Garrick is a member of Australia’s 3×3 basketball team and is likely to represent Australia at the FIBA 3×3 Olympic Qualification Tournament in Austria from May 26-30, 2021.

Melbourne Boomers 2018/19 and 2019/20 WNBL seasons

In March 2018 Cayla signed with the Melbourne Boomers, on joining the Boomers Cayla commented “I just decided it was time for a new challenge for me. I’ve heard a lot of great things about Guy Molloy and Melbourne the city is obviously one of the best in Australia so I wanted to come down to the Big Smoke and just challenge myself in a new environment, new team.”

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George was one of three players from the Australian Opals silver medal winning team from the 2018 World Cup that joined the Boomers for the 2018/19 season along with Ezi Magbegor and Steph Talbot. Shooting guard Maddie Garrick and forwards Jenna O’Hea and Kalani Purcell returned from the Boomers 2017/18 team and in the off-season the club also recruited American import point guard Lindsay Allen.

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In Round 6, 2018/19 George scored 16 points and had nine rebounds in a victory over the ladder leading Perth Lynx in a road game at the Bendat Basketball Centre. Later in the round Cayla registered a double–double against her former side the Townsville Fire with 17 points and 10 rebounds along with three assists and three blocks in a home game at the State Basketball Centre.

In a Round 8 home victory against Townsville George made an impact in several facets of the game, scoring 11 points, took eight rebounds, had six assists and five steals to be named in WNBL Team of the Week for the second time in 2018/19, having been selected previously in Round 6.

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Melbourne recorded 15 wins and six losses to finish the regular season in second place, one game behind the minor premiers, the University of Canberra Capitals and two games ahead of the Adelaide Lightning and Perth Lynx in third and fourth position respectively. Melbourne lost their semi final series to Adelaide 0-2, being defeated 60-76 in game 1 at the State Basketball Centre and 92-100 in game 2 at Titanium Arena in Adelaide. During 2018/19 Cayla played 22 games for the Melbourne Boomers, averaging 12.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.0 blocks per game. George ranked sixth in the WNBL for rebounds per game and equal sixth for blocked shots.

From 2014/15 to 2017/18 George played in four championships, comprised of three WNBL Championships with the Townsville Fire in 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2017/18 along with a Hungarian championship with Uniqa Sopran in 2016/17. George commented on this championship winning sequence ending in 2018/19, saying “The following year with the Boomers when we didn’t win it was quite hard mentally for me to kind of cope with that because it had been such a thing that I had done the last four years that I was like I have to or else I am not good enough, I have to win a championship, like I really went through it, like mentally I really struggled with that because I thought that I wasn’t good enough if I didn’t win a championship which is crazy because it is the hardest thing to do because everyone is chasing it, but in my mind I was just like I have to win a championship to prove to everyone and myself that I am good enough which is just so beyond crazy so that I dealt with some mental stuff after that season, that was a tough one. It is interesting how the mind works but once you get a taste for that championship I guess in my mind I was like well I’m only good if I win championships now so I have just got to win it for the rest of my career now and when I didn’t it was like aw, shock, horror, refocus, it took me probably a month or two after that first season with the Boomers to come to an understanding that I was like OK, you lost in a semi final to a really good team. It is OK, you are going to lose sometimes, you are not going to always win championships for the next 10 years, I knew that in my head but I had to dissect it and deal with it you know.”

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After 12 years of back to back basketball Cayla had a break in 2019, commenting on the opportunity to spend more time with family and have a refresher “Let me tell you it was bloody lovely, mentally, physically, it was really nice just to take some time and I felt like it put me in good stead coming into this next Boomers season (2019/20). I came out of that season (Boomers) MVP which wasn’t my goal but certainly was a nice touch and all the hard work that I had put in. It was really, really starting to drain me the back to back to back so it was kind of a blessing in disguise coming home from Dallas early and just to spend time with my sister and my niece and nephews and to be around my husband and my dogs, like oh my goodness. People that don’t travel that much may not understand it but to be away for 12 years and like only be home for short stints at a time and then to finally get more than a few weeks at home is just like thrilling (laughs).” Cayla lives in Cairns, the town where she met her husband Kailou, most of her immediate family also live in Cairns.

