Adelaide Lightning 2021/22 WNBL season preview

Adelaide Lightning have strengthened their 2021/22 roster with the addition of three players that played in the WNBA earlier this year – Australian Opal Alanna Smith and American import duo Kiana Williams and Kylie Shook.

Four of Adelaide Lightning’s five leading scorers from 2020 have returned for the 2021/22 season – 2020 WNBL Most Valuable Player (MVP) and Defensive Player of the Year Steph Talbot, Abbey Wehrung, Chelsea Brook and Marena Whittle.

Steph Talbot playing defense for Adelaide Lightning against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 22 December 2019

Adelaide Lightning’s 2020 season is covered below before the club’s 2021/22 roster and a preview of the upcoming WNBL season is provided in more detail.

Adelaide Lightning 2020 season review

During the 2020 WNBL hub season played entirely in North Queensland each team was scheduled to play 14 games in the regular season across three locations, Townsville, Mackay and Cairns. Adelaide Lightning started well to have wins against the University of Canberra Capitals in overtime on 11 November, followed by a four point victory against the Perth Lynx in their first two games. Adelaide Lightning were scheduled to play their third game of the season on Tuesday 17 November against the Southside Flyers however on gameday it was announced that the game had been postponed due to COVID-19 issues.

An article published on wnbl.basketball on 17 November explained the reasons for the postponement and included the following paragraph:

“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.”1

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.”2

After completing their self quarantine period Adelaide won two of their next three games to have a record of four wins from five games. With short turn-arounds between games the 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.

Guard/forward Steph Talbot had an incredible 2020 season, excelling at both ends of the court to become the first player in WNBL history to win the league’s Most Valuable Player Award and Defensive Player of the Year Awards in the same season and the fifth person to win both awards during their career. During 2020 Talbot played all 13 games in her first season as Adelaide Lightning captain and averaged 18.2 point, 9.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.

Adelaide’s starters for the 2020 season, Alex Wilson and Abby Wehrung in the backcourt along with  Talbot, Marena Whittle and Chelsea Brook in the frontcourt each averaged more than 8.5 points and 23.0 minutes court-time per game. Another five players played at least 10 of Adelaide Lightning’s 13 games and averaged more than 7.0 minutes court-time a game with players in this category being Louella Tomlinson, Taylor Ortlepp, Ella Batish, Carlie Smith and Brooke Basham.

Adelaide Lightning 2021/22 roster

Returning: Steph Talbot, Abbey Wehrung, Chelsea Brook, Marena Whittle, Taylor Ortlepp, Brooke Basham, Ella Batish

Arrivals:  Alanna Smith (Phoenix Mercury – WNBA), Kiana Williams (Seattle Storm – WNBA), Kylee Shook (New York Liberty – WNBA), Sam Simons (Forestville Eagles – NBL1 Central), Taylah Brazel (Sturt Sabres – NBL1 Central) Jasmin Fejo (West Adelaide Bearcats  – NBL1 Central)

Departed:  Allex Wilson, Louella Tomlinson (retired), Carlie Smith, Morgan Yaeger (Sydney Uni Flames), Aimee Brett

Predicted Starters              Position                     Date of birth

Kiana Williams                        Guard                          09/04/1999

Abbey Wehrung                      Guard                          28/12/1995

Steph Talbot                            Guard/Forward           15/06/1994

Alanna Smith                           Forward                      10/09/1996

Kylee Shook                             Forward/Centre           01/03/1998

Bench

Taylor Ortlepp                         Guard                            22/06/1997

Brooke Basham                       Guard                            16/12/1997        

Tayla Brazel                            Guard                              09/04/2004

Jasmin Fejo                             Guard                             03/03/2000

Marena Whittle                      Guard/Forward               28/01/1994

Sam Simons                            Guard/Forward              31/12/2000

Chelsea Brook                         Forward                          29/07/1998

Ella Batish                                Forward                          17/03/1999

Head Coach: Chris Lucas is Adelaide Lightning’s head coach for the ninth season in 2021/22, having coached the club in two stints. Lucas coached Adelaide for three seasons from 2004/05 to 2006/07 with the club making the finals in all three seasons during his first stint. Lucas coached Townsville Fire for five seasons from 2011/12 to 2015/16, Townsville made the finals in all five seasons and the Grand Final in the last four seasons, finishing runners-up in 2012/13 and 2013/14 before winning back to back WNBL Championships in 2014/15 and 2015/16. Lucas commenced his second stint as  Adelaide’s head coach in 2016/17, he is heading into a sixth consecutive season as the Lightning’s head coach in 2021/22, Adelaide made the Grand Final in 2018/19. Lucas has also been an assistant coach of the Australian Opals since 2018.

