Steph Talbot becomes the first player in WNBL history to win the Most Valuable Player Award and Defensive Player of the Year Award in the same season

In her first season as Adelaide Lightning captain Steph Talbot relished the additional responsibility and was phenomenal throughout the 2020 WNBL season, setting new career highs for points and rebounds per game whilst playing outstanding defense. Talbot won the 2020 Suzy Batkovic Medal for being the WNBL’s Most Valuable Player (MVP), polling 73 votes to finish ahead of Southside Flyers centre Liz Cambage (67 votes) and Townsville Fire guard Lauren Nicholson (65 votes). During the 2020 WNBL End of Season Awards Talbot was also named in the All-WNBL First team and won the Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year Award. In the process Talbot became the first player in WNBL history to win the league’s MVP and DPOTY Awards in the same season and the fifth person to win both awards during their career.

Talbot is the third Adelaide Lightning player of all time to win the WNBL’s MVP award, the club’s two previous winners each won back to back MVP Awards playing for the Lightning – Rachel Sporn (1996 and 1997) and the woman the medal is now named after Suzy Batkovic (2011/12 and 2012/13). In both of Batkovic’s MVP Award winning seasons at Adelaide Talbot was a teammate, playing a handful of games with the club in 2011/12 and the full season in 2012/13. Batkovic won another four WNBL MVP awards playing for the Townsville Fire to win the award a total of six times which is the all time record. Following Batkovic’s retirement at the end of the 2018/19 season the WNBL’s MVP Award was renamed the Suzy Batkovic Medal.

After winning the 2020 Suzy Batokvic Medal Talbot commented. “I’m shocked but absolutely honoured to be named league MVP. Both Liz (Cambage) and Lauren (Nicholson) had great seasons, with many people deserving of this accolade. To have Suzy, someone I admire so much present this Medal to me in person was something I’ll treasure.”

South Australian Talbot got a taste of the WNBL during the 2011/12 season, playing four games with the Adelaide Lightning at 17 years of age. Talbot played a total of 40 games for Adelaide across the next two seasons and won the WNBL’s Betty Watson Rookie of the Year Award in 2012/13.

Over the next five years shooting guard/small forward Talbot’s development continued, playing for the University of Canberra Capitals in 2014/15 and 2015/16, spending the 2016/17 and 2017/18 Australian summers playing in Europe before returning to the WNBL with the Melbourne Boomers for the 2018/19 season.

In 2014 Talbot was drafted to the Phoenix Mercury and made her WNBA debut in 2017. From 2017 to 2019 Talbot played a total of 98 regular season games in the WNBA comprised of 65 for the Phoenix Mercury and 33 for the Minnesota Lynx. 

At the 2016 Rio Olympic Games 188 centimetre tall Talbot played limited game-time however she has since developed into a fixture of the Australian Opals line-up and has started at many tournaments including the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the 2018 World Cup where Australia won gold and silver medals respectively. At the 2018 World Cup Talbot led Australia for assists and ranked third for minutes played.

In 2019/20 Talbot returned to the Adelaide Lightning and during her next two seasons took her game to another stratosphere to finish in the top five in the WNBL’s MVP award in both 2019/20 and 2020 and be named in an All-WNBL team in both seasons. In the 2020 WNBL regular season Talbot played all 13 games for the Adelaide Lightning, averaging 18.2 point, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.8 blocks and 30.6 minutes per game. In her MVP award winning 2020 season with Adelaide Talbot ranked third in the league for scoring, rebounds and steals per game and eighth for minutes played per game.

Talbot’s basketball journey including becoming a starter with the Australian Opals and winning the 2020 WNBL MVP Award playing for the Adelaide Lightning is covered in more detail below:

Early life and junior career

Stephanie Talbot was born in Katherine, Northern Territory on 16 June 1994, her parents are Trevor and Ros. Steph’s family moved from the Northern Territory to South Australia when she was young and she grew up in a country town Kadina which has a population of approximately 4,500 people and is approximately 150 kilometres north-west of Adelaide. Steph began playing basketball in primary school and was also a talented netball player.

Initially Steph played club basketball games in Kadina outdoors on asphalt courts then started playing representative basketball in the under 12’s and represented SA country at national tournaments. Steph travelled two or three times a week from Kadina to Adelaide for basketball games and training, initially playing for the Forestville Eagles in Wayville an inner-southern suburb of Adelaide. At 14 years of age Steph moved to Adelaide to go to boarding school which also meant that less travel was involved to attend basketball training and games. 

Talbot later joined the Eastern Mavericks where she had considerable success playing alongside current Adelaide teammate Ally Wilson in the under 16’s and beyond. The Eastern Mavericks girls under 16’s team made the Grand Final at the 2009 National Championships but were defeated by Melbourne 55-47, Talbot won the Grand Final MVP award.

Throughout her junior career Talbot was willing to change clubs to receive better coaching and improve her game and she finished her junior career with the Norwood Flames and has also played senior basketball for the club.