George was one of seven players from Melbourne’s 2018/19 roster that returned for the 2019/20 season with other players in this category being Maddie Garrick, 2018/19 WNBL All Star five member Lindsay Allen, Ezi Magbegor, Kalani Purcell, Monique Conti and Chelsea D’Angelo. The Boomers new recruits for 2019/20 included New Zealand trio Toni Farnworth, Penina Davidson and Stella Beck along with American import Sophie Cunningham who in 2019 played her rookie WNBA season with the Phoenix Mercury. The Melbourne Boomers pre-season was impacted by the club having a heavy involvement at international level in late September at the 2019 FIBA Asia Cup in India with George and Magbegor representing the Australian Opals and Guy Molloy coaching the New Zealand Tall Ferns which included four players on Melbourne’s 2019/20 roster – Purcell, Beck, Farnworth and Davidson. Jenna O’Hea and Steph Talbot left the Boomers to join WNBL rivals the Southside Flyers and Adelaide Lightning respectively.

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On the eve of the 2019/20 WNBL season George was named as Melbourne Boomers co-captain along with Garrick who commented on being a Boomers co-captain with George “We are actually very like-minded, very like-minded, very similar personalities and all that sort of thing and our philosophies and our values and our personalities are just so connected that it was actually just a perfect fit for us to be co-captains together.”

Below is a link to an article published on Milestones and Misses which comprehensively Maddie Garrick’s career:

https://milestonesandmisses.com/2020/06/29/maddie-garricks-journey-from-role-player-to-starter-and-boomers-co-captain/

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In an article written by Caden Helmers for the Canberra Times in September 2019 Ezi Magbegor spoke of the influence her team-mates including George had on her, saying “I have been surrounded by so many professionals with the Opals girls, the Canberra Capitals and then the Melbourne Boomers as well. I have definitely been exposed to people who are professionals, and I have learnt a lot from them on and off the court, and learnt how to be a professional. I’m pretty grateful to be surrounded by people I am able to learn from. There is so many people I can learn from, in particular Cayla George. I play with her at the Boomers as well so being able to learn from her is great, she is such a great leader and a great person as well. I’m lucky to be following in her footsteps and learning from her.”10

The Melbourne Boomers starting line-up when at full-strength in 2019/20 was Allen and Garrick in the back-court along with Cunningham, Magbegor and George in the front-court. In a Round 2, 74-70 victory at the State Basketball Centre against the Bendigo Spirit George scored a game-high 24 points making 10 of her 16 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 62.5%, took a game-high 12 rebounds, had five assists and a game-high three blocks.

George played her 250th WNBL game in a victory on the road against her former side the Townsville Fire on Sunday 27 October in Round 3, teammate Toni Farnworth also played her 250th WNBL game, in reaching the milestone the Boomers duo became life members of the WNBL. On reaching 250 WNBL games George commented to wnbl.basketball “Honestly, it was a real honour to play 250 in this league, and I’ve been fortunate enough to play in multiple leagues around the world but I always love playing at home in front of my family and friends, and I love playing here at the Boomers. I love the culture that we have here and the group that we’ve got together this year is really special.”11

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Against Townsville at the State Basketball Centre in Round 11 George scored a season-high 27 points, making 11 of her 16 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 68.8% in the 77-61 victory.

In the Boomers final regular season game of the 2019/20 season against the Perth Lynx George fell just short of recording a triple-double, scoring 24 points, took 12 rebounds and had nine assists in just 25 minutes and 49 seconds court-time whilst also having three steals. George set a game-high for assists and equal game-highs for scoring and steals with Perth’s Ariel Lynx and an equal game-high for rebounds with teammate Magbegor. In the 104-75 victory at the State Basketball Centre George made eight of her 14 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 57.1% and made three of her six three-pointers.

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The Boomers finished third at the end of the regular season with 15 wins and six losses, the same record as the second placed University of Canberra Capitals, two wins behind the minor premiers – the Southside Flyers and three wins ahead of the fourth placed Adelaide Lightning. Due to winning the regular season split 2-1 the Capitals had home-court advantage in the semi final series against the Boomers which proved critical, the home side won each semi final and Canberra defeated the Boomers two games to one.

