Two-time All-WNBL team member Bec Cole’s resilient journey to 200 WNBL games

Southside Flyers shooting guard Bec Cole in WNBL game number 200 on Thursday night 23 December 2021 displayed an abundance of persistence, skill and determination to play a pivotal role in the Flyers overcoming an 18 point deficit late in the second quarter to defeat Townsville Fire by five points, 86-81. In the Round 4 home game at Dandenong Stadium Cole shot the ball at a superb 58% from the field, scored a game-high 24 points, made three assists, two steals and blocked two shots.

After a positional change from point guard to shooting guard for the 2018/19 season Cole has been one of the most consistent players in the WNBL, averaging over 15.0 points per game in all three completed seasons from 2018/19 to 2020 and is above that mark again early in the 2021/22 season for the Southside Flyers. Cole was recognised for her brilliant form with selection in the 2018/19 All-WNBL first team and the 2019/20 All-WNBL second team.

After making her WNBL debut for the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) late in the 2009/10 season as a 17 year-old Cole impressed with her playing ability and leadership which resulted in her being appointed AIS captain for the 2011/12 WNBL season and captaining the Australian Gems at the 2011 FIBA Under 19 World Championships where she ranked second overall at the tournament for assists and second for Australia in scoring.

It has been far from a linear progression for Cole to go from outstanding junior to develop into one of the WNBL’s most consistent players and rank in the league’s top 10 for points per game in three consecutive seasons from 2018/19 to 2020.

At 23 years of age Bec had already had knee reconstructions on both knees which led to concerns about her basketball future. Cole injured her right knee during an AIS training session in October 2011 and her left knee in May 2015 playing for Nunawading in the SEABL, following a then career-best 2014/15 WNBL season averaging 11.8 points per game playing for the Melbourne Boomers.

After missing the entire 2015/16 WNBL season Bec played a total of 48 games for the Melbourne Boomers during the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons. Playing 3×3 basketball from 2017 onwards and a positional move from point guard to shooting guard were key factors in Bec’s outstanding form in the 2018/19 season for the Jayco Rangers and from 2019/20 to 2021/22 for the Southside Flyers. During this time Cole used her quick hands, reading of the play and speed to full effect, improved her three-point shot and has been an accurate shooter. Bec has regularly played 3×3 basketball for the Australian national team and has contributed to her country winning gold medals at several international tournaments including the 2019 Asia Cup where Cole was named the Most Valuable Player.

Bec Cole playing for the Southside Flyers against the Melbourne Boomers at Melbourne Sports Centre Parkville on 11 December, 2021

Cole has been extremely durable from 2016/17 to the current 2021/22 season, playing 112 of a possible 114 games in the past five and a bit WNBL seasons. In episode 1 of the Rangers Podcast in October 2018 Cole commented “In the last couple of years I have found something that I really enjoy, yeah going into the gym and working on my whole body is what makes me stay on the floor and not get injured. I want to be able to play on the court as long as possible, so anything I can do to keep playing until my body says no, I will be doing that.”

29 year old Cole’s 200 WNBL games is comprised of 27 games for the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) from 2009/10 to 2011/12, 108 games for the Melbourne Boomers from 2012/13 to 2017/18, 21 games for the Dandenong Rangers in 2018/19 and 44 games for the Southside Flyers from 2019/20 to 2021/22.   

 

Bec Cole with Southside Flyers head coach Cheryl Chambers as Cole is recognised for reaching 200 WNBL games, at Dandenong Stadium on 23 December 2021

Bec’s inspirational journey to reach 200 WNBL games is covered in more detail below.

Junior career and WNBL debut with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS)

Rebecca Cole was born on 19 March, 1992 in Mount Waverley, a Victorian suburb 16 kilometres south-east of Melbourne. Rebecca is the daughter of dad Gary and mum Ros and has two older sisters Jessica and Emma. Gary played 40 games for the Australian Socceroos between 1975 and 1984 as a striker, scoring 20 goals for his country including a then Australian record seven goals in an international match against Fiji on 14 August 1981. Gary excelled in the NSL and twice led the league for goals scored with 21 goals in 1980 and 16 goals in 1981, playing for Heidelberg Alexander in both seasons. After his playing career Gary has had a successful business career and held several off-field soccer roles, part-time coaching roles, full-time coaching roles and he was Melbourne Victory FC’s first director of Football, spending six years in this role from 2005 to 2011 with the Victory winning two A-League Championships during this time. Gary joined the Football Coaches Australia (FCA) Executive Committee in 2019, hosts The Football Coaching Life podcast and is a member of the  Football Australia Hall of Fame and Football Victoria Hall of Fame.

Rebecca started playing basketball at seven years of age, her junior association was the Nunawading Spectres. When Rebecca was growing up she represented Victoria in track and field, netball and basketball. In episode 2 of The Rangers Podcast in late 2018 Rebecca commented “I got to an age, I think it was 15 and I had to choose what one I wanted to take seriously because I did not have enough time in my life. I dropped track and field first because I just loved team sport so much. Between netball and basketball, I think basketball I just liked the physicality, and the fact you could play every position on the floor, you are able to go to an Olympics and you can play overseas, there just seemed to be more outlets as well through basketball.“ Bec’s events in track and field were 200 metres and 400 metres and she played as a centre in netball, which utilised her running ability.

Rebecca was a fixture for Victoria Metro basketball teams at under-age level. Cole was part of the Vic Metro team that won the Under 16 National Championship in July 2007 defeating NSW Country in the gold medal game 66-59.Vic Metro won the Under 18 National Championship in April 2011, defeating Vic Country 68-51 in the final with Cole scoring 20 points and taking five rebounds.

The Australian Gems side that Rebecca captained at the 2011 FIBA Under 19 World Championships in Chile in July finished fourth, losing the bronze medal game to Brazil 67-70. The Gems team included eight of Bec’s team-mates from the 2010/11 AIS WNBL team being Sara Blicavs, Maddie Garrick, Tayla Roberts, Carley Mijovic, Alex Bunton, Rebecca Allen, Nadeen Payne, and Kerryn Harrington with the three other members of the team being Aimie Clydesdale, Gretal Tippett and Ashleigh Karaitiana. Cole played all eight games for the Australian Gems, averaging 11.5 points, 6.0 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 30 minutes court-time per game. At the tournament Cole ranked second for Australia in scoring behind Roberts, first for steals and assists with 48 – 33 more than the second ranked Gem and sixth for rebounds. Overall at the 2011 FIBA Under 19 World Championships Cole ranked second for assists per game, equal 11th for steals and 13th for scoring. Cole was named the Australian Youth Female Player of the Year in 2011.

After playing three games in the WNBL for the AIS in 2009/10 Bec was outstanding in 2010/11, playing 22 games and averaging 8.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. On 16 January 2011 against the Sydney Flames Rebecca scored a then career high 20 points for the AIS.

Having been named AIS captain for the 2011/12 Bec averaged 9.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game in the first two games whilst shooting at 53% from the field. In an AIS training session in October 2011 Rebecca ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in her right knee and also tore her meniscus.

After Rebecca’s injury AIS head coach Phil Brown commented “Rebecca Cole is the heart and soul of this team, and to lose her for the season is devastating, both for her and for the side. She was the leader of the group on and off the floor. She is such a hard-working, talented young player, and is just a really positive influence on all the players.”1 During Bec’s recovery from the knee injuries she spent considerable time in the gym strengthening her body.