When Steph was 17 years old she was awarded a scholarship with the Australian Institute of Sport where she spent some with two of her current Adelaide Lightning teammates in Ally Wilson and Abigail Wehrung.

At the 2013 FIBA Under 19 World Championships held in Lithuania from 18 – 28 July Talbot represented the Jayco Australian Gems. Australia won six of their first seven games of the tournament to progress to a semi final against the Unites States of America. In the Gems second game of the tournament a 96-82 victory against Japan Talbot registered a triple double comprised of 16 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists.

Against the USA Talbot played a team-high 29 minutes in the semi final, scored a team-high 11 points, took an equal team-high six rebounds and made an equal game-high five assists. USA dominated the second quarter 27-6 and won the game 77-54.

In the bronze medal game Australia played Spain for the second time at the tournament, having been defeated 63-81 in a group game. In their second encounter the Gems trailed Spain 25-39 at half-time. Australia reduced the margin to eight points at three quarter time and outscored Spain 30-17 in the final quarter to defeat Spain by five points 73-68 and win the bronze medal. Talbot scored 22 points – ranked second for the game behind teammate Carly Ernst (nee Mijovic) with 25 points and shot the ball proficiently, making seven of her nine field goal attempts for an accuracy of 77.8% and made eight of her 10 free throws. Talbot took a team-high nine rebounds and made three assists in the victory.

At the tournament Talbot played nine games, averaging 13.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. Steph led the Gems for rebounds and assists, ranked second for scoring behind Ernst, second for steals and ranked first for field goal and three-point accuracy with 54.8% and 55.6% respectively. Talbot ranked second overall at the tournament for assists per game, eighth for rebounds, 11th for scoring and was recognised for her brilliant all-round performance for the Gems in the 2013 Under 19 World Championships with selection in the tournament’s All-Star Five.  

WNBL career from 2011/12 to 2015/16

At 17 years of age Talbot made her WNBL debut during the 2011/12 season, playing four games for the Adelaide Lightning. The following season Talbot played all 25 games for Adelaide in 2012/13 and was able to play alongside and learn from three team-mates that had represented the Opals at multiple Olympics in Suzy Batkovic, Laura Hodges and Jenni Screen. In May 2015 Talbot commented to Basketball Australia on her 2012/13 season with Adelaide “My first proper year was under Bucks (Peter Buckle) and we had a lot of injuries so I was thrown in as a starter. It was challenging filling in that role and playing bigger minutes than you’re expecting but it was a lot of fun at the same time.”1 Talbot thrived with the unexpected responsibility of starting some games in 2012/13, she averaged 5.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game and won the WNBL Betty Watson Rookie of the Year Award.

In the final minute of the first half in a game against Bendigo in late November 2013 Talbot hyper-extended her knee and was expected to be out for approximately two months. Following the injury Adelaide Lightning coach Richard Dickel commented “We have to be mindful Steph is 19 and we don’t want to rush her back. If the knee is not rehabilitated properly, it could plague her for the rest of her career and that’s not in anyone’s interests. There’s no surgery required but she hyper-extended it very badly and it (the joint) is very loose.”2

Talbot made her return approximately two thirds of the way through the season and played 15 of Adelaide’s 24 games in 2013/14, averaging 5.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

After playing 44 games for the Adelaide Lightning Talbot joined the Canberra Capitals who were coached by Carrie Graf. Canberra had several experienced players including Abby Bishop, Lauren Jackson, Carly Wilson, Jess Bibby and Kirsten Veal. Talbot commenced the 2014/15 season with a double-double comprised of 12 points and 13 rebounds including 11 defensive rebounds against the Melbourne Boomers. Talbot went on to register five double-doubles for the season including twice in the last three games of the season when she also scored more than 20 points. In the Capitals third last regular season game of the season Talbot set a new season-high with 23 points and 11 rebounds against the Adelaide Lightning. In Canberra’s final regular season game Talbot surpassed that performance by scoring 28 points, took 12 rebounds and made four assists in 38 minutes and 20 seconds game-time against Bendigo. Talbot shot the ball superbly to make eight of her 10 field goal attempts including all three three-pointers and also made nine of her ten free throws.

Canberra had a record of 11 wins and 11 losses, to finish the 2014/15 regular season in fifth position, missing out on a play-off spot to the Sydney Flames who also had 11 wins and 11 losses due to losing a tie-breaker based on the clubs head to head records. Injury restricted Lauren Jackson to just six games, with the Capitals having a record of five wins and a four point loss to the Jayco Rangers in these games. Capitals forward/centre Abby Bishop won the WNBL’s 2014/15 MVP award averaging 23.0 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.

During 2014/15 Talbot played all 22 games for Canberra, averaging 13.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game and led the Capitals in assists. Talbot’s scoring output increased by 225% on her previous best of 5.9 points per game in 2012/13 and she scored at least nine points in 18 of her 22 games. Talbot ranked 13th in the WNBL for scoring per game, eighth for rebounds and 10th for assists.