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During 2019/20 George played all 24 games for the Melbourne Boomers, averaging 14.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.4 blocks and 31.9 minutes per game. George led the Boomers for total points, rebounds, assists and blocked shots in 2019/20 and ranked second for steals just two behind Garrick. Of the players that played at least 5 games in 2019/20 George ranked sixth in the WNBL for rebounds and steals per game, fourth for blocked shots, equal 12th for assists and 15th for scoring to be the only player in the league that ranked in the top 15 in all five of these categories which highlights her versatility.

In 15 of her games during the 2019/20 WNBL season Cayla had at least four assists including eight of her last 10 games in 2020 when the Boomers usual starting point guard Lindsay Allen missed several games due to a knee injury.

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George was named in the WNBL team of the week 4 times in 2019/20 – Rounds 2, 6, 11 and 16 and polled 70 votes in the league’s MVP award to finish third overall behind the UC Capitals Kia Nurse (94 votes) and Adelaide Lightning’s Brianna Turner (88). George was also named in the WNBL All-Star second team, won the Melbourne Boomers MVP award and received the award for being the Boomers members Player of the season. After receiving the Michele Timms Medal for being the Deakin Melbourne Boomers MVP George commented “Honestly I wish I could break it up into 12 small pieces and give it to all of my teammates because this might sound cliche but this has been one of the most enjoyable seasons for me. I love creating a good headspace for people around me and gettIng to embrace that role this year with Maddie, I’ve really loved it and I felt as though I really thrived in that leadership role this year. I’ve felt so confident and been in such a great headspace this season. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”12

During her 270 game 12 season WNBL career George has averaged 13.6 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocked shots per game. George has been extremely consistent throughout her career and in each of her past 11 WNBL seasons from 2006/07 to 2019/20 has averaged at least 10.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.

On the lists of WNBL All-time leaders George features in the top 10 in several categories, most notably total rebounds. During her 12 season WNBL career George has taken 2,560 rebounds to rank third in this category behind her idol Rachel Sporn (3,229 rebounds) and six-time WNBL MVP winner Suzy Batkovic (2,975), Cayla also ranks third for defensive rebounds and sixth for total blocked shots.

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On being ranked third on the WNBL’s all-time rebounding list behind Sporn and Batkovic Cayla said “Yeah, super humbling, as before I have said I don’t go out there and crash rebounds and go ‘yes one step closer to beating those girls on the all-time leaders list’ (laughs), I just go out there and chase rebounds you know, probably more defensive then offensive because I want to grab the defensive rebounds and go down the offensive end (laughs). Sometimes I pretend I am a guard on safety on offense. Yeah, look it is humbling, all the hard work that I have put in place, all those hard times, that cliché saying, ‘the blood, sweat and tears’. You lack back and go oh gosh, I’m third all-time, that is just incredible, like Cayla, like look at what you have achieved, it’s cool right. I don’t play for that but it is a cool thing to be able to show my kids. The legacy that I am leaving on-court, but I truly would like to have a bigger legacy off-court once I walk away from the game.”

Melbourne Boomers upcoming 2020/2021 WNBL season

In late May 2020 it was announced that due to COVID-19 there would be a delayed start to the 2020/21 WNBL season with Round 1 to commence on 20 November, about six weeks later than usual. Each team will play 21 regular season games just as they have in recent seasons, the regular season will conclude in early March and the Grand Final series will be played in late March. Due to the impact COVID-19 will have on finances of the league and the eight clubs imports will not be allowed to play in the league next season. There was also uncertainty about what international travel restrictions would be in place.

Eight of the 11 players that played at least five games for the Boomers in 2019/20 signed with the club for the 2020/21 season being four Australian’s – George, Garrick, Magbegor and D’Angelo along with four players from New Zealand – Purcell, Beck, Farnworth and Davidson. Two of the starters from 2019/20 in Lindsay Allen and Sophie Cunningham were unable to return for the 2020/21 WNBL season due to being imports. Dual sport athlete Monique Conti left the Boomers late in the 2019/20 season to focus on playing Australian Rules Football with Richmond in the AFLW. Magbegor is currently impressing in her rookie WNBA season with the Seattle Storm, averaging 7.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 13.5 minutes court-time in her first first games.