Chris Lucas instructing Adelaide Lightning players at a time-out during the game against the Dandenong Rangers at the State Basketball Centre on 25 November 2017, current player Brook is standing behind Lucas.

Preview of Adelaide Lightning’s 2021/22 WNBL season

Seven of the 10 players from Adelaide’s 2020 roster that played at least 10 games and averaged more than 7.5 minutes per game have returned to the club in 2021/22, a quartet of starters in Talbot, Wehrung, Brook and Whittle along with two guards who played off the bench –  Taylor Ortlepp and Brooke Basham along with forward/centre Ella Batish.

The most notable departure for Adelaide is Alex Wilson who was a starter in 2020 and ranked equal second (along with Wehrung) for the Lightning in scoring during 2020 with 11.3 points per game, led the team for assists and minutes played per game and ranked third for rebounds. Morgan Yaeger has joined the Sydney Uni Flames and Louella Tomlinson who led the Lightning for blocks in 2020 and ranked fifth for rebounds has retired. Other departures from the 2020 roster are Carlie Smith and Aimee Brett.

During the 2020 WNBL season Adelaide’s five starters all averaged more than 8.5 points per game, however the sixth ranked player averaged less than four points per game. The recruitment of three players that played in the WNBA earlier this year in Australian Opal Alanna Smith and American import duo Kiana Williams and Kylee Shook together with the return of Talbot, Wehrung, Brook and Whittle for 2021/22 results in the Lightning improving both their starting line-up and their depth. The likely starting line-up for Adelaide in 2021/22 is comprised of four players that played in the WNBA during the 2021/22 season Williams, Talbot, Smith and Shook along with guard Wehrung who represented the Australian Opals at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup.  

Adelaide Lightning haven’t recruited any players that played for rival WNBL teams during the 2020 season and to complete their roster recruited a trio of South Australians under 22 years of age that played in NBL1 Central during the 2021 season – Sam Simons, Jasmin Fejo and Tyla Brazel.

The basketball career to date for the 13 players on the Adelaide Lightning roster for the 2021/22 WNBL season are covered below.

Steph Talbot was born in Katherine, Northern Territory and after moving to South Australia at a young age had a decorated junior career that resulted in her receiving a scholarship with the Australian Institute of Sport where she spent some time with 2020 Adelaide Lightning teammates in Alex Wilson and Abbey Wehrung.

After playing four games in her debut WNBL season in 2011/12 with Adelaide Lightning Talbot won the league’s Betty Watson Rookie of the Year Award in 2012/13. Guard/forward Talbot is a fixture in the Australian Opals team and has been a starter at several 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.

Steph Talbot during the warm-up for the Australian Opals opening game of the 2018 Commonwealth Games against Mozambique at the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre on 6 April 2018

In 2014 Talbot at 19 years of age was selected by Phoenix Mercury in the 2014 WNBA draft. Talbot further developed her game playing for the Canberra Capitals in the WNBL in 2014/15 and 2015/16 and played for ZS PWSZ Gorzow Wielkopski in Poland during 2016/17. Talbot made her WNBA debut with Phoenix in 2017 and has played 128 regular season games including 50 as starter, having played for Phoenix Mercury in 2017 and 2018, Minnesota Lynx in 2019 and Seattle Storm in 2021. During her four season WNBA career Talbot has averaged 4.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 16.9 minutes court-time per game. Playing for Seattle in 2021 Talbot set WNBA career highs for points and rebounds per game and equalled her career-high for assists set in 2017.

During a phenomenal 2020 WNBL season with Adelaide Talbot set new career highs for points and rebounds, ranked third in the league for scoring, rebounds and steals per game and eighth for minutes played per game. Talbot was named in the All-WNBL First team and won the Suzy Batkovic medal as the WNBL’s Most Valuable Player, becoming the third Lightning player of all-time to win the award – joining Rachel Sporn (1996 and 1997) and the woman the medal is now named after – Suzy Batkovic (2011/12 and 2012/13). In 2019/20 Talbot was selected in the All-WNBL second team and is one of only three players to be named in an All-WNBL team in both 2019/20 and 2020 along with Melbourne Boomers forward/centre Cayla George and Katie Ebzery who earnt the honour as a guard with the Perth Lynx and announced her retirement in early October.