Career with the Boomers from 2012/13 to 2017/18

Cole signed with the Bulleen Boomers for the 2012/13 WNBL season with Boomers coach Tom Maher commenting “Rebecca has been on our radar for a number of years and we were delighted she signed with us upon her graduation from the AIS.”2

During 2012/13 Cole played 13 of Bulleen’s 24 games, in limited game-time she averaged 2.9 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. Cole’s knee caused her problem throughout the season which led to the decision to end her season early to have more surgery. On making this decision Rebecca commented to Fairfax Media journalist Roy Ward in early January 2014 “Last year it was not in good condition at all, my knee was always swollen so towards the end of the season I was like ‘let’s have a look at it again’. Playing basketball is something I love so I didn’t want an injury at 20 years old forcing my dream down the drain.”3 Later in the interview Rebecca commented to Roy on her relationship with her father Gary and the benefits of having a parent that has played elite level sport – in Gary’s case soccer in the NSL and for Australia. Rebecca said “We have a close relationship in general, but because he was a player he knows what it’s like to be in that position. If I was in a hole he would tell me to get my chin off the ground and get to it – he knows how to push me the right way.”4

Guy Molloy was appointed the Boomers head coach for the 2013/14 season. After being restricted to a total of only 15 WNBL games across the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons Cole was able to build momentum, increase her confidence and steadily improve over her next two WNBL seasons. In a Round 11 game against Adelaide at Adelaide Arena on 15 December 2013 Cole scored 17 points and made six steals. In 2013/14 Cole played a career-high 25 games for the Melbourne Boomers and averaged 7.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Cole ranked second for the Boomers and eighth in the WNBL for total steals during 2013/14, behind team-mate Bec Allen who led the league in this category.

The highlight of Cole’s 2014/15 season was in Round 12 when she was named the WNBL Player of the Week after scoring 20 points in a 96-66 victory against Adelaide at the State Basketball Centre, making six of her eight field goal attempts for an accuracy of 75%. During the 2014/15 season Cole played 22 games for the Melbourne Boomers and averaged 11.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.4 steals per game to set new career-highs in the first three categories for the seasons that she played at least five games.

In February 2015 Bec was recognised for her break-out 2014/15 WNBL season, being named in an extended 34 player Australian Opals squad from which the final 12 player team for the 2016 Rio Olympics would be selected.

In May 2015 playing for the Nunawading Spectres in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) Cole tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee and required a knee reconstruction for the second time in her career, this time on the opposite knee.

Bec was on the Melbourne Boomers roster for the 2015/16 season and it was hoped that she would be able to return from her knee injury during the season, however eventually she was ruled out for the entire season. Bec made her basketball return in the SEABL with Nunawading during the 2016 season.

After Cole made her basketball return for Nunawading in the SEABL she wrote an article for SBS.com.au titled ‘It’s a long way back to the top for Bec Cole’ , covering her knee injury and comeback. On the initial aftermath following her injury Bec wrote “I tore my left ACL on court. When it happened, I started screaming. Not because of the pain, but because I knew what the implications were. I had just finished at Opals camp and still had the World University Games to come and I felt like my dreams had just been crushed. The highest high shortly followed by the lowest low. I remember vividly my coach calling me that night and he was in shock. I was crying and he didn’t know what to say. And coaches always know what to say. He had seen all the hard work I’d put in and knew that that was me out of action for the next 12 months and uncertainty surrounded my future.

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

The healthier you are going in to surgery, the better you are coming out of it. So I was already ‘training’ by day 3…but this time I was training for surgery and not for Australia.”5

In early May 2016 the WNBL licenses of the Melbourne Boomers and Adelaide Lightning were in the hands of Basketball Australia, with private takeover proposals being made to Basketball Australia for each club. Later in May 2016 it was announced that the ownership of the Melbourne Boomers was being transferred to a new group including Tony Hallam, the Chairman of Etihad (now Marvel) Stadium. Australia’s greatest ever basketball player Lauren Jackson joined the club in an off-court executive role as Commercial Operations Manager. Bec was one of two players along with Maddie Garrick that represented the club at the announcement in their Melbourne Boomers singlets, alongside key Boomers staff members Guy Molloy, General Manager Justin Nelson and Lauren Jackson.

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

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Whilst making her return to the WNBL was a milestone Bec knew that was not the end of her recovery, writing “People don’t realise that the first game back isn’t your big finale of rehab. It actually takes time getting back to the form you were in before you were injured, which unfortunately doesn’t come back over night. You’re an elite athlete so you don’t lose everything about being a basketballer. That said, being an elite athlete you hold yourself to a high standard so once you’re back on court you face a whole new mental and physical obstacle.”6

During Sayin it with Sara Episode #2 – Bec Cole on 24 August 2020 host and Southside Flyers teammate Sara Blicavs asked “What did you find the toughest part about rehabbing and coming back from an injury etc and how rewarded and happy do you feel knowing that your hard work has paid off?” Cole responded “That is a great question. The rehabbing phase, the hardest bit to be honest is we are part of a team, you are doing all your rehab by yourself, you are not with the team, you are doing your extra strength work, your cardio, maybe your shots up when you get to that stage, you are not with the team so that was really hard. I am not going to lie, you sitting on the bench watching your team play and that is what you love to do, that was very tough, knowing people are getting better they’re having fun, they’re doing what I love. But you are just have to suck it up. To be honest that was probably the hardest thing.”  

As the Melbourne Boomers starting point guard in 2016/17 Bec played all 24 games and on 13 December 2016 played her 100th WNBL game at 24 years of age at the State Basketball Centre against the Canberra Capitals. The Boomers entered Cole’s milestone game on a nine game losing streak but were able to get back on the winner’s list, defeating the Capitals 70-50. After the victory Melbourne Boomers head coach Guy Molloy commented on the game and Cole’s milestone “It was won on defence and without doubt that was our focus for the game. It was led (by) Bec and I feel emotional about her 100th game with what she has had to go through to get to this point. It goes above and beyond the dedication of your average WNBL player to do what she has done. I’m unbelievably proud of her, she was a big reason why this win happened tonight and if we can bottle the spirit she brings to things we would be talking about winning a lot more.”7

Cole achieved the milestone of 100 WNBL games in her eighth season on a WNBL roster and due to knee reconstructions played two games in 2011/12 for the AIS and was unable to play a game for the Melbourne Boomers in 2015/16. On reaching 100 WNBL games Cole commented “You laugh about it as it’s only 100 games, everyone else my age is at 150 or 200. I’m so happy I got there, Dad and I were talking before and we were saying let’s hope the next 100 come a lot quicker. We wanted to come out and do our crowd really proud tonight, I’m glad we got everyone who came out an early Christmas present.”8

The Melbourne Boomers finished the 2016/17 season with a record five wins and 19 losses to finish seventh, eight games behind Canberra and Bendigo in fifth and sixth place respectively and two games ahead of the last placed Adelaide Lightning. In 2016/17 Cole ranked fourth at the Boomers for points per game, first for assists, led the club in total steals and ranked fourth for total minutes played with 598 behind Alice Kunek (697), Maddie Garrick (641) and Brittany Smart (604).

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Bec commenced the 2017/18 WNBL season as the Melbourne Boomers starting point guard with other members of the starting line-up being Maddie Garrick, Jenna O’Hea, Kalani Purcell and Liz Cambage. The Melbourne Boomers finished the regular season with a record of 12 wins and nine losses to finish fourth, three wins behind minor premiers the Perth Lynx and two wins behind Sydney and Townsville who finished second and third respectively. It was the first time the Boomers had made the finals since 2013/14 when they also finished fourth.

In the semi-finals the Boomers defeated minor premiers the Perth Lynx two games to nil to progress to the Grand Final against the Townsville Fire who after finishing the regular season in third place had defeated the second placed Sydney Flames 2-0 in their semi final series. All three games of the Grand Final were won by the home-side with Townsville winning the series 2-1. All three Grand Final games were a sell-out with 8,000 spectators attending during the three game series which was also broadcast live by Fox Sports on pay TV.

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On episode 1 of the Rangers Podcast during the 2018/19 season Bec spoke about playing in the best of three Grand Final series for the Melbourne Boomers against the Townsville Fire, saying “Last Grand Final series there was one game where I was just up and about, the crowd was absolutely amazing and we broke records of how many people were attending the game. I am a person that thrives off pressure, I thrive of atmosphere and I was like why not get around it. Playing in those sorts of games, that sort of atmosphere in front of those crowds is something that you honestly don’t forget, you think about it and you get chills up your spine.” Across the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons Cole had been durable, playing 48 games for the Melbourne Boomers, averaging 8.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.1 steals per game.