Talbot decided to play in Europe during 2016/17 rather than in the WNBL. On 2 August 2016 Paul Goriss who had been appointed University of Canberra Capitals head coach for the 2016/17 season commented on Talbot “Steph’s growth as a player can be attributed to her hard work, determination and selflessness. Her time at the UC Caps has seen her develop into one of the best defenders not only in the WNBL but internationally as well. The UC Capitals are proud of Steph’s achievements and what she has given to the club. We’re thrilled to see Steph make her Olympic debut and will be cheering for her in Rio.”3

Europe

After playing five consecutive seasons in the WNBL from 2011/12 to 2015/16 Talbot spent the next two Australia summers playing basketball in Europe comprised of one season in Poland and one season in France. In 2016/17 Talbot played for AZS PWSZ Gorzow Wielkopski in the Polish league alongside fellow South Australian Nicole Seekamp. Playing for AZS PWSZ Gorzow Wielkopski Talbot averaged 15.5 points, 6.9 rebounds 4.0 assists and 2.6 steals per game and impressed with her all-round skill-set to be the only player in the league to rank in the top 10 for scoring, rebounding and assists.

During 2017/18 Talbot played 14 games for French team Mondeville, averaging 11.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. On playing in Europe Talbot commented to Basket Case podcast “I loved it, living abroad in a different country you get a different experience everywhere you go, different people, different culture, different basketball.”

WNBA

At 19 years of age Talbot was selected by the Phoenix Mercury with pick 33 in the 2014 WNBA draft. On being drafted by the Phoenix Mercury Talbot commented “I don’t want to go over there and get cut or traded, I want to make the team and stick around at the club for a while. It’s pretty open-ended, I’ll go when I’m ready and when they [Phoenix] think I’m ready. It’s very exciting and it helps knowing you’re going to a club where there’s other Aussies to help you settle in and get ready to play.”4 The plan after being drafted was for Talbot to continue working on her game for a couple of years in other leagues before playing for Phoenix in the WNBA.

Phoenix Mercury won the 2014 WNBA championship and had a strong Australian flavour including head coach Sandy Brondello who represented the Australian Opals at four Olympics. Two Australians also played on Phoenix’s 2014 Championship winning team, Penny Taylor and Erin Phillips. Brondello was named the 2014 WNBA Coach of the Year and two Phoenix players were named in the All-WNBA First team – guard Dianna Taurasi and centre Brittney Griner.

For the 2017 WNBA season the Phoenix Mercury needed a replacement for Penny Taylor who had  retired at the end of the 2016 WNBA season and was appointed as the Mercury’s director of player Development for 2017. Talbot had played for the Australian Opals with fellow guard/forward Taylor at the 2016 Olympic Games.

The Phoenix Mercury announced on 8 February 2017 that 22-year-old Talbot had signed with the club. Phoenix Mercury General Manager Jim Pitman commented “Steph Talbot is one of the brightest prospects in Australia, and our organization and fans understand the depth of that nation’s women’s basketball talent as well as anyone. Talbot is a wing who can play multiple positions, whose resume already includes an Olympic Games and professional experience in multiple countries.  We selected her as a very promising 19-year-old and are excited to be able to bring her over.”5

Talbot commented on Taylor “Being the same position, obviously you look to her. She was one of the best in the world so you try and learn a lot from her. I also think I’m a different style of player so it’s being my own player at the same time.”6 Two of Talbot’s Australian Opals teammates from the 2016 Olympic Games were also team-mates at Phoenix in 2017 – power forward/centre Cayla George and point guard Leilani Mitchell. 

During the 2017 Phoenix Mercury training camp Taylor commented on Talbot “She’s really improved her game and is a pretty solid outside shooter now. She’s very young but very smart and has a really good baseline knowledge of the game. That is something we do well in Australia. Now it’s just a matter of getting her into our system and our way of doing things.”7

In her WNBA debut Talbot started for the Phoenix Mercury in their opening game of the 2017 season. Talbot played all 34 regular season games for Phoenix and started 24 times including the first 21 games of the season. Talbot scored at least 10 points in a game four times including a season-high 12 points twice – at home against New York on 23 May and on the road against Washington on 18 August, making a perfect three from three three-point shots in the latter game.

Although Talbot continued to be part of the Mercury’s core rotation in 2018 she was mainly played off the bench, starting eight games for the season, all in Phoenix’s last nine games of the season. In an eventful final game of the regular season Talbot started for the Mercury, scored a then career-high 18 points and equalled her career-high of three three-pointers made but also suffered a broken nose. Talbot started four play-off games in 2018 but missed the final three play-off games due to concussion. Talbot had a free throw accuracy of 90.5% ranked second for Phoenix behind Taurasi and increased her field goal accuracy from 41.5% in 2017 to 46.4% in 2018.