Steph Talbot playing for Adelaide Lightning against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 22 December 2019

On Player Profiles: Chelsea Brook, Adelaide Lightning, episode 1, Brook commented on Lightning teammate Talbot “She won the (WNBL) MVP, she plays WNBA, she is in the Olympics but you could walk down the street and she is like the most down to earth, I would even say real country girl, like we go camping, she is super humble, super down to earth and she brings that fire on the court and has the grunt and really goes after it but off the court is one of the nicest people I have ever met.”

Talbot has played 147 WNBL games comprised of 80 for Adelaide Lightning, 46 for Canberra Capitals and 21 for Melbourne Boomers is entering her ninth WNBL season overall in 2021/22 and will be playing her sixth season with Adelaide, her third consecutive season after playing her first three seasons with the Lightning from 2011/12 to 2013/14. As per the current fixture Adelaide’s third game of the season which is likely to be Talbot’s 150th game is at home against the Melbourne Boomers on 30 December.   

Steph Talbot playing for Melbourne Boomers against Adelaide Lightning at the State Basketball Centre on 27 January 2019

At 188 centimetres tall and with a wide-ranging skill-set Talbot is one of the most versatile players in the WNBL and will be a strong contender to win back to back MVP awards, however she is likely to face stronger competition for votes this season from her teammates including fellow Opal Alanna Smith.

In June 2020 Alanna Smith signed with Adelaide Lightning for the 2020 WNBL season, however due to an ankle injury suffered late in the 2020 WNBA season Smith was ruled out for the 2020 WNBL season. In a video interview with WNBL Media for the WNBL Fast Break Series earlier this week Smith commented “I can’t believe this is my debut (WNBL) season to be honest. I’ve watched a lot of WNBL throughout my career, I remember training with WNBL teams when I was younger in my juniors as well so to finally play in Australia in one of the best leagues in the world is really exciting and I’m super pumped to get out there.”

Alanna is from a talented basketball family, her dad Darren Smith played 201 games from 1994 to 2002/03 and her uncle, Darren’s twin brother Jason played 408 NBL games from 1995 to 2008/09, represented Australia at the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Olympic Games and was selected in the All-NBL First team twice (2001 and 2005).

Despite the strong basketball background it wasn’t until Smith was a teenager that she got into basketball seriously, playing for the Nunawading Spectres. Smith progressed through the ranks quickly and at junior level represented Australia at several tournaments including the 2015 FIBA Under 19 World Championships where the Australian Gems won the bronze medal and forward Smith was named in the Tournament All-Star five, averaging 12.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per game. At senior level Smith has represented the Australian Opals at several tournaments including the past two major championships – the 2018 World Cup in Spain and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Smith has played off the bench for the Opals and in the 2018 World Cup final against the USA scored an equal team-high 10 points.

During four seasons at Stanford University in California, USA Smith played 143 games including 74 starts – starting every game in her junior and senior seasons, and averaged 11.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. At the end of a four season college career Smith ranked 10th on Stanford’s all-time list for career points (1,707) and second for blocks (225). In her profile on WNBA.com it comments that Smith “Joined Elena Delle Donne, Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart as the only players in the past 20 years to finish college careers with totals of at least 1,600 points, 150 three-pointers and 200 blocks.”3

After being selected at pick 8 overall at the 2019 WNBA draft by the Phoenix Mercury Smith has played three seasons for the Mercury where her coach has been fellow Australian Sandy Brondello who is also the coach of the Australian Opals. Phoenix Mercury made it to the WNBA Finals Smith was part of the Smith has played 55 regular season WNBA games, averaging 2.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 9.9 minutes per game.

Since graduating from Stanford Smith has predominantly played off the bench in the WNBA for Phoenix Mercury or at international tournaments for the Australian Opals. One exception is playing for Incheon S-Birds as a starter in the Korean league in 2019/20 when Smith averaged 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. With the Adelaide Lightning in 2021/22 Australian Opal Smith will have the opportunity to play a consistent role as a starting forward and get some continuity in her basketball.

American import guard Kiana Williams has been a teammate of Adelaide’s two Australian Opals representatives – Talbot and Smith previously. Williams and Smith were College teammates at Stanford in Williams Freshman 2017/18 and Sophomore 2018/19 seasons whilst Williams and Talbot were teammates at WNBA club Seattle Storm for most of the 2021 season.

In four seasons at Stanford Williams played 137 games including 128 as a starter and averaged 13.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.1 steals and 31.6 minutes per game. Williams was part of the Stanford team that won the women’s 2021 NCAA Championship and holds the all-time record at Stanford for most three pointers made with 311.