SEABL Career

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

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

After considerable work in the gym and in training sessions on the basketball court Bec made her SEABL return with the Nunawading Spectres early in the 2016 SEABL season. Following her basketball return with Nunawading Cole commented to the Herald Sun “It’s so good being back. I cherish being able to play, so much, and am so grateful for being able to play a sport I love. I want to keep doing it until I’m old and can’t run around anymore. I want to get to bed early, eat well because I get to play the sport I love tomorrow, I cherish being able to play my sport so much more now. The biggest thing is I’ve realised is how much I love it. Ball is life.”9 Cole’s match conditioning and touch improved as the season progressed and she played 11 games for Nunawading Spectres during the 2016 SEABL season, averaging 14.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. 

Cole played in her preferred position of shooting guard for the Melbourne Tigers in the 2018 SEABL season and Melbourne’s head coach was Mark Alabakov. Two of Bec’s team-mates were point guard Monique Conti and forward/centre Louella Tomlinson. Apart from Cole and Tomlinson it was a very young team. Melbourne finished sixth on the ladder at the end of the regular season with 12 wins and eight losses to make the finals. The Melbourne Tigers hosted an elimination final at the Oakleigh Recreation Centre against Sandringham and recorded a convincing victory, 89-54, Bec scored a game-high 26 points, shooting at 60% from the field, made two of her four three-pointers, had a game-high seven assists and a team-high two steals.

The following week the Tigers season ended when they were defeated 76-54 by Nunawading, Cole scored 18 points, shooting at 50% from the field, took five rebounds and had three assists. Bec played 19 games for the Tigers, averaging 22.6 points 3.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. Cole ranked second in the SEABL behind Lauren Nicholson in points per game and third for assists per game behind Kelly Wilson and Alex Wilson. Bec was selected in the 2018 All-SEABL Second team, shot the ball at 46% from the field and made 26 three-pointers for the season at an accuracy of 38%.

Big V League with the Eltham Wildcats in 2017

Bec played for the Eltham Wildcats in the 2017 Big V season, with two time WNBL MVP winner Katrina Hibbert being a playing head coach. In a Round 2 game Cole scored 50 points, had seven rebounds, three assists and six steals in a 86-79 victory against McKinnon. Hibbert commented on Bec’s performance, “I’ve never seen a 50-point game, ever, it was quite a phenomenal performance. Coley gets the ball, pushes it early, she was getting lay-ups, on-ball screens and is really developing her game, which she really wants to work on and that’s why she came over to Big V. Just watching her work at such a high rate constantly is amazing, she never takes a break.”10 Cole finished the 2017 Big V season as the league’s leading scorer, averaging 24.8 points per game.

3×3 tournaments, including representing Australia        

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

On episode 10, Series 5 of the Basket Case podcast on 12 December 2018 Bec was asked about her experiences playing 3×3 basketball and commented “I was lucky enough to be able to have a crack at that, the game-style is everything that I am about, explosive, powerful, athletic, competitive and it’s a whole lot of fun and very entertaining to watch as well.” Basket Case co-host Carol Wical said “Heading into the Olympics, that’s going to be pretty wild because obviously there will be two squads being picked I guess for the long-game and the short game.” Bec replied, “Yeah, both play just as aggressively as one another but I think it is great now there is another opportunity for female athletes that play basketball to try out for an Olympics. I am just going to work my butt off, it has always been a dream of mine to go there, so at least there are two pathways now if you are lucky enough to get there, I will just have to keep working hard and see what comes my way.”

During 2018 and 2019 Cole competed in several NBL 3X3 Pro Hustle tournaments and was a member of the Spectres iAthletic team that won three tournaments and finished runner-up in another.  

In both the 2018 and 2019 FIBA 3×3 Asia Cup Bec was named in the Team of the Tournament, also being named the Most Valuable Player in the 2019 edition. Australia won the bronze medal in 2018 after being defeated by New Zealand 20-18 in overtime during the semi-final. At the 2019 Asia Cup in China the Australian team comprised of Cole, Alice Kunek, Maddie Garrick and Hanna Zavecz won all five games, comprehensively defeating Kazakstan 20-9 in the final to win the gold medal.

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

At the 2019 3 x 3 World Cup held in Amsterdam during June, 25 nations participated in the Women’s event and the Australian team comprised of Cole, Kunek, Garrick and Keely Froling were the 18th seed. Australia won four of their first five games, with the exception being a one point loss to France – 15-16. In a semi-final Australia lost a nail-biter against China 14-15 and then played off for third place against France, Australia were comprehensively defeated by France 9-21 and finished the tournament in fourth place.

The first ever FIBA 3×3 women’s series was held in 2019. Due to the travel required to compete at the stops as well as the focus on the WNBL when it is in season Australia competed in far less tournaments than their rivals in this format. An Australian team including Cole only competed at the first stop in Chengdu and the final stop in Tokyo. Despite not playing this format as regularly as their rivals Australia were very successful, winning both stops.

During Sayin it with Sara Episode #2 – Bec Cole on 24 August 2020 host and Southside Flyers teammate Sara Blicavs asked “Tell us a bit about the process of starting 3×3 literally from the bottom and now you are here about to qualify hopefully for an Olympics. Explain to anyone who doesn’t really know I guess the points system, tournaments that were played to get where you are at now?” Cole responded “So 3×3 is just like a completely different world compared to five on five when you are talking about tournaments and points. As a country whenever we have our 3×3 Pro Hustle’s even though you are playing for your team you are actually scoring points for yourself which is how the ranking system is based in our countries, so I would just be higher than you because I have played more 3×3 games but there are also points based on how many points you score or highlight plays. From the Pro Hustle series Australia we have gone to a couple of Asia Cups and World Cups, we are just super talented in our country but when you compare us to the European and the other Asian countries we have like zero experience compared to them. The last two years it has been Australia going into tournaments, just making it by someone pulling out or Asia Cup we get to go to anyway and then we have proved ourself on the big stage so we are earning more points over this time. From going to our World Cup last year we had to come top three for automatic ticket for the Qualifying Tournament, we ended up coming fourth which was shattering but based on the points and the women series and how well we did. When they were drawing it out, I remember watching it on TV in my living room we got picked (to compete at the 3×3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament) and it was the best feeling because literally there was no control in your hands, you had nothing you just sit there and wait.”

At the FIBA 3×3 Olympic Qualifier Tournament held in Austria from 26-30 May 2021 Australia were the 17th seeds out of 20 countries. The countries that finished in the top three at the tournament qualified for the Olympics.

Australia lost their opening Group B game to Japan 15-21 and won three consecutive games against Ukraine 15-12, Thailand 22-5 and Iran 22-2 to progress to the quarter-finals. In a tight-fought contest Australia lost to 13th seeds Spain 12-14 which eliminated Australia from the tournament with a sixth placed finish and ended their hopes of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympic Games. 

On Australia’s performance at the FIBA 3×3 Olympic Qualifier Tournament Cole told SEN Breakfast on 2 December 2021, “We went to the Olympic Qualifiers and just missed out (on qualifying for the Olympics). We weren’t able to play the game for two years whereas Europe and America were, so we weren’t great on that stage unfortunately but we have the Commonwealth Games coming up next year which is super exciting and I can’t wait for that. I think the fact that 3×3 was on the world stage and people saw it, it is going to grow, especially here in Australia, not many people knew about it but that game is the Big Bash of cricket it s the Rugby 7’s, that’s the vibe of 3×3, and it is here to stay, that is for sure.”

3×3 basketball will make its Commonwealth Games debut in 2022 at Birmingham. Australia have qualified for the women’s 3×3 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham due to having won the gold medal in 5 on 5 women’s basketball at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. The men’s and women’s 3×3 tournaments at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games will be held from 29 July to 2 August.    