On her experiences of playing in the WNBA Talbot commented to Basket Case in season 5 episode 6 of their podcast “I think when you are training with and against some of the greatest players in the world everyday obviously you are going to learn new tricks and get better. Sandy’s good to just allow us to go out there and play and learn from those types of players, yeah it has been awesome.” 

In May 2019 the Phoenix Mercury traded Talbot to the Minnesota Lynx for a 2020 second round draft pick. On 2 July Talbot scored a career-high 24 points against Atlanta making seven of her 13 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 53.8%, made five of her nine three-pointers, took five rebounds and made three assists. Talbot played 33 games for Minnesota in 2019 and started nine games.

On 2020 WNBA Draft night Talbot was traded by the Minnesota Lynx to the New York Liberty in exchange for 26th draft pick Erica Ogwumike. In late April 2020 the New York Liberty announced that Talbot would be remaining overseas during the 2020 WNBA season. 

Talbot has played 98 WNBA regular season games from 2017 to 2019 comprised of 65 games for the Phoenix Mercury in 2017 and 2018 and 33 games for the Minnesota Lynx in 2019. Talbot has started 41 WNBA regular season games including 24 of her 34 games for Phoenix in her debut 2017 season. During her 98 WNBA regular season games Talbot has averaged 4.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.7 steals and 16.6 minutes played per game.

Australian Opals

In the lead-up to the 2015 Oceania Championships against New Zealand Talbot represented the Australian Opals in a three-game series played in Victoria against Japan. Talbot starred in the opening game of the series at Dandenong Stadium, scored 20 points and took nine rebounds to register game-highs in both categories during the 86-65 victory. 

Talbot made her major championship debut at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and at 22 years of age  was the youngest member of the Opals team, 23 year-old point guard Tessa Lavey was the only other player under 24 years of age.

For the 2016 Rio Olympic Games head coach Brendan Joyce retained most of the Opals team from the 2014 World Championships where they won a bronze medal 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 Bec 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 Talbot, 2015/16 WNBL All-Star Five member Katie-Rae Ebzery and Liz Cambage who ruptured her Achilles tendon in an Opals warm-up game against the USA just over a week before the start of the 2014 World Championships. 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.

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, mainly from Cambage and Taylor. In an upset Serbia defeated Australia 71-73 in the quarter finals to eliminate the Opals from the Olympic Games. Talbot played all six games for Australia at the 2016 Olympics and averaged 3.4 minutes court-time per game to be the only Opal that averaged less than 8.0 minutes court-time per game.

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.

Between the 2016 Olympic Games and the 2018 Commonwealth Games Talbot took on a more prominent role in the Opals team and was coached by Brondello both in the WNBA at the Phoenix Mercury and with the Australian national team.

In April 2018 Australia hosted a home Commonwealth Games in the state of Queensland with Australia playing pool games in Townsville before contesting the finals on the Gold Coast. It was the second time that basketball had been included in the Commonwealth Games, following the previous time that Australia was the host nation 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 and was the captain in 2018.

Talbot was part of the Australian Opals starting line-up at the 2018 Commonwealth Games along with Katie Ebzery, Jenna O’Hea, Cayla George and Cambage. Australia’s bench was comprised of Snell, Lavey, Steph Blicavs (nee Cumming), Nicole Seekamp, Ezi Magbegor, Kelsey Griffin and Alice Kunek. 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 each of their 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). In Australia’s second Pool A game against Canada Talbot scored 14 points ranked second for the Opals behind Cambage (23), shot the ball at 100% from the field, making all five field goal attempts, including one three-pointer, took five rebounds and made three assists.

In the semi final against New Zealand the Opals led 53-28 at half-time, dominated the third quarter 30-6 and went on to win the game 109-50 with all 12 players scoring for the fourth game in a row and the team amassed 30 assists. 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 after receiving an unsportsmanlike foul earlier in the game. In the gold medal game Talbot scored nine points, took four rebounds and made five assists. At the Commonwealth Games Talbot started all five games for the Opals and averaged 9.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 18 minutes, 28 seconds playing time per game, had a field goal accuracy of 52% and a free throw accuracy of 90%.

The 2018 FIBA Women’s World Cup was held in Tenerife, Spain from 22 to 30 September. Talbot was one of only five players along with Cambage, George, Ebzery and Lavey 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, Alanna Smith and Ezi Magbegor.

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 Opals final group B game against Turkey Talbot scored eight points shooting at 60% from the field, made two of her three three-pointers, took three rebounds and had four assists. Australia won their quarter final in comprehensive fashion, defeating China 83-42. Talbot scored eight points in the quarter final, again shot the ball at 60% from the field, made her two three point attempts and had a game-high five assists.

Australia started their semi final against host nation Spain in front of a passionate crowd of 8,000 people 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. In the semi final Talbot made an equal game-high eight assists.

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 Talbot played all six games for the Opals, averaging 5.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 22.3 minutes per game. Talbot led Australia for assists and ranked third for minutes played behind Cambage (23.6) and Ebzery (22.6).