At the 2021 WNBA Draft the Seattle Storm selected Williams with pick 18. Seattle had a deep guard rotation including the WNBA’s all-time assist leader and five time All-WNBA first team member Sue Bird, three-time WNBA All-Star Jewel Loyd, Jordin Canada and Epiphanny Price which meant that it was going to be difficult for Williams to make the 12 player roster for season opening however Williams had a positive outlook. In late April 2021 Williams told seattletimes.com “I felt like I got drafted in the perfect situation for me. I have the opportunity to learn from Sue Bird, one of the greatest point guards ever to play the game. And she’s been nothing but a leader and being vocal and helping me and Jordin as well. They were saying it’s a point guard’s draft and I felt like I won because I’m in the best situation.”4

Williams made it on to Seattle’s roster for the start of the 2021 WNBA season and made her WNBA debut for Seattle on 15 May at home against the Las Vegas Aces, her Storm teammates included two Australians that are playing in the WNBL this season, Adelaide teammate Steph Talbot and Melbourne Boomers forward/centre Ezi Magbegor.

During the 2021 WNBA season Williams played a total of 10 games for Seattle, averaging 3.5 minutes court-time per game before being cut late in the season. Whilst Williams had limited playing time at Seattle being able to train alongside and learn from Seattle guards Bird, Loyd, Canada and Price was an invaluable experience. With the ability to play as a point guard or a shooting guard 22 year old Williams provides flexibility for the Adelaide Lightning and will be a threat from the perimeter.  

On 16 November Adelaide Lightning announced that they had signed American import centre Kylee Shook, completing their main roster. Shook played four seasons of College basketball with Louisville Cardinals from 2016/17 to 2019/20, in her 2019/20 senior year Shook was named the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Defensive Player of the Year and was one of four finalists in the Women’s Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award. Shook’s 223 blocks set a new All-time career record at Louisville, overtaking Angel McCoughtry (162).

New York Liberty selected Shook with pick 13 at the 2020 WNBA Draft. Shook played 20 games in her 2020 Rookie season. Shook played 30 games for New York Liberty in 2021 including 19 as a starter, averaging 5.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 0.5 blocked shots and 18.9 minutes per game to rank equal second at the Liberty for blocked shots and fifth for rebounds.

In the last third of the 2021 WNBA season Shook was very effective from long range, making 11 of 15 three-point attempts in the last 11 games of the season from July 9 onwards at a phenomenal accuracy of 79.3%. Power forward/centre Shook enhances an already strong Lightning frontcourt defense which includes 2020 WNBL Defensive Player of the Year and fellow WNBA player Talbot.

Guard Abbey Wehrung will be playing her second consecutive season with Adelaide Lightning and eighth WNBL season overall in 2021/22, having played 80 games for the University of Canberra Capitals from 2014/15 to 2017/18 followed by 38 games for the Bendigo Spirit in 2018/19 and 2019/20.

Abbey Wehrung in possession of the ball playing for the Bendigo Spirit against the Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 4 November 2018

Throughout her basketball career Wehrung has represented Australia at several levels including the Under 17 World Championships in 2012, was part of the Australian gold medal winning team at the 2017 World University games and most recently represented the senior Australian Women’s team, the Opals at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup in Jordan where Australia won the bronze medal.  

Wehrung has made at least 25 three-pointers in each of the past five seasons from 2016/17 to the condensed 2020 hub season and in four of these seasons had an exceptional accuracy of at least 40.0%. In 2020 Wehrung made 24 of 59 three-pointers at an accuracy of 40.7% to be equal leader at Adelaide for three-pointers made per game along with Wilson.

Abbey Wehrung in action playing for the Bendigo Spirit against the Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 4 November 2018

In all seven WNBL seasons Wehrung has increased her scoring per game, first averaging more than 8.0 points per game in 2016/17 (8.2 ppg) with the Capitals and has steadily increased since then to average 11.3 points per game in 2020 for Adelaide, ranking equal second for scoring as well as third for assists and minutes played. Wehrung played 12 of a possible 13 games for Adelaide in 2020 and at 25 years of age has played a total of 130 WNBL games, ranked second on the Lightning’s 2021/22 roster behind the captain, Steph Talbot.

Chelsea Brook grew up in Truro, a South Australian country town with a population of approximately 400 people, located 80 kilometres northeast of Adelaide. Brook commenced her junior career playing for the Truro Takers and continued playing basketball in the Barossa Valley Association until she was 18 years old and started her WNBL career with the Adelaide Lightning. Late in her junior career Brook also played District basketball with Norwood Flames.