2018/19 WNBL season with the Jayco Dandenong Rangers

Bec signed with the Jayco Dandenong Rangers for the 2018/19 season and whilst she hadn’t played WNBL basketball with the Dandenong Rangers before she had some experience with the club as a development player at 15 years of age before she joined the AIS. A key reason in Cole changing clubs was the ability at Dandenong to play as a shooting guard which she and her head coach at Dandenong – Larissa Anderson felt was her natural position. Throughout the 2018/19 WNBL season Tom Bathgate and Rebecca co-hosted several episodes of The Rangers Podcast. Commenting on The Rangers Podcast regarding the difference between the 1 and 2 spots Bec said “I was a two-man until I went to the AIS and they wanted me to be a 1. I have so much respect for point guards because that was the hardest transition I ever had to do. It is team first and then it is you, you gotta make sure everyone is in the right spots, you have to be that strict leader on the floor. You are the person who runs the show. Being in the 2-3 spot you get a little more freedom because you are not having to think exactly about all that, you just sort of get to play, that is obviously a lot more enjoyable for me.” At 178 centimetres tall Bec had a size advantage over many point guards but also had the flexibility to play in the 2 or 3 spots. Cole’s performances from the 2018/19 season onwards as a shooting guard have strongly supported Bec’s view  that shooting guard was the position that she was most suited to.

In her preferred role of shooting guard Cole impressed during the 2018/19 pre-season with the Jayco Rangers however I don’t think anyone could have predicted the heights that she would reach during the season.

To open the 2018/19 WNBL season the Rangers faced one of the toughest tasks in the WNBL, a road trip to Townsville on Sunday 14 October to play the defending champions. Dandenong’s starting line-up against the Fire was comprised of Tessa Lavey and Cole in the back-court along with Rachel Jarry and American imports Betnijah Laney and Kayla Pedersen in the front-court. Cole played a significant role in the Jayco Rangers getting a 73-68 road victory against Townsville, scoring a team-high 18 points, shooting at 53% from the field, took seven rebounds and was named in the WNBL Team of the Week for Round 1.

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In their only game for Round 9 and the final WNBL game of the weekend the seventh placed Rangers hosted ladder leaders the Perth Lynx and caused one of the upsets of the season, defeating Perth 96-76. Cole scored 21 points at an accuracy of 54% from the field and had an equal game-high six assists along with two team-mates – Betnijah Laney and Tessa Lavey.

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

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

In a 33 point win against Sydney at Brydens Stadium in the Rangers first game of Round 10 on Friday 14 December,  playing 27 minutes and seven seconds court-time Bec scored a game-high 31 points – 15 points more than the second ranked player for the game, shot the ball at 85% from the field, had four rebounds, three assists, a game-high five steals – three more than the second ranked player for the game, and a block. Against Bendigo in the Rangers second Round 10 game Cole scored a game-high 20 points, shooting at 53% from the field, took six rebounds and made a phenomenal 11 assists – five more than the second ranked player for the game and had just two turnovers. In the 87-63 victory the Rangers shot the ball at 51% from the field and made 30 assists – 13 more than Bendigo. Cole was named the WNBL’s Round 10 Player of the Week.

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

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

In a Sunday afternoon Round 13 road game against the Sydney Uni Flames Cole was exceptional, scoring nine points in the first quarter to help set-up a 21-13 lead Rangers lead at quarter-time. Bec finished the game with 25 points, two assists and four steals in 27 minutes and 31 seconds court-time. Bec made 11 of her 16 field-goal attempts for a superb accuracy of 68%.

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On 25 January, 2019 the Jayco Rangers held their WNBL Awards night at the La Trobe Financial Headquarters in Melbourne’s CBD. Cole was a deserving winner of the Jayco Rangers Most Valuable Player Award after playing easily the best season of her WNBL career to that stage. During the 2018/19 WNBL season Cole played all 21 games for the Rangers as their starting shooting guard, averaging 19.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.1 steals and 31 minutes and 23 seconds court-time per game. Bec led Dandenong for points – 5.3 points per game more than the second ranked Ranger – Laney and steals, ranked second behind Laney for assists and minutes played, and fourth for rebounds.

During 2018/19 Cole set career highs for scoring with a 64% improvement on her previous best of 11.8 points per game in 2014/15, rebounds, steals, shooting accuracy and assists excluding the 2011/12 season in which she only played two games. The most significant improvement in Cole’s game was shooting accuracy, making 38% of her three pointers and 51% of her field goals – ranking in the top 10 of the league in the latter category. A crucial improvement in Cole’s game was the development of her three-point shot, in 2018/19 she made 26 of her 69 three-point attempts for an accuracy of 38%, easily surpassing her previous best of making 13 three-pointers in both the 2010/11 and 2013/14 seasons. Cole was named in the WNBL’s team of the week four times in 2018/19 – Rounds 1, 6, 10 and 13 and was rewarded for her outstanding form by being included in the Australian Opals 2019 squad.

Following each game of the 2018/19 Regular season both head coaches, along with the head referee cast votes for the league’s Most Valuable Player Award on a 3, 2, 1 basis. As expected University of Canberra Capitals forward Kelsey Griffin was a convincing winner of the 2018/19 WNBL Most Valuable Player Award, polling 119 votes from a maximum 189. Cole finished second in the league MVP on 99 votes followed by Melbourne Boomers point guard Lindsay Allen in third place on 94 votes.

The WNBL All-Star five was voted on by the coaches and captains of the eight WNBL clubs at the end of the regular season with a short-list of 20 players that received MVP votes during the season eligible to be voted for. Bec Cole was selected in the back-court along with Lindsay Allen whilst the front-court was comprised of Kelsey Griffin, Asia Taylor and Nia Coffey. Bec became the eighth Jayco Rangers player of All-time to be selected in the WNBL All-Star five and the first Dandenong player to achieve this milestone since the club’s greatest ever player Penny Taylor was selected in the All-Star five for the third and final time in her final WNBL season in 2014/15.

On being selected in the 2018/19 WNBL All-Star five at the WNBL end of season awards on Monday 18 February 2019 Bec was emotional, commenting to wnbl.com.au on this achievement “It was a very special feeling hearing my name read out. I just felt extremely honoured and grateful. It means a lot to me to be recognized alongside these other incredible female athletes I get to play against week in and week out.”11

NBL1 with the Dandenong Rangers in 2019

On 28 February 2019 it was announced that Cole had signed with the Dandenong Rangers for the 2019 NBL1 season. NBL1 is the premier winter basketball league in Southern Australia consisting of 18 teams, succeeding the South Eastern Basketball League (SEABL) which was disbanded. On signing with Dandenong Cole commented “I really enjoyed my WNBL season at Dandenong, I found I got the best out of myself at the club and I want to try and continue that. The club has been really supportive of me and has allowed me to pursue my 3×3 goals in the off-season as well. During the NBL1 season I want to continue enjoying my basketball and keep working on my game, but I’m also excited to help lead the great young talent that we’ll have on this team and get the best out of them.”12

During 2019 Cole played 11 games for the Dandenong Rangers in NBL1 averaged 26.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists per game and 1.6 steals per game, shooting at 46% from the field and 43% for three-pointers, she was named in the NBL1 All-Star five.