Speaking about returning to the WNBL after the 2018 World Championships Talbot commented to Basket Case podcast “Spain was a massive high in all of our careers I guess, on the court and off the court as well. We all got on really well which always helps. You’ll find a lot of us coming back into the WNBL we took a good couple of weeks to get back into the rhythm of the league here.”

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 Leilani Mitchell, Allen, Talbot, George and Cambage.

Australia were defeated in the opening game of the tournament by host nation, France 63-72 and defeated Puerto Rico 100-74 in their second game. In their final game the Opals defeated Brazil 86-72 to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Talbot scored seven points against Brazil, making two of her three field goal attempts including one of her two three-pointers and took four rebounds. Talbot averaged 3.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 23.6 minutes per game at the tournament. Talbot ranked equal second for the Opals with Allen for rebounds behind Cambage and equal second for assists with Allen behind Leilani Mitchell.

Due to the coronavirus the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games were postponed by 52 weeks and are scheduled to commence on 23 July, 2021. On 13 July 2020 Basketball Australia named 23 players in the Senior National Women’s Chemist Warehouse Opals squad, it is very likely that the 12 players that 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. In the lead up to the 2020 WNBL season commencing 20 members of the 23 player squad had signed with a WNBL club for the 2020 season with the exceptions being experienced Opal Bec Allen along with new additions to the squad Tiana Mangakahia and Jaz Shelley. Two players from the Opals squad that signed with WNBL clubs for the 2020 season didn’t end up playing with forward Alanna Smith unable to represent the Adelaide Lightning due to an ankle injury and guard Sami Whitcomb opting not to join the Perth Lynx for the hub season so she could remain in Perth with her wife for the birth of their first child.

On 26 March, 2020 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. It will the second time that Australia has hosted a FIBA Women’s World Cup with Sydney also having been the host city in 1994 where Australia narrowly missed out on winning its first ever World Cup medal, finishing fourth after being defeated by China 65-66 in a semi final and lost the bronze medal game to the United States of America 95-100. The Opals broke through to win a bronze medal at the 1998 World Cup and have won a medal at five out of six World Cups from 1998 to 2018 including a gold medal at Rio in 2006.

2018/19 WNBL season with the Melbourne Boomers

After playing in Europe during 2016/17 and 2017/18 Talbot returned to play in the WNBL with the Melbourne Boomers in 2018/19. On her return to the WNBL Talbot commented to Basket Case in season 5 episode 6 of their podcast “A couple of years abroad I was ready to spend time back in Australia, for one my friends and my family, but basketball wise I also think Guy is a really good coach. When you play in Europe and stuff and you speak a different language it is hard to get that individual coaching that is gonna help my game and help me get better in a different way.”

Talbot 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 Cayla George. 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. In Round 7 Talbot played her 100th WNBL game against the Adelaide Lightning.

In Round 11 of the 2018/19 season Talbot continued her record of performing well against the Jayco Rangers, being named in the WNBL Team of the Week for her performance on the Melbourne Boomers home court, the State Basketball Centre, scoring 22 points, had five rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocks. Talbot’s shooting was exceptional, making nine of 11 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 81.8% and made four of her six three-pointers.

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 the 2018/19 season Talbot played 21 of the Melbourne Boomers 23 games, averaging 12.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.5 steals per game. During the regular season Talbot ranked second at Melbourne for scoring per game behind Lindsay Allen, third for steals, fourth for assists and fifth for rebounds.

2019/20 WNBL season with the Adelaide Lightning

Talbot returned to the Adelaide Lightning for the 2019/20 WNBL season and commented “It was always my goal to come back to Adelaide and play for Lightning. I’m super-excited to be home. It’s where I wanted to be so when Chris approached me, it was a very easy decision. I’m just looking to get better. I don’t want to be a middle-of-the-pack player and Chris is putting a team together that will play for each other.”8

On gaining the signature of Talbot Adelaide Lightning head coach Chris Lucas said “Steph ticks all the boxes for us and I am tremendously excited to have her back in Adelaide Lightning colours. She is a two-way player, a great defender who also can devastate you offensively. I think she hit 6-of-8 threes here for Melbourne in a game against us late in the season and just killed us. It is great to have her back. Steph is a well-loved and popular teammate and she is South Australian as well, so we could not be happier.”9

The Adelaide Lightning had a new look roster for 2019/20 with club captain Nicole Seekamp and guard/forward Lauren Nicholson being the only two players from Adelaide’s 2018/19 core rotation that returned to the club. Talbot was one of two Opals Olympians recruited by Adelaide with three-time Olympian Laura Hodges also making her return to the Lightning. The Adelaide Lightning signed two American imports for their front-court in Crystal Langhorne and Briana Turner. In Adelaide’s opening game of the season Langhorne registered a double-double comprised of 20 points and 13 rebounds however she was unable to play again for the season due to a knee injury and returned to America.