On 15 July 2020 the Melbourne Boomers announced that D’Angelo would miss the 2020/21 season due to rupturing her Achilles tendon at training the previous day and that Maddie Garrick had undergone an athroscopy and stabilisation on her left ankle but was expected to be playing at the start of the season.

The Boomers are the only WNBL club to make the finals in each of the last three seasons from 2017/18 to 2019/20 and have also performed well off the court during this period, having strong crowds and memberships. The Boomers look to be well placed for the 2020/21 season, maintaining continuity with the roster and have great chemistry among the team led by Cayla and Maddie. A member of the Opals silver medal winning team from the 2018 World Cup in Tess Madgen has joined the Boomers for the 2020/21 season after spending the last two seasons playing for the Townsville Fire. Madgen played three seasons for the Boomers from 2013/14 to 2015/16 and was named in the 2014/15 WNBL All-Star five alongside George who was playing for Townsville. George and Madgen played together as juniors at the Eastern Mavericks in South Australia. Rachel Brewster will be returning to the Boomers for her second season as a development player in 2020/21 and the club have also signed Izzy Wright (nee Chilcott) who has previously played in the WNBL for Logan Thunder and Perth Lynx.

On the Melbourne Boomers 2020/21 roster and no imports next season George commented in May “Yeah look, we’re doing alright on the recruiting front, I think we have got a good core back but the no import thing, I mean it is what it is with the way the world is right now I think some things are just out of our control and I think the Korean league are doing the same thing. It’s disappointing, I love LA and Sophie and I am sure that they would have been back in a heartbeat but you know what, it gives the young girls, other Australian girls opportunities to step up, to get minutes, to play, to prove themselves so it is exciting for some of the local talent to yeah, show what they are about.”

Businesses and the future

Cayla runs two businesses, Rehmee and Coco – an on-line store which sells products including apparel and candles and caylageorge.com which involves George mentoring young female basketball players both on and off the court.

In early April 2020 Cayla spoke to Basketball Australia regarding the origins of Rehmee and Coco, commenting “When I was younger, I used to love Subway, and I always wanted to own multiple franchises. That’s where my business mind started. As I got older, and while I was playing in Townsville, I decided to make some soy candles. It turned out most of the team wanted to buy them off me! I got a real rush from making something that people wanted. So, from there, I put together a business plan. Without really knowing what I was doing, I grinded away with my side hustle for a while, until I went back overseas to Hungary to play. During this time, I employed my sister Ebony to continue to make the soy candles, melts and diffusers. While overseas, I created an apparel line, had a website created and continued to learn daily about how to run a business.”13

In May 2020 Cayla commented on the second business she started, saying “The caylageorge.com stuff is my way of giving back and I really felt like there was a real gap for young aspiring female athletes to really grasp a better understanding of what this life is like and I am still currently a professional athlete so it’s not like I am retired and letting them know how it used to be, like I’m here living it, like this is how I am living, this is what I am dealing with, this is what I think about mentally, this is how I cope with things mentally and I have teamed up with Greg Hire, ex-NBL champion with the Perth Wildcats, multiple champion winner. He has got his foundation, ‘A Stitch in Time’ so he has done so much, he has created a whole different platform for just the caylageorge program. I have done a few programs, my 12 week one is the big one and corona probably inspired that a little bit because the time of it, 12 weeks. We talk about mental health, how I’m training, how I handle things, how I am playing overseas, like how everything kind of works out over there.”

“Then I bring up other elite athletes into the mix from basketball and other sports just to talk about their journey’s and how they got to where they are because everyone’s journey like I have said is so different and everyone’s mindset can be kind of similar to get to a high level and it is a lot of sacrifice, that’s definitely a common theme. How people get there and what they go through and their stories is incredible and so for these girls to be able to ask questions directly to these athletes via Instagram lives and things like that I think is a really good thing for these girls to understand that it is ok to have a bad game or it is ok to feel this way but what are you putting in place to help yourself get back up and keep going and how badly do you want it, things like that. So I make myself really accessible to these girls which is a lot of screen-time for me, I have got their parents messaging or emailing, I have got them messaging or emailing and I am constantly writing to these kids, but I think it is all quite rewarding, the feedback I have gotten, I have not got any negative feedback from it, it is all really necessary and if I can inspire these young girls coming through to continue to play basketball and work hard then maybe I am helping produce some new Opals you know what I mean. So that is exciting to me, that is exciting to me and I think that there is so much going on with social media these days, so much negativity.”