2019/20 WNBL season with the Southside Flyers

In July 2019 the Dandenong Rangers WNBL license was transferred from the Dandenong Basketball Association to Gerry Ryan who in 1975 founded Jayco who were the naming rights sponsor of the Dandenong Rangers WNBL team from 1997 to 2019. The Southside Flyers play their home games at Dandenong Stadium and respect the history of the Dandenong Rangers. After the announcement of the license transfer and the establishment of the Southside Flyers Ryan commented “The Southside name reflects our commitment to create a team with support from the beachside suburbs of Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula through to the Dandenong Ranges, Gippsland and beyond. The Flyers hopefully will describe the style of play and success of the team within the WNBL. Our vision is to significantly broaden the support for the new team and to get the whole basketball community involved. The name Southside Flyers reflects this vision.”13

On 12 August 2019 it was announced that Bec had signed with the Southside Flyers for the 2019/20 WNBL season, Bec commented “I really enjoyed my first WNBL season at Dandenong and am excited with the opportunity to be involved in the inaugural season of the Southside Flyers. I am looking forward to creating history on and off the court as part of a fresh team in one of the best competitions in the world. Having the support of Gerry Ryan and knowing his vision for the team and the promotion and growth of women’s basketball is exciting and I feel privileged to be part of this. And to be able to play under Cheryl Chambers is something I am looking forward to.”14

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Six players on the Southside Flyers 2019/20 roster played for the Jayco Rangers in 2018/19 – Cole, Sara Blicavs, Kiera Rowe, Rebecca Pizzey, Taylah Giliam and Stephanie Reid whilst another four had played for the Jayco Rangers previously – Jenna O’Hea, Leilani Mitchell, Aimie Rocci (nee Clydesdale) and Louella Tomlinson. Two members of the Flyers 2019/20 core rotation that hadn’t represented the Rangers in the WNBL previously were Anneli Maley who played for the Dandenong Rangers SEABL team in 2017 and American import Mercedes Russell.

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Cheryl Chambers was appointed as the inaugural head coach of the Southside Flyers. Chambers is currently an Assistant Coach of the Australian Opals and had two stints as a WNBL head coach previously – with the Bulleen (now Melbourne) Boomers for eight seasons from 2001/02 to 2008/09 and with the Sydney Uni Flames for three seasons from 2016/17 to 2018/19, with the Flames winning the WNBL Championship in 2016/17 after defeating Dandenong 2-0 in the Grand Final series. Two of the key players from Sydney’s 2016/17 Championship winning team joined Cheryl at Southside – point guard Leilani Mitchell who won the 2016/17 Grand Final Most Valuable Player Award and Belinda Snell who retired as a WNBL player at the end of the 2018/19 season and joined the Flyers as an Assistant coach.

Chambers commented on Cole signing with the Flyers “Rebecca showed last year what a great player she is in the WNBL and will obviously be a key player for us. Her scoring ability is well known, importantly she has more to her game than scoring and I am sure she will create some real headaches for the opposition wearing her new colours in 2019.”15

Australian Opals captain Jenna O’Hea was appointed as the Southside Flyers inaugural captain and is one of the most decorated players in the WNBL, having been selected in the WNBL All-Star five first-team five times when she joined the Flyers.  

The Southside Flyers played their inaugural WNBL game against the Townsville Fire at Dandenong Stadium on 12 October, the Flyers regular starting line-up throughout the 2019/20 season was Cole in the backcourt alongside Leilani Mitchell whilst Sara Blicavs, Jenna O’Hea and Mercedes Russell started in the front-court.

Between Rounds 2 and 3 Bec was a guest on the Basket Case podcast and was asked by Basket Case host Carol Wical “I was looking at the stats for your mob for all three games that you have played this season, I feel that they are telling me that discipline and working hard is part of your mantra down there.” Bec replied “Definitely, you know on defense you have to play your heart out, hustle after every ball, getting those box-outs, and on offense for me individually it is spreading the lanes to the corners every single time, trainings are hard but they are so much fun and I think we are getting fitter, we are getting to know each other better. If we work hard against each other than we are all going to improve and that will show when we vs the other teams on court, definitely it is just doing all the little things, I feel if you do them the main things come a lot more easily.”

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At Dandenong Stadium in a Sunday evening Round 4 game Cole scored a game-high 23 points for the Flyers including 14 points in the first half against the Bendigo Spirit in a 93-80 victory, making nine of her 16 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 56.3%. Cole made two of her five three-pointers, all three free-throws, had four assists, an equal game-high two steals and blocked one shot.

In September 2019 Bec’s dad Gary was diagnosed with cancer, specifically Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. On The Cancer Council Australia website Under the heading ‘What is Lymphoma?’ it says “Lymphomas refers to types of cancer that begin in the lymphatic system (the various lymph glands around the body). Lymphomas are the sixth most common form of cancer overall (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer).”16

On 23 November 2019 an article written by Ben Waterworth “‘Life isn’t fair’: The beautiful bond – and remarkable resilience – between Bec and Gary Cole” was published on Fox Sports. In the article Bec commented on Gary “There were some really tough times in my career and when no one else believed in me, he was there. That’s why I’m so grateful for what I have with him and to come out the other side to prove people wrong. He’s my hero because he’s helped me get to where I am today, so I just want to help him with whatever I can. He’s my idol.”17

When Gary received the diagnosis that he had Non-Hodgkin lymphoma Bec was playing a FIBA 3×3 tournament in Tokyo and he waited until Bec was back in Melbourne to tell her. In Waterworth’s article Bec commented “I’m quite a tough person, but when it comes to my parents, I’m the biggest sook in the world. Dad was on the chair and he just told me straight out. I said ‘OK, yeah, I’m fine’ – and then literally a minute later I came back crying and sat on his lap and was like, ‘OK, no, I’m not OK’. It was a bit shocking because to me he’s one of the fittest guys and your parents are supposed to be strong. So when you see them weak, it scares you a little bit.”18 Gary commented “It was a tough time emotionally because your immediate reaction is ‘cancer’ and what that could mean and what that could cost you and what you wouldn’t get to do. You go ‘well she could be going to the Olympic Games, she could be going to the Commonwealth Games’ – and if you’re not around, what don’t you get to see? You don’t get to see them grow up and continue to develop and improve and become beautiful young women and get married and have grandchildren – all of that stuff. I encourage everyone, if you’ve got similar aches and pain, go and get them checked.”19

On 5 October 2021 3×3 Hustle published a video, The Check-In: With Bec Cole. Bec spoke about her involvement with Lime for Lymphoma, saying “Obviously so close to my heart, I reached out to the lymphoma community and asked: ‘Hey is there any way in the world I can help?’ and also I need to learn and educate myself. What’s so crazy is that lymphoma is such a common cancer that people have but no one actually knows much about it. And so Lime for Lymphoma September is their awareness month. So this September, I’ve just been wearing lime whenever I can and promoting it as much as I can and educating people. That’s pretty much what  Lime for Lymphoma is all about. That’s their colour, every cancer does have a colour. Even though it is a sad thing, you want to make it fun for the people who are diagnosed to the nurses and doctors getting involved, the community. You want to brighten someone’s day with it all and it seriously does. The other day, Dad and I got out wore lime and we were just having a laugh for half an hour in the sun. It was just a bit of fun.”

In The Check-In: With Bec Cole video 3×3 Hustle asked Bec “How is your dad now?” Bec responded “Dad was super lucky. I just think he’s amazing. I’m so proud of him. He went through chemotherapy and radiation and it was insane. If you looked at my dad, yeah, he was a bit white and he went bald but I was like: ‘You look so good.’ It’s just a testament to him and how he looks after his body and his mindfulness. He’s insane and the fittest he has ever been. He’s awesome. But actually just had his blood checked last week and he’s all good. They’re still in remission as you call it but he’s healthy, he’s happy. Obviously when you get the ‘all good’ result, it’s like thank god. But yeah, healthy and happy ‘GC’, that old man is. He’s the best ambassador and I love it, like all my teammates and friends love him because he just gets around everyone and every cause.” 

The Southside Flyers recorded a 90-75 road victory against the Perth Lynx at Bendat Basketball Stadium in a Friday night Round 12 2019/20 game. Bec gave one of the best shooting exhibitions of the season, scoring a game-high 30 points at a phenomenal accuracy of 83.6%, making 13 of her 16 field goal attempts including two of her three three-pointers. Bec also took four rebounds and made a team-high four assists, playing 30 minutes and 40 seconds game-time in the victory on 3 January.