Chelsea Brook shooting a free-throw during the warm-up for Adelaide Lightning’s game against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 27 January 2019

At under-age level Brook represented South Australia Country and in the Under 20’s played for South Australia with the country and metro regions unifying to form one team. Brook was part of the Australian gold medal winning team at the 2017 World University games alongside current Adelaide Lightning teammate Wehrung. Playing for Sturt at senior level in the South Australian Premier League (now NBL1 Central) in 2018 Brook at just 19 years of age averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds per game and was recognised for her brilliant season by winning the Hall’s Medal as the league’s Most Valuable Player and receiving the Merv Harris Medal as the highest vote getter in the Halls Medal under 21 years of age.

Reflecting on her WNBL career and the influence Adelaide Lightning coach Chris Lucas has had on her Brook commented earlier this month in Player Profiles: Chelsea Brook, Adelaide Lightning, episode 1 “This is my sixth (WNBL) year, I was 17, I was super shy, I was a bit up in the air about where I wanted to go in basketball, I was content with where I had gotten. I remember when he came out to one of our premier league games and he messaged me and wanted to have a chat. He was super impressed with my play and I was a bit gobsmacked, I was like ‘Oh what’. I am just this 17 year girl that is shy, didn’t want the ball too much. After that initial conversation it sort of sparked something in me that made me be like ‘Oh I can really do this, I could actually make a career out of this’. For six years he has stuck by me. He has been a big part of my basketball journey and probably the sole reason I am where I am today. He has pushed me and really believed in me, I don’t think I would have still been playing basketball if it wasn’t for him.”

Chelsea Brook playing for Adelaide Lightning against Dandenong Rangers at the State Basketball Centre on 25 November 2017

Power forward Brook made her WNBL debut in 2016/17 for the Adelaide Lightning and at 23 years of age will be playing her sixth consecutive season with the Lightning in 2021/22. After playing limited game-time in her first three WNBL seasons with the Lightning Brook has played a more prominent role over the past two seasons and in 2020 averaged 9.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 26.8 minutes court-time per game for the Lightning. In 2020 Brook ranked fourth at Adelaide in scoring rebounds and minutes played, second for field goal accuracy and equal second for blocked shots.

Victorian guard/forward Marena Whittle was impacted by the border restrictions in place due to COVID-19 and was only able to cross the border from Victoria to join her Adelaide Lightning teammates last week. Whittle has been on a WNBL roster for every season since 2017/18 and is playing her second consecutive season with Adelaide, having been a starter in 2020.

Whittle commenced her junior career with the Nunawading Spectres in metropolitan Melbourne and later on represented the Spectres at State League level, earning SEABL (now NBL1 South) All-Star five selection with Nunawading in both 2017 and 2018.

 In a four season college career with North Dakota State University from 2012/13 to 2015/16 Whittle averaged 11.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 0.8 blocked shots per game. Whittle led the Summit League with 10.3 rebounds per game in her senior season in 2015/16 and was named in the All-Summit League First Team.

For the 2017/18 WNBL season Whittle was on Townsville’s roster but due to injury was unable to play a game during the season. On 13 October 2018 Whittle made her WNBL debut for the Bendigo Spirit against the Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre and excelled, scoring a team-high 21 points.

Marena Whittle dribbling the basketball on WNBL debut for the Bendigo Spirit against the Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 13 October 2018

From April 2018 onwards Whittle has been very successful on the 3×3 circuit, in a 13 month period from April 2018 to April 2019 Marena represented Spectres i-Athletic in six tournaments with the team winning four tournaments including the first two NBL Pro Hustle Events, and finished on the podium in the other two events. During May 2019 Whittle represented Australia in 3×3 basketball in the FIBA 3×3 World Cup Qualifier 2019 tournament which Australia won, and since then has won several 3×3 tournaments on the Australian domestic circuit.

After not playing a game in 2017/18 due to injury Whittle has played 55 consecutive WNBL games, having represented Bendigo Spirit in 2018/19, Perth Lynx in 2019/20 and Adelaide Lightning in 2020. In all three seasons Whittle averaged at least 7.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. Whittle ranked second at Adelaide in 2020 for rebounding (5.3 rpg) and steals (1.2 spg), fifth for scoring and minutes played and led the Lightning with 1.9 offensive rebounds per game.