Talbot was selected in the WNBL’s team of the week four times in 2019/20, Rounds 5, 9, 11 and 14. In Round 11 Talbot was also named the WNBL’s Player of the Week for her performances for the Adelaide Lightning at home against the UC Capitals and on the road against the Sydney Uni Flames, averaging 17.0 points, 12.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists across the two games.

For players that played at least five regular season games Talbot ranked seventh in the WNBL for assists per game and fifth for rebounds per game to be one of only two players to rank in the top 10 of both categories along with University of Canberra Capitals point guard Olivia Epoupa. Highlighting her versatility Talbot also ranked equal ninth for steals per game, equal 16th for scoring and 13th for blocked shots.

Adelaide finished the regular season in fourth place with 12 wins and nine losses to finish four games ahead of the fifth placed Perth Lynx and three games behind the third placed Melbourne Boomers. In a semi final Adelaide played minor premiers the Southside Flyers who had 17 wins and four losses during the regular season. Adelaide were defeated in a close semi-final series two games to nil, losing both games by three points, 65-68 on the road in game 1 and 79-82 at home in game 2.

Talbot led Adelaide Lightning for minutes played in 2019/20 with 34.1 minutes per game and was one of four players to average at least 32 minutes per game along with Seekamp (33 minutes per game), Nicholson (32.1) and Turner (32.0). Talbot played all 23 games for the Adelaide Lightning, averaging 13.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. Talbot led Adelaide for steals per game, ranked second for assists behind her captain Seekamp who led the league with 8.0 assists per game, second for rebounds behind Turner and third for scoring behind Turner (16.8 points per game) and Nicholson (14.2).   

2020 WNBL season with the Adelaide Lightning

Due to the impact of COVID-19 the 2020 WNBL season had a very different structure to recent seasons and imports weren’t eligible to play in the league. All eight WNBL clubs were located in North Queensland for the duration of the 2020 WNBL season which was played at three locations, Townsville, Cairns and Mackay. The regular season was condensed to five rounds commencing 11 November with each team scheduled to play 14 regular season games. The top four teams contested a four game final series with each final being a single game rather than a three-game series and the Grand Final was played on 20 December.

Talbot was one of only two players along with forward Chelsea Brook that returned from Adelaide’s 2019/20 roster for the 2020 season in a playing capacity however after playing for the Lightning in 2019/20 Nat Hurst was an assistant coach in 2020. Briana Turner and Kathryn Westbald were unable to return due to being imports, Lauren Nicholson had joined the Townsville Fire and Nicole Seekamp was taking an indefinite break from basketball.

Two players that Talbot had spent time at the AIS with in Ally Wilson and Abigail Wehrung joined the Lightning for the 2020 season and other recruits included guard Taylor Ortlepp and front-court players Marena Whittle, Louella Tomlinson, Ella Batish and Carlie Smith.

In the opening game of the 2020 WNBL season the Adelaide Lightning played a thrilling game against  the University of Canberra Capitals who had won the previous two WNBL championships. Adelaide’s starters were Ally Wilson and Abigail Wehrung in the back-court along with Talbot, Marena Whittle and Chelsea Brook in the front-court. The University of Canberra Capitals weren’t at full strength with Kelsey Griffen, Brittany Smart and Tahlia Tupaea all missing the game due to injury whilst centre Mariana Tolo played restricted minutes.

After trailing the Capitals 38-40 two minutes and 22 seconds into the third quarter Adelaide went on a 20-5 run in the next five minutes and two seconds to gain the ascendancy and lead 58-45. The University of Canberra Capitals responded by going on a 21-3 run to lead 66-63 with five minutes and 46 seconds remaining in the game. Adelaide went on 6-0 run comprised of a Talbot pull-up jump shot and two Louella Tomlinson turn-around jump shots. Canberra guard Maddison Rocci tied the game 70 all with a minute and 19 seconds remining which ended up being the final score in regulation and the game went to overtime.

Talbot scored the first field goal of overtime and dominated five minute the extra period, scoring 10 points, took four rebounds, made three steals and blocked one shot to play a critical role in Adelaide outscoring the Capitals 15-3 in overtime to win by 12 points, 85-73. Talbot accounted for more than half of the total points scored during the extra period with all other players in the game scoring eight points with Lightning team-mate Abigail Wehrung scoring five points to be the only other player that scored more than two points in OT. Talbot finished her first game as Adelaide Lightning’s captain with 31 points, 13 rebounds, seven steals and blocked four shots to set game-highs in all four categories. Steph made 11 of her 20 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 55%, made nine of her 11 free-throws and had three assists in 38 minutes and 25 seconds game-time.

Adelaide’s second game of the season also went down to the wire with the Lightning trailing the Perth Lynx 59-58 with five minutes and 30 seconds remaining in the game. In the last five and a half minutes of the game Talbot scored seven points, took five rebounds, made one assist and one steal to help Adelaide go on a 15-11 run to win 73-69. For the second game in a row Talbot registered a double-double, scoring 24 points and taking 11 rebounds to set game-highs in both categories whilst also making an equal game-high two steals.