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Against the Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre in Round 13 on Sunday 12 January the Flyers trailed by four points with one minute and 25 seconds remaining but were able to bridge the gap from the foul line with Bec making two free-throws with 58 seconds remaining followed by Mitchell making two free-throws with 10 seconds left to tie the scores 67 apiece. The Flyers won a thrilling game in the first period of overtime 75-73, however the victory came at a cost. Flyers captain O’Hea broke her wrist when she and Boomers forward Ezi Magbegor met solidly when they both dove after a loose-ball. O’Hea was expected to miss 10 to 12 weeks which would cause her to miss the Opals Olympic Games qualifying tournament in February and the remainder of the WNBL season.

The Flyers had been in great form however they were more reliant on their starting five than the other teams in the top four with all five starters Cole, Russell, Mitchell, O’Hea and Blicavs ranking in the top 20 of the league for scoring. One of the queries experts had about the Flyers roster was how they would fare without one of their starters for an extended time so O’Hea’s wrist injury would test the depth of the Flyers, guard Aimie Rocci was brought into the starting line-up.

In Round 15 against Adelaide at home Bec scored a season-high 28 points, making 10 of her 17 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 58.8% and made two of her four three-pointers. In the 81-69 victory at Dandenong Stadium Bec also took two rebounds, made a team-high five assists and was named the WNBL’s Player of the Week for her brilliant performance.

The Southside Flyers recorded 17 wins and four losses during the 2019/20 regular season to finish on top of the ladder, two wins ahead of the University of Canberra Capitals and Melbourne Boomers who finished second and third respectively, followed by the Adelaide Lightning in fourth position on 12 wins.

Between the end of the 2019/20 WNBL regular season and the start of the finals there was a weekend with no games played due to the FIBA Qualifiers window and whilst Bec wasn’t involved on court she made her debut for Fox Sports, providing special comments alongside play by play commentator Ben Waterworth for the Australian Opals first two games of the Olympic Games qualifying tournament. Bec’s Flyers team-mates Mitchell and Blicavs were members of the Opals team at the tournament whilst Southside head coach Cheryl Chambers was an assistant coach. Bec was a guest on the 12th February edition of the WNBL Show Podcast, host Megan Hustwaite asked Bec “How did you enjoy your commentary debut?” Bec replied “I absolutely loved it, I was lucky enough to get a practice run through with Ben Waterworth a week before so that was really good to get the confidence going and I just felt like I was almost out there with the girls so I was just so glad to be a part of it and something I definitely want to do in the future. Great experience, I just felt the excitement in studio for the girls so I can imagine how they would have felt out on court.”

Later in the interview Hustwaite commented “Aside from your commentary it has been business as usual on the court at Dandenong Stadium for the Flyers.” Bec responded “It has, it’s almost been a little pre-season again for us back home at Dandenong Basketball Stadium. We are raring to go, it is finals time, debut season for the club, I just feel it is really exciting first season for the Flyers and we have been able to finish on top and we just really want to finish the year off strong and would love to get the first (series) final won so we can get our captain Jenna O’Hea back for the Grand Final series, that would be my main goal.” Hustwaite asked “It is such an exciting time and I think going back to even Round 1 when you beat Townsville there has just been this vibe about this team. On-floor of course you have been incredibly successful in the regular season but you just all look to be enjoying yourselves and playing each other.” Bec responded “It is exactly like what you just said. The vibe and feel within the group is just so effortless, everyone works hard, we all get along so well. I think a lot of that comes from Cheryl though, allowing us to work hard at basketball but also life happens and late last year in December I was going through a couple of rough things and I don’t think I would have been able to get through if it wasn’t for my team and it is pretty great and a special thing just for me to be able to say that, I am really excited for this team and everyone has each other’s back, I am ready for finals, it is going to be good.”

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In game 1 of their semi final series against Adelaide at Dandenong Stadium the Southside Flyers recorded a three point victory. In game two on the road the lead changed several times in the first three quarters.

Cole made a crucial banked three pointer on the three quarter-time buzzer to regain the lead for Southside. The Flyers scored the opening two field goals of the final term through Blicavs and Mitchell and won game 2 82-79 on the road. Cole registered her first double-double of the season comprised of 19 points and 10 rebounds to set team-highs in both categories. Bec also made a game-high five steals and had five assists – ranked second for the Flyers behind Mitchell with nine. All five Flyers starters scored at least 12 points with Cole being joined in this category by Mitchell (18 points), Rocci (a season high 18 points), Russell (15) and Blicavs (12).

The Southside Flyers Grand Final opponent was the University of Canberra Capitals who defeated the Melbourne Boomers 2-1 in their semi final series with the home side winning each game. Canberra who won the regular season split against Southside 2-1 with the away side winning all three games.

Southside Flyers captain Jenna O’Hea returned from injury for the Grand Final series but started game 1 on the bench with guard Aimie Clydesdale retaining her position in the starting line-up. After the Capitals scored the first five points of Game 1 of the Grand Final series at Dandenong Stadium Cole with 14 points in the second quarter was influential in the Flyers gaining a 47-43 half-time lead. Southside extended their lead to six points 71-65 with eight minutes and 48 seconds remaining in the game, however were outscored 9-17 from that point to be defeated by two points with Capitals guard Olivia Epoupa scored the final basket of the game with one minute and 20 seconds remaining. Bec scored 23 points, had seven assists and two blocks to register game-highs in all three categories.

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Southside captain O’Hea returned to the Flyers starting line-up for game 2 at the AIS Arena on 4 March. Cole scored 19 points in the first half including 12 points in the second quarter to help set-up a 45-31 lead for the Flyers with one minute and 19 seconds remaining in the first half however the University of Canberra Capitals then went on a 15-0 run to lead 46-45 with five minutes and five seconds remaining in the third term. At half-time Cole had two fouls, after being called for her third and fourth fouls in the first three minutes and 20 seconds of the third quarter Cole was substituted out of the game with the Flyers leading 45-38. The Flyers were outscored 9-25 in the third quarter and trailed by two points, 54-56 at the final change. Bec was substituted into the game with Southside trailing 56-62, seven minutes and 43 seconds remained in the game, she scored four points and provided an assist to Blicavs to reduce the margin. The Flyers fought back to lead 68-67 with two minutes and six seconds remaining, however 2019/20 WNBL MVP Kia Nurse made a three-pointer with 22 seconds remaining to give the Capitals a two point lead. The Capitals defeated the Flyers 71-68 to win their ninth WNBL championship. Canberra point guard Olivia Epoupa was named the Grand Final MVP, averaging 15 points, 8 rebounds and 8.5 assists per game.

In 2019/20 Cole played all 25 games for the Southside Flyers, averaging 17.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.4 steals and 28.6 minutes per game and had a field goal accuracy of 49.3%. Bec led the Flyers in scoring per game, ranked second for assists behind Mitchell, fifth for rebounds and second for steals behind O’Hea. Of the players that played at least five games in 2019/20 Cole ranked third in the WNBL for scoring per game behind Kia Nurse and Alice Kunek, ranked equal 11th for steals and equal 12th for assists. Bec’s field goal accuracy of 49.3% ranked 11th in the league of the players that made at least 25 field goals in the season.

Cole was one of four Southside Flyers to earn selection in a WNBL All-Star team for the 2019/20 season with captain Jenna O’Hea and Leilani Mitchell being selected in the first team, centre Mercedes Russell joined Cole in the second-team. Before game 1 of the 2019/20 WNBL Grand Final series between the Southside Flyers and the University of Canberra Capitals at Dandenong Stadium on 1 March the four Flyers who earned 2019/20 WNBL All-Star selection and Capitals import Kia Nurse who won the league’s Most Valuable Player Award and was selected in the WNBL All-Star first team were recognised for their achievements. Mitchell won the Southside Flyers 2019/20 MVP Award with Cole and O’Hea finishing in equal second place.

2020 WNBL season with the Southside Flyers

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 and each team played 13 regular season games.