Marena Whittle shooting a free-throw for the Bendigo Spirit against the Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 13 October 2018

Adelaide Lightning’s squad for the 2021/22 WNBL season includes seven South Australians – Talbot, Brook, Simons, Ortlepp, Brazel, Fejo and Basham. On signing with the Adelaide Lightning Simons told Basketball SA in a video My Basketball Pathway – Sam Simons “It was a really cool thing to be signed with the Lightning because I am an Adelaide girl, I get to stay here and play with my home team that I grew up watching.” On Player Profiles: Taylor Ortlepp, Adelaide Lightning, episode 2 Ortlepp commented “It has always been a big goal of mine ever since playing as a little girl, you are always inspired by the Adelaide Lightning team and I would attend their camps all the time. To be able to actually represent Adelaide through the Adelaide Lightning is huge and I am really, really proud to be able to be involved in the program.”

Taylor Ortlepp grew up in Country South Australia before moving to Adelaide in the Under 16’s where she played for Norwood Flames and later represented the club’s premier league side along with current Adelaide teammate Brook. Ortlepp was the captain of the South Australian team that won a silver medal at the 2016 under 20 National Championships and good friend Brook was again a teammate.

During the 2015/16 WNBL season Ortlepp was a development player with Adelaide Lightning. From 2016/17 to 2019/20 Taylor played four seasons of College basketball at Boston College alongside fellow Australian Georgia Pineau. Ortlepp played 101 games for Boston College including 78 starts, averaging 7.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 steals per game.

Ortlepp made 12 three-pointers in 2020 to be ranked fourth at Adelaide, only one three-pointer behind third ranked Talbot. On Player Profiles: Taylor Ortlepp, Adelaide Lightning, episode 2, Ortlepp commented on her own game “I like to pride myself on defense, coming on making an impact defensively, that also helps me flow into offense.”

During the 2021 NBL1 Central season Ortlepp was able to play predominantly as a point guard in 22 games for North Adelaide and flourished, averaging 19.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game. In the Grand Final Ortlepp scored a game-high 28 points took six rebounds and made four assists for North Adelaide Rockets in a 77-87 loss to Southern Tigers.

After Smith was ruled out for the 2020 WNBL season with an ankle injury Adelaide Lightning signed forward/centre Ella Batish in late October 2020, just weeks before the hub season commenced. On joining the Lightning Victorian Batish told WNBL Media “I feel lucky and privileged to get this opportunity to get the call to play considering the year that it has been. I’m here to play and do what I do which is be a defensive presence and get boards for the team.”5 During the 2020 WNBL season Batish played 10 games for Adelaide and ranked seventh at the club for minutes per game and eighth for scoring.

In the 2019 NBL1 South season Batish played for Sandringham Sabres before joining the Frankston Blues. Due to COVID-19 the 2020 NBL1 South season was cancelled. Batish played 15 games for Frankston in the 2021 NBL1 South season and in both the 2019 and 2021 seasons averaged more than 8.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game.

At 20 years of age South Australian guard/forward Sam Simons is playing her debut WNBL season with the Adelaide Lightning in 2021/22. Sam is from a talented basketball family, dad Andy Simons played in the NBL and mum Sharon Simons (nee Washington) played in the WNBL.

Sam played junior basketball with the Forestville Eagles and went on to represent Australia at junior level, including being a part of the Australian Sapphires team that won a gold medal at the 2016 Under-17 FIBA World Championships held in Zaragoza, Spain.

Simons played college basketball at St Mary’s in 2018/19 and 2019/20 before opting out of the 2020/21 season due to concerns about COVID-19. In 64 games for St Mary’s Simons averaged 13.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.

Returning to junior club Forestville Eagles Simons impressed in 19 games at senior level during the 2021 NBL1 Central season, averaging 21.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. Simon’s outstanding 2021 NBL1 Central season was recognised with selection in the 2021 NBL1 Central All-Star five and Sam also won the Merv Harris Medal as the best female player under 23.

Playing in South Australia’s premier league Brooke Basham increased her scoring output from 10.2 points per game in 2017 to 16.7 points per game in 2019 playing for the Eastern Mavericks. During the 2020 Adelaide Basketball Challenge Basham averaged 21.1 points per game.