The Adelaide Lightning won two very close games in Mackay to start the 2020 WNBL season and Talbot had commenced the season in exceptional form, leading from the front when both games were on the line to gain the ascendancy for the Lightning. Adelaide had travelled to Townsville and were scheduled to play their third game of the season on Tuesday 17 November against the Southside Flyers however Basketball Australia released a statement on the afternoon of the game saying that the game had been postponed. The first three paragraphs of the statement are below:

“Basketball Australia has had to postpone this afternoon’s 2020 Chemist Warehouse WNBL Round 2 match featuring the Jayco Southside Flyers and Adelaide Lightning in Townsville (5.00pm local tip off).

On Monday 16 November, the Queensland Government advised the Australian public that anyone who had entered the state of Queensland from South Australia on or after Monday 9 November must self-isolate until they have been tested for COVID-19. The Lightning departed Adelaide at 6:10am (local) on Monday 9 November on a direct flight to Brisbane.

Queensland Health has this afternoon confirmed to Basketball Australia that Adelaide Lightning will need to remain in self quarantine in Townsville until Monday 23 November, having been isolated and confined to their accommodation since Monday afternoon’s announcement by the Queensland Government.”10

If the Adelaide Lightning had travelled from Adelaide to Queensland just one day earlier on the Sunday they wouldn’t have been required to self quarantine in Townsville. Talbot commented

“We were at the airport at 5am on that Monday morning, so we hadn’t come into contact with anyone. We slept all night and went straight to the airport, but we just missed the cut-off.

We are OK now, but it just doesn’t really make a lot of sense the way that they are doing it, but you have got to do what you have got to do, I guess.”11

On 20 November Basketball Australia released a revised fixture for the 2020 WNBL season and one paragraph from the statement said:

“Prioritising athlete welfare and wellbeing while ensuring the integrity of the league, BA has confirmed that each team will play 13 regular season games by December 14, prior to the four game Finals Series commencing on December 16.”12

The Adelaide Lightning played their third game of the 2020 WNBL season on Tuesday 24 November against the Melbourne Boomers and from then until their 13th and final regular season game on 13 December they had a very heavy schedule, playing 11 games in 20 days. In their return game Adelaide were thrashed by the Melbourne Boomers 91-51 with the Boomers winning the rebound count 55-30. Talbot scored 12 points, ranked second for Adelaide behind Ally Wilson with 13 and took a team-high seven rebounds.

Due to foul trouble Talbot only played five minutes and one second in the first half of Adelaide’s Round 3 game against Bendigo at Townsville Stadium. Four minutes and six seconds into the first quarter Talbot committed her second personal foul and was immediately substituted out of the game by head coach Chris Lucas. Talbot sat out the remainder of the first quarter and re-entered the game at the start of the second term and quickly made an impact, making a lay-up and two free-throws but registered her third personal foul 55 seconds into the quarter, was substituted out of the game and remained on the bench for the rest of the first half and at half time Bendigo led Adelaide 43-42. Talbot started the third quarter and with eight minutes remaining in the game had scored 15 second half points to help set up a 69-59 Adelaide lead. The Lightning won a shoot-out 89-83 with two players from each team scoring more than 20 points each with Tessa Lavey and Carly Ernst scoring 33 and 22 points respectively for Bendigo and Ally Wilson and Talbot scoring 23 and 22 points respectively for Adelaide. Talbot made seven of her 11 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 63.6%, made seven of her eight free-throws, took a game-high 12 rebounds and had a team-high five assists.

In the ‘Life in the Hub with Steph Talbot’ article published on wnbl.basketball Talbot commented to Megan Hustwaite on being the captain of Adelaide Lightning and her leadership style “It definitely means a lot and especially as South Australia is my home state. We have a lot of SA girls coming through this year and a lot of rookies which is special. Chris (Adelaide coach Chris Lucas) and I have a really good relationship and a lot of respect for each other, so the fact that he trusts me to lead this team means a lot. I like to lead by example. I’m not super vocal, I can be vocal, and I like to help the young ones, but I think my priority is leading by example through the way I play. I’m happy to have been able to do that so far but there’s still things I want to work on and improve.”13

Later in the ‘Life in the Hub’ article Adelaide Lightning all-time great Rachel Sporn commented on Talbot “Steph’s taking the game on, like she can. She’s a step-up player who can dominate a game. She’s so hard to guard and I love in the first few games she’s had 31 and 24 points and rebounds, assists and it’s not just that – she’s got beautiful skills, great anticipation and I’ve always loved her athleticism. She shows no fear on the court. I love that about Steph, she puts her body on the line and is tough. I also think because we don’t have imports this season and unfortunately Alanna Smith isn’t there, it’s Steph’s opportunity and she’s taking it.”14

In Adelaide’s third Round 3 game against the Sydney Uni Flames at Cairns Pop-Up Arena Talbot scored a game-high 30 points – 16 more than the second ranked player for the game Sydney forward Natalie Burton and took a game-high 12 rebounds and had three assists. Talbot shot the ball proficiently to make 13 of her 18 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 72.2% and was even more damaging from long range – making three of her four three-pointers for an accuracy of 75% in the 75-53 victory which improved Adelaide’s record to four wins and one loss. 