Although it was more difficult for fans to attend games in 2020 due to the season being played in hubs in North Queensland the WNBL had an increased television presence and there was less competition from other sports for the attention of viewers. All 52 games during the 2020 WNBL season were broadcast on Kayo, 10 games including the Grand Final were shown on free to air network ABC and 21 games including all four finals were telecast on Foxtel.

Five of the six Flyers players that averaged more than 13 minutes per game during the 2019/20 season suited up for the Flyers again in 2020 with players in this category being Cole, Rocci, O’Hea, Blicavs and Mitchell. American centre Mercedes Russell was unable to return due to being an import. 

Southside’s recruits for the 2020 WNBL season included Australian Opals centre Liz Cambage, and two veterans returning to the WNBL after not playing during 2019/20 in forward Rachel Jarry and shooting guard Steph Blicavs. Cambage and Jarry are both two-time Olympians, having played for the Opals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. Cambage played 10 games for the Jayco Rangers during her 2007/08 debut WNBL season whilst Jarry played for the Rangers in 2018/19 before having a season off in 2019/20. After having her son Arlow in October 2019 Steph Blicavs made her WNBL return in 2020 and continued her long history with the Dandenong based WNBL team, having won the Rangers MVP award four times in eight seasons with the club.

Throughout the 2020 WNBL season the Southside Flyers had 10 players that played every game they were available for including eight players who averaged more than 16 minutes per game with starters Mitchell, Cole, O’Hea, Sara Blicavs and Cambage all averaging between 23 and 29 minutes per game whilst a trio of experienced players in Rocci, Steph Blicavs and Jarry averaged between 16 and 21.5 minutes per game. Bec Pizzey and Monique Conti played all 15 games and averaged 7.5 and 6.6 minutes per game respectively.

At the start of the 2020 WNBL season the Flyers were the favourites to win the championship. In their first six games Southside had one loss to each of the teams considered to be their biggest rivals for the title, losing to the Melbourne Boomers 72-89 in their second game of the season and were defeated by the University of Canberra Capitals 72-95 in their first game of Round 3.

Against the Sydney Uni Flames on 15 November at Townsville Stadium Cole scored a game-high 27 points in 26 minutes and 35 seconds court-time, shot the ball proficiently to make 11 of 15 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 73%, was even more damaging from long-range, making four of five three-pointers at an accuracy of 80%, took three rebounds and had three assists in Southside’s 99-72 victory.    

During the Southside Flyers penultimate game of the regular season they fought back from a nine point deficit against the Sydney Uni Flames with under three minutes remaining to win 81-77 at Townsville Stadium however captain O’Hea suffered a knee injury in the final minute of the game and had to be substituted out. Against Sydney Cole scored 14 points, made five of nine field goal attempts at an accuracy of 55%, made an equal game-high five assists along with teammates Mitchell and Rocci and made a game-high five steals.

Due to her knee injury O’Hea was expected to miss the rest of the 2020 WNBL season, as happened late in the 2019/20 season Rocci was brought into the Flyers starting line-up in place of her injured captain. 

The Southside Flyers finished their regular season with a 101-82 victory against the University of Canberra Capitals on 13 December at Townsville Stadium. Cole scored an equal game-high 23 points, made nine of 16 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 56%, made five of seven three pointers at an accuracy of 71% and made eight assists.

Southside won their last seven games of the regular season to finish the 2020 season on top of the ladder with a record of 11 wins and two losses, two games ahead of the teams that finished second to fourth – Townsville Fire, Melbourne Boomers and University of Canberra Capitals.

During the Southside Flyers 106-93 semi final victory against Townsville Fire at Townsville Stadium on Wednesday 16 December Cole scored 22 points – ranked second for the Flyers behind Cambage with 31 points, made eight of 13 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 61% and made three assists.

On Friday December 18 Townsville won a thrilling preliminary final against the Melbourne Boomers 65-62 to progress to the Grand Final against the Southside Flyers. For the second season in a row Southside Flyers captain O’Hea was able to recover quicker than expected from a late season injury to play in the WNBL Grand Final. As with game one of the 2019/20 Grand Final O’Hea started on the bench and Rocci remained in the starting line-up.

In the Grand Final on 20 December at Townsville Stadium the Southside Flyers led 48-46 at half-time and were able to gain the ascendancy in the second half to have a 99-82 victory and win the WNBL championship. Cole scored 22 points in the Grand Final – ranked second for the Flyers behind Mitchell with 31 points, made seven of 10 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 70%, made two of three shots from behind the arc, all six free-throws and made a game-high five steals – four more than the second ranked players for the game. It was the club’s fourth WNBL Championship, having previously won titles as the Jayco Dandenong Rangers in 2003/04, 2004/05 and 2011/12. Three members of the 2020 Championship winning team had also played in the 2011/12 Championship – O’Hea, Steph Blicavs and Rocci.

During the 2020 season Cole played all 15 games for the Southside Flyers and averaged 15.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 24.2 minutes court-time per game. Cole shot the ball superbly to make 58% of field goal attempts and 54.3% of three-pointers. During the 2020 WNBL season with the Southside Flyers Cole maintained a high of level of performance to rank in the WNBL’s top 10 for points per game (7th), assists (5th), steals (4th), field goal percentage (3rd) and 3 point percentage (4th). Whilst Cole was unlucky to miss out on selection in an All-WNBL team in 2020, more than 10 years after her debut with the AIS in 2009/10 she was able to achieve a major goal of playing in a WNBL Championship.

Big V League with the Bulleen Boomers in 2021

Cole played for the Bulleen Boomers alongside current Southside Flyers teammate Kate Gaze during the 2021 Big V season. Cole played nine games for the Boomers and averaged 30.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. Cole led the Big V league in scoring and Bulleen teammate Gaze ranked fourth.  The Big V season was paused due to COVID-19 in early August and ultimately the remainder of the Big V League season was cancelled.

2021/22 WNBL seasons with the Southside Flyers

The Southside Flyers announced on 16 June 2021 that Cole had signed with the club for the 2021/22 season. Cole commented to WNBL Media “It is so enjoyable being part of the Flyers, this was a no brainer. Obviously winning the Championship was the icing on the cake but it is more than enjoying team success on the court, it is such a great group, fantastic teammates, great coaches and support staff. It is hard work but it is also fun.”20

On Cole suiting up again for the Southside Flyers in 2021/22 head coach Chambers commentedBec is such an important player for our team, she shoots the 3, she is quick, drives to the basket and she defends strongly. It is even more than her obvious basketball talent. Her determination and work ethic are first class, and she certainly sets high standards at training and in games. Combine that with her bubbly personality and the enjoyment she gets from playing and being around the team makes Bec very important for us.”21

Five of the eight Southside Flyers players that averaged more than 15 minutes court-time per game in 2020 have returned in 2021/22. The Southside players in this category are Rocci, O’Hea, Sara Blicavs, Cole, and Jarry who have more than 1,000 games WNBL experience between them.

Against Bendigo Spirit on 4 December at Dandenong Stadium in the opening game of the WNBL season the Southside Flyers starting line-up was Maddy Rocci and Cole in the back-court along with O’Hea, Blicavs and Abby Bishop in the front-court. Other members of the Flyers 10 player main roster are Aimie Rocci, Jarry, Kristy Wallace, Kate Gaze and Emilee Harmon.  

In 2019/20 and 2020 two All-WNBL teams were named, a first team and a second team which meant that 10 players earnt selection in each season. Four players on the Flyers 2021/22 roster – Maddy Rocci, Cole, Blicavs and O’Hea were selected in an All-WNBL team in the past two completed seasons whilst another player on the Flyers 2021/22 roster, Bishop won the WNBL’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2014/15.

On 2 December 2021 Cole spoke about the 2021/22 WNBL season starting later that week, telling SEN Breakfast “It almost feels like Christmas is coming early, I just can’t wait to get out there in front of our fans again. It’s like that atmosphere that you play with, I’ve definitely missed that, I’m a quite passionate player as you could probably see by that little commentary there, so I’m super pumped.”