On 10 November 2020 Adelaide Lightning announced on 10 November 2020 that they had completed their roster for the 2020 WNBL season by signing Basham as a development player. On joining the Lightning Basham told WNBL Media “It’s a dream come true for sure, I have been wanting it forever, with no imports there definitely is opportunities for rookies like myself to see game time during this season. It’s given me confidence and considering the girls haven’t played for a couple of months it has also given me the confidence to go for it. It was officially a month and a half since I knew I was on the radar where I caught up with Chris (Lucas) for a coffee and we chatted about a position. With the short season anyone can get injured and I think that flexibility across different roles is going to be one of my advantages.”6

Behind Wehrung, Wilson and Ortlepp in the guard rotation Basham averaged 7.8 minutes court-time in 11 games for Adelaide Lightning in 2020. Wilson and Ortlepp both missed the Round 3 game against Southside Flyers on 30 November, Basham made the most of the increased playing time in this game to score 13 points, make all three shots from behind the arc and took five rebounds. Basham made five of nine three-pointers for the season to have a superb accuracy of 55.6%. 

Playing 14 games in NBL1 Central for Forestville Eagles during the 2021 NBL1 Central season 23 year old Basham averaged 18.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. South Australian guard Basham returns to the Lightning for her second WNBL season in 2021/22.

South Australian guard Tayla Brazel impressed at the under 18 National Championships earlier this year, averaging 22.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 3.0 steals per game. On her performance at the National Championships Brazel told WNBL Media “I was really pleased with my performance at the Under 18 Championships and I guess it was an opportunity for Chris Lucas to have a look at me as a potential player. During that tournament I wanted to show all the hard work I’d put in particularly the last few years in my development.”7 

Adelaide Lightning announced in June that they had signed Brazel for the 2021/22 WNBL season. At 17 years of age (turns 18 in April 2022) Brazel is the youngest member of the Adelaide Lightning squad. During the 2021 NBL1 Central season Brazel played 13 games for Sturt Sabres, averaging 12.0 points and 16 minutes 12 seconds court-time per game, having a field goal accuracy of 45.3%

Jasmin Fejo was a development player for Adelaide Lightning in 2019/20 and was signed by the Lightning for the 2020 season. In late June 2020 Fejo told WNBL Media about her family heritage “My father’s family is from Darwin so my Aboriginal heritage is Larrakia and my Indigenous culture is especially important to me because it is part of who I am.” Fejo also commented on her game style “I can get up in the lanes of the offense team, also using my speed and court supervision to blow past players and bring my teammates into the game. I would describe my playing style as aggressive, not selfish, and hard-working so I am always willing to put my body on the line for the team.”8 

Playing for the West Adelaide Bearcats in the South Australian Premier League in 2019 Fejo played 19 games and averaged 15.6 points and 2.5 assists per game to win the Merv Harris Medal for being the best young player and was selected in the league’s All-Star five.

Fejo had a son Brooklyn and missed the 2020 hub WNBL season. Guard Fejo played 14 games for West Adelaide Bearcats during the 2021 NBL1 Central season and averaged 13.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 25 minutes and 10 seconds court-time per game. Throughout the season Fejo’s match conditioning and game-time increased. Fejo scored at least 24 points in a game twice including a season high 27 points against South Adelaide Panthers on 10 July and also took nine rebounds to fall one rebound short of recording a double-double. In September 2021 Adelaide Lightning announced that they had signed 21 year old Fejo for the 2021/22 WNBL season.

Recent WNBL seasons excluding the 2020 hub season have commenced in October. Due to COVID-19 and border restriction issues the start of the season was delayed until early December and travel between states has been minimised early in the 2021/22 WNBL season. The fixture was released on 26 October, the WNBL’s Executive General Manager, Paul Maley commented “The priority this season is for the players to play in front of fans, it’s imperative for our Clubs and the League that we have a home and away season. The delay to the season opener will allow us to have crowds at the games which is a great win for the fans.”9 The 2021/22 WNBL season will be broadcast on television by free to air network ABC, Fox Sports and Kayo.

When the fixture was released for the 2021/22 WNBL season Adelaide Lightning were scheduled to play two away games against the Perth Lynx in Round 1, however due to border restrictions and quarantine requirements Perth Lynx wont commence their season until January when they will face a long stint on the road.

As a result of the updated fixture Adelaide Lightning now commence the 2021/22 WNBL season with a home game at the Lights Community and Sport Centre in Lightsville against Townsville Fire on Friday 11 December and only play three games in December. Over a 16 round regular season each WNBL club will play 21 games during 2021/22.

Although Adelaide Lightning are able to participate in a WNBL season with home games and road games in 2021/22 border restrictions in place due to COVID-19 have impacted the club’s pre-season which meant that Whittle wasn’t able to enter South Australia until late in the pre-season and four players – Talbot, Smith, Shook and Williams had to quarantine for two weeks.