“When I would do camps with the Boomers or do school clinics whatever, I would have at least one teacher or parent come to me and say that is my daughter over there she’s lacking in confidence, all the time, like at least two or three parents, like all these girls lacking in confidence so if I can come in and say hey I lack in confidence sometimes too but here is what I do to counter-act it or here is what I do to get back up. It is ok to lack in confidence, but you know you can do it right, body knows what it is doing, it is joint all up here (points to her head), just keep deflecting all the negative comments you know, the negative vibes, deflect them. I kind of just help them put strategies in place and let them know that they are not alone and mentally as a professional for how long now, over 13, 14 years, I do the same thing but I just get better as I have gotten older.”

In June 2019 Lauren Jackson was appointed as ‘Head of Women in Basketball’ at Basketball Australia. A few months ago Jackson commented to The Pick and Roll “The work Cayla is doing in the community and off the basketball court is inspiring. Seeing her develop her brand, which is so authentically her is impressive and representative of the drive and passion she has in everything she does.”14

On having two business – Rehmee and Coco and caylageorge.com George commented in May “I keep a fairly busy mind and I can’t really sit still for too long, so yeah the Rehmee and Coco stuff like if I had more time and I was in one place I would probably have shopfronts already but the reality is I have been traveling overseas and playing WNBA so my sister has been really great, she has done a lot of the work for me since I have been away but I have kind of taken a chunk of it back on board now, since corona has happened as well so that is keeping me really busy with caylageorge.com and Rehmee and Coco and I have got some new stuff coming out and I have designed some new things. So yeah, really excited about the direction of that, it is never easy, it is always a grind. People think that running a business is easy, it is not at all and is not for everyone, it is quite hard but now I have got two of the suckers (laughs). But it is OK, I enjoy it, like I said it keeps me busy.”

“It is all about getting myself ready and setting myself up in life. I don’t have a degree in anything but I have got two businesses that I have learnt to run, just on the run and so with great ideas in the future for things that I want to aspire and achieve with the businesses it is kind of like setting goals in my basketball. I have set goals for my businesses, my drive that I have in sport has kind of helped me be successful with my businesses too, so you know life after basketball I wont have to stop and be like ‘oh no, what will I do now?’ I will be in a space where I’ll be ‘Right, next thing, Rehmee and Coco, caylageorge.com, what’s next’. You know what I mean, like I have got that all set up. That’s kind of where my mind is at, but like I said that R word is not even coming into play right now. I just turned 31, and I guess since I turned 30, 31 the R word, people would try to talk to me about the end of my career, and it is like woo, who are you talking to, what? I still act like I am 20, like relax. I think I have got a chunk of years left yet. Suzy didn’t retire til she was 38, I would like to have a kid and come back and play at some point. I think that that would be really inspiring and that is something that is probably on top of like medals at big events , having a baby and coming back to play high level basketball is definitely another challenge that I would like to do, so watch this space. I am not pregnant now, there is too many big events coming up, but in years to come I would like to. Whether my highest level is only going to be WNBL or whether I can crack the Opals again once I have a baby or whenever that may be, I would love to do a Serena Williams and come back and play high level.”

George was asked “What do you think the teenage Cayla that had the Opals 2004 poster on her book would think of the Cayla of today and what she has achieved, not just on the basketball court but also mentoring young girls with the 12 week program and things like that?” George responded “She would probably say, yeah girl. She would say, good on ya, look at you, you did it, look at what you are doin, good job (laughs), all that hard work, all those tears, you have done alright kid (laughs again).”