The only time in the 2020 WNBL season that Talbot had consecutive games with less than 15 points was back to back games at the end of Round 3 and the start of Round 4 against the Southside Flyers, scoring six and 11 points respectively. Adelaide rested three players in Ally Wilson, Chelsea Brook and Taylor Ortlepp in the first encounter with Southside who limited Talbot’s scoring opportunities however she was able to bring teammates into the play having a team-high seven assists which was also her season-high. Adelaide led Southside 30-27 at quarter-time in the first quarter but were overpowered from that point on to be defeated 79-110 and lost the second match-up between the two teams 72-111. 

On 6 December against the Perth Lynx at Townsville Stadium Talbot registered her fifth double-double of the season comprised of a team-high 23 points and a game-high 14 rebounds – all defensive, made six assists, two steals and blocked two shots in a 78-80 loss.  

In Adelaide’s final game of the season Talbot scored at least 20 points and took at least 10 rebounds for the sixth time in 2020, scoring 22 points and taking 13 rebounds to set team-highs in both categories during the 60-86 loss to the Sydney Uni Flames.

After winning four of their first five games the Adelaide Lightning only won one more game for the season to finish in sixth place with a record of five wins and eight losses, four games behind the teams that finished second to fourth in Townsville, Canberra and Melbourne and six games behind minor premiers the Southside Flyers.

In the 2020 WNBL regular season Talbot played all 13 games for the Adelaide Lightning, averaging 18.2 point, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.8 blocks and 30.6 minutes per game to lead Adelaide in scoring, rebounding, steals and field goal accuracy, rank second behind Wilson for assists and minutes played and equal second for blocked shots. Talbot made a career-best 47.9% of her field goals.  Talbot ranked third in the league for scoring, rebounds and steals per game and eighth for minutes played per game.

In 2020 Talbot became the fifth player to win both the WNBL’s Most Valuable Player Award and the Defensive Player of the Year Award in their career, joining Robyn Maher, Natalie Porter, Kristi Harrower and Kelsey Griffin in this select group. Talbot became the first player to win both of the prestigious awards in the same season, the previous shortest gap between winning the two awards was three seasons for point guard Kristi Harrower – winning the MVP Award in 2009/10 and the DPOTY Award in 2012/13.

In her acceptance speech for winning the WNBL’s Most Valuable Player Award Talbot said. “On personal note, I’m delighted to have won this award but it would not have been possible without a great group of teammates and supportive coaches in Chris and Nat. As a league we had many challenges to overcome this season, and as a team we probably had more than most. But as captain of the Lightning, I couldn’t be prouder of how we conducted ourselves this season and we have plenty of positives to take into next year. Lastly, to my family, friends and those who have been part of my career over the years, this MVP Award is for you.” 

Article and photographs By Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

References

1 https://australia.basketball/blog/2015/05/26/profile-stephanie-talbot/

2 https://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/basketball/lightning-rookie-star-stephanie-talbot-out-until-late-january-as-adelaide-prepares-for-tough-victorian-road-double/news-story/46cfae77124755267891efaa2e461a0c

3 https://www.canberra.edu.au/about-uc/media/media-releases/2016/july/UCCaps-farewell-talbot

4 https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6076908/canberra-capitals-forward-stephanie-talbot-poised-for-wnba/

5 https://mercury.wnba.com/news/phoenix-mercury-signs-olympian-stephanie-talbot/

6 https://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/wnba/mercury/2017/05/02/phoenix-mercury-stephanie-talbot-replaces-penny-taylor/308587001/

7 https://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/wnba/mercury/2017/05/02/phoenix-mercury-stephanie-talbot-replaces-penny-taylor/308587001/

8 https://wnbl.basketball/adelaide/news/lightning-signs-olympian-steph-talbot-in-huge-wnbl-coup/

9 https://wnbl.basketball/adelaide/news/lightning-signs-olympian-steph-talbot-in-huge-wnbl-coup/

10 https://wnbl.basketball/blog/news/southside-flyers-vs-adelaide-lightning-tuesday-17-november-postponed/

11 https://dailysunexpress.com/talbot-upstages-cambage-to-claim-mvp/

12 https://wnbl.basketball/blog/news/revised-fixture-released-2020-chemist-warehouse-wnbl-season/

13 https://wnbl.basketball/blog/news/life-in-the-hub-with-steph-talbot/

14 https://wnbl.basketball/blog/news/life-in-the-hub-with-steph-talbot/

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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