On 30 November, 2021 Talbot told abc.net.au “Our second string of players have really had a chance to build and build a cohesion. I think that’s going to be good for us because if they can be good off the bench we’re going to have really good depth. If we can build some chemistry we definitely have some potential to make finals and then hopefully go all the way.”10

Adelaide Lightning are the only WNBL club that have four of their starters from 2020 suiting up again this season. Adelaide have seven players ranked in the top 10 for minutes per game played at the club last season return to the club in 2021/22 which also ranks first in the WNBL. This familiarity among the playing group will prove valuable for team camaraderie and implementing the game plan, especially given the disrupted pre-season with several players only able to join training late in the pre-season.

The Lightning finished in sixth position in 2020 four games outside the finals and needed to bolster their squad to bridge the gap to the 2020 finalists. Adding a trio of players in Smith, Williams and Shook who played in the WNBA in 2021 is a coup for Adelaide. It is beneficial that Adelaide captain Talbot has been teammates with Williams at Seattle Storm earlier this year and with Smith playing for the Australian Opals.

In the off-season Adelaide Lightning were also able to recruit talented young South Australians in 18 year-old guard Tayla Brazel and a duo under 22 years of age in Fejo and Simons that have already been selected in a South Australian State League All-Star five (SA Premier League in 2019 for Fejo and NBL1 Central in 2021 for Simons) and won the Merv Harris Medal for being the best young player in the league.

Five of the six Lightning players that made at least 11 three-pointers during the 2020 season will suit up for the Lightning in 2021/22 – Wehrung (24 three-pointers made), Talbot (13), Brook (12), Ortlepp (12) and Whittle (11). Adelaide were one of only two teams in 2020 along with Townsville Fire that had at least six players make more than nine three-pointers for the season. In the off-season Adelaide Lightning have further strengthened their three-point shooting by recruiting a duo of excellent three-point shooters in Williams and Smith who were teammates at Stanford and have WNBA experience. Power forward/centre Kylee Shook was also effective from the perimeter late in the 2021 WNBA season.  

With the addition of Smith, Williams and Shook Adelaide Lightning are better placed to challenge for a finals berth in 2021/22 than they were last season, the increased depth means that the Lightning will also be able to gain a greater contribution from their bench.

Adelaide Lightning captain Steph Talbot has been one of the most versatile and best players in the WNBL over the past two seasons as highlighted by winning the Suzy Batkovic Medal and being named the Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year 2020. We know that we will get an outstanding level of performance from Talbot during the 2021/22 WNBL season. Adelaide are set to improve in 2021/22 but how far the Lightning progress in the 2021/22 WNBL season will be determined by team chemistry, the performance of recruits and the improvement from returning players. 

Articles and photographs by Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

References

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

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

3 https://www.wnba.com/player/alanna-smith/

4 https://www.seattletimes.com/sports/storm/stanford-standout-kiana-williams-is-a-longshot-to-make-the-storms-roster-but-shes-excited-for-the-chance-to-prove-she-belongs/

5 https://wnbl.basketball/adelaide/news/ella-batish-set-to-make-her-mark-in-the-wnbl/

6 https://wnbl.basketball/adelaide/news/basham-ready-to-develop-her-game/

7 https://wnbl.basketball/adelaide/news/tayla-made-south-australian-signed/

8 https://wnbl.basketball/adelaide/news/lightning-strikes-gold-with-jasmin-fejo/

9 https://wnbl.basketball/adelaide/news/its-coming-home-the-wnbl-21-22-season-set-to-reunite-with-fans/

10 https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-11-30/adelaide-lightning-key-players-missing-wnbl-season/100661090

Milestones and Misses

Milestones and Misses publishes articles to celebrate the achievements of sportspeople, mainly in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) and Australian Rules Football (AFL and AFLW). 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 having 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 sportspeople have had during their career.

A link to Milestones and Misses homepage is below:

https://milestonesandmisses.com/

The Milestones and Misses website was set up in December 2015. During 2020 and 2021 articles have been published on the following sportspeople:

WNBL

Lindsay Allen

Tessa Lavey

Ezi Magbegor

Maddison Rocci

Steph Talbot

Zitina Aokuso

Leilani Mitchell

Cayla George

Maddie Garrick

Sara Blicavs

Bec Cole

NBL

Nathan Sobey

AFL

Sam Walsh

Jack Steele

Luke Jackson

Harry McKay

Seb Ross

Nicky Winmar

Jayden Short

Clayton Oliver

Lenny Hayes

Tim Membrey

Rowan Marshall

AFLW

Georgia Patrikios

Alyce Parker

Tyla Hanks

Tyanna Smith

Tarni White

Caitlin Greiser

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s