On the goals for the remainder of her playing career George said “I would like to be a part of Tokyo 2021 and the World Cup 2022 and I would like to win medals at both those events with the Opals. Beyond that I’m not sure what it looks like for me as an Opal. I also have a really big desire to be a mum so I’m not sure what it looks like but I would still like to maybe win a championship or two more before I retire from the WNBL. Do I go back to Europe again, for a small stint maybe after a WNBL season? Would I go for a full season? If I had to answer right now probably not, I’ve done that three times and that was enough for me. No regrets but just three long lots of nine month, 10 month long seasons in the winter is enough for me and one year I had to go from Hungary straight to Phoenix so I was away literally an entire year which was really challenging. So maybe small stints after the WNBL but that is a long way ahead of me and you can plan as much as you want but it doesn’t always go to plan so I just kind of enjoy the ride and what will be, will be and what is meant for me is meant for me. I will just keeping working hard towards the goals in the next year, Tokyo is 100% my focus right now along with playing WNBL for the Boomers is a focus to and that in turn is part of the preparation for Olympics as well, you know using that as a good focus to stay ready and to get ready. But yeah, that is a tough question and not one that I have really been asked in that way but yeah beyond 2022 I am really not sure. I mean Paris 2024 that is obviously the next big event for the Opals but do I have a baby and come back? Do I make it back, I don’t know.”

“My intention is to have a baby and come back because I want at least my eldest kid to be able to watch me play, I have just had that desire from my early 20’s I have wanted to have kids and come back and play but I think a lot of female athletes will probably say it is hard. So it is like oh well if the Comm games are here, the Olympics are there, the World Cup is there I will just have a baby on this date and it just doesn’t work like that. It has been really difficult, I would have had a baby like eight years ago if I could have but I guess I’ve had some other stuff I had to achieve, I needed to achieve before that and the timing obviously wasn’t right, what will be, will be but I am itching to have a baby but all in good time, got some things I would like to achieve first.”

 

By Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

1 https://australia.basketball/blog/2007/07/14/francis-named-rookie-of-the-year/

2 https://www.townsvillebulletin.com.au/sport/fire-miss-out-on-george-as-she-chases-opportunities-in-europe/news-story/6428f49e6f613d700225e0a0dccb7e86

3 https://www.townsvillebulletin.com.au/sport/cayla-george-believes-she-can-be-even-better-ahead-of-fire-return/news-story/77842afac373e4d3de96034b1fe8de5f

4 https://www.townsvillebulletin.com.au/sport/cayla-george-believes-she-can-be-even-better-ahead-of-fire-return/news-story/77842afac373e4d3de96034b1fe8de5f

5 https://wnbl.basketball/townsville/news/fire-farewell-cayla-george/

6 https://australia.basketball/blog/2015/02/05/mitchell-francis-join-phoenix-mercury/

7 https://www.dallasnews.com/sports/wings/2018/06/03/dallas-wings-sign-former-mercury-center-cayla-george-waive-breanna-lewis/

8 https://australia.basketball/blog/2019/07/26/cayla-george-refresed-and-rejuvenated/

9 https://www.themercury.com.au/sport/local-sport/lady-charger-cayla-francis-gets-opals-callup-for-turkey/news-story/150ce5d4803c0f4a380fbbf9982eba7b

10 https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6393281/the-footsteps-making-life-ezi/

11 https://wnbl.basketball/melbourne/news/george-honoured-to-play-250-wnbl-games/

12 https://wnbl.basketball/melbourne/news/george-takes-home-michele-timms-medal/

13 https://wnbl.basketball/melbourne/news/basketballer-and-businesswoman-cayla-george-talks-about-her-professional-life-off-the-court/

14 https://pickandroll.com.au/p/cayla-george-latest-program-drives-positive-change-for-aspiring-female-pro-basketballers

 

 

Milestones and Misses

Milestones and Misses publishes articles to celebrate the achievements of sportspeople, mainly in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) and the Australian Football League (AFL). In sport as with life in general it is common that milestones are only achieved after overcoming adversity, so whilst the articles on the Milestones and Misses website celebrate sportspeople achieving milestones they also cover the misses along the journey, such as a player  playing minimal game-time or spending a prolonged period on the sidelines due to injury. The aim of the articles is to enable readers to gain a greater appreciation of the journey the sportspeople have had during their career.

A link to the Milestones and Misses homepage is below:

https://milestonesandmisses.com/

 

 

 

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