On Southside’s pre-season Cole told SEN Breakfast “Half of our core is still there but then we have also got some big new names that have come in so I am glad we have had about six weeks of pre-season and each practice game that we have had we are getting better, the chemistry is coming along, it is going to be pretty exciting.”

Bec was asked about Southside’s Round 1 game “It is going to be a big night isn’t it Bec, you are obviously going to unveil the championship banner prior to the game as well.” Cole responded “Yeah, I can’t wait to see that drop, our GM Tracey Browning sent us a picture and I was like ‘wow that was almost a year ago that we did that’. We won a championship and then we flew home and it was COVID, so we haven’t really got to celebrate it. It will just be quite an honour to watch that be unveiled and I think it will get everyone super excited ‘Hey, let’s bloody do that again.’”

On SEN Breakfast Cole was asked “The COVID enforced delay between seasons, what does that mean for you guys psychologically, normally you would be adjusting going from the hunter to the hunted and there would be more teams after you this weekend, that’s what happens when you are on the top of the pops so to speak.” Cole replied “I actually love it, I love pressure, I love when you are playing against great competition because I feel like you can get the best out of yourself and the team. This season the playing field is pretty even so every game you are going to have to come out hard and ready to play or you are going to get a whooping so I think it is exciting. That was my first senior championship so for me even if a target is on our back bring it on, I love that.  

In Round 1 of the 2021/22 WNBL season at Dandenong Stadium Cole scored 24 points, making 10 of 15 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 66.7%, made four of six three-pointers took three rebounds and had four assists in the Southside Flyers 94-83 victory against the Bendigo Spirit. 

Bec Cole jump shot for the Southside Flyers vs Bendigo Spirit at Dandenong Stadium on 4 December, 2021

On Thursday night, 23 December Cole played her 200th WNBL game in the Southside Flyers home game against the Townsville Fire at Dandenong Stadium. It was exactly three years after Cole achieved another milestone, having played WNBL game number 150 for the Dandenong Rangers against the Melbourne Boomers on 23 December 2018. Cole is the third Southside Flyers player to reach a significant milestone in 2021/22 following Abby Bishop and Aimie Rocci who played their 250th and 200th WNBL games respectively against the Melbourne Boomers on 11 December 2021 at Melbourne Sports Centre Parkville. Articles to celebrate the games milestones of Bishop and Rocci earlier this month have been published on Milestones and Misses. Below is a link to the website’s home page:

https://milestonesandmisses.com/

On court just before Southside’s Round 4 game against Townsville a presentation was made to Cole recognising her milestone of 200 WNBL games.

Bec Cole with Southside Flyers head coach Cheryl Chambers as Cole is recognised for reaching 200 WNBL games, at Dandenong Stadium on 23 December 2021

Bec acknowledging her dad Gary in the stands after her 200th WNBL game at Dandenong Stadium on 23 December 2021

Southside Flyers team huddle after the five point victory against Townsville Fire in Cole’s 200th WNBL game at Dandenong Stadium on 23 December 2021

After Round 4 of the 2021/22 WNBL season the Southside Flyers have a record of two wins and two losses, having defeated Bendigo in Round 1 and Townsville in Round 4 and lost to the Melbourne Boomers in Rounds 2 and 3. After the Southside Flyers first four games of the 2021/22 season Cole is averaging 19.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. At this very early stage of the 2021/22 WNBL season and with Perth Lynx yet to commence their season Cole ranks second in the WNBL for points per game, behind Bendigo Spirit forward Anneli Maley (20.0 points per game).

Epilogue

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

During Cole’s first seven seasons on a WNBL roster she played a total of 87 WNBL games. Due to a right knee reconstruction Cole played only two games in 2011/12 with the AIS and she missed the entire 2015/16 WNBL season with the Melbourne Boomers due to a left knee reconstruction.

Before the 2018/19 WNBL season Cole had never averaged more than 12 points per game. During 2018/19 playing as a shooting guard for the Dandenong Rangers Bec took her basketball to another stratosphere to average 19.4 points per game and was runner-up in the league’s MVP award. Playing for the Southside Flyers from 2019/20 to the current 2021/22 WNBL season Cole has maintained a high standard to rank in the WNBL’s top 10 for scoring in each season. In the first 200 games of her WNBL career Cole has averaged 11.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game. In 65 games playing as a shooting guard from 2018/19 to 2021/22 Cole’s output has been significantly higher, averaging 17.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game.

From 2018/19 onwards Cole has been one of the most efficient backcourt scorers in the league, having the ability to drive aggressively to the basket, make mid-range shots and has been a much greater threat from long range than in previous seasons. Cole has used her quick hands, reading of the play and speed to full effect and has also been adept at providing assists to team-mates. Cole’s brilliant performances were recognised with selection in the 2018/19 All-WNBL first team and the 2019/20 All-WNBL second team.

Cole has flourished in 3×3 basketball, playing a pivotal role in her country winning gold medals at several international tournaments including the 2019 Asia Cup where she was named the Most Valuable Player.

Whilst it took Cole until her eighth season on a WNBL roster to play her 100th WNBL game on 13 December 2016, she was able to achieve her wish and played the next 100 games far quicker, progressing from 100 to 200 games in five years and 10 days

On the day after her 200th WNBL game Cole reflected on her milestone and made the post below on Instagram.

Bec Cole has done a magnificent job of becoming the best basketball player she can be and whilst having two knee reconstructions during her career has been frustrating and caused her to spend substantial periods of time on the sidelines Bec turned this adversity into a positive, realising that the more work she could do in the gym the more likely she would be able to remain on the basketball court and injury free which in turn made it easier to adapt to the physical demands of 3×3 basketball. During her resilient journey to 200 WNBL games Bec Cole has earnt the respect and admiration ofthe basketball community for her performances as a basketball player and for the passionate, enthusiastic, determined person that she is.

By Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 https://www.smh.com.au/sport/basketball/wnbl-melbourne-boomers-snap-losing-run-as-bec-cole-milestone-fuels-defence-20161218-gtdlvz.html

8 https://www.smh.com.au/sport/basketball/wnbl-melbourne-boomers-snap-losing-run-as-bec-cole-milestone-fuels-defence-20161218-gtdlvz.html

9 https://www.heraldsun.com.au/leader/east/sport/nunawading-spectres-and-melbourne-boomers-point-guard-bec-cole-back-on-court-after-fifth-knee-surgery/news-story/3e88852e15b2475ecbe18a6f284126d8

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

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

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

13 http://wnbl.basketball/blog/news/southside-flyers-a-new-look-team-in-the-wnbl/

14 http://wnbl.basketball/southside/news/rebecca-cole-joins-southside-flyers/

15 http://wnbl.basketball/southside/news/rebecca-cole-joins-southside-flyers/

16 https://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/lymphoma.html?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI_LrBn5T_5wIVFreWCh1yVge_EAAYASAAEgJSPvD_BwE

17 https://www.foxsports.com.au/basketball/wnbl/life-isnt-fair-the-beautiful-bond-and-remarkable-resilience-between-bec-and-gary-cole/news-story/83c4cc8687ffad3c0daac980b1796d95

18 https://www.foxsports.com.au/basketball/wnbl/life-isnt-fair-the-beautiful-bond-and-remarkable-resilience-between-bec-and-gary-cole/news-story/83c4cc8687ffad3c0daac980b1796d95

19 https://www.foxsports.com.au/basketball/wnbl/life-isnt-fair-the-beautiful-bond-and-remarkable-resilience-between-bec-and-gary-cole/news-story/83c4cc8687ffad3c0daac980b1796d95

20 https://wnbl.basketball/southside/news/bec-cole-set-for-another-big-season-with-the-flyers/

21 https://wnbl.basketball/southside/news/bec-cole-set-for-another-big-season-with-the-flyers/

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

WNBL

Bec Cole

Aimie Rocci

Abby Bishop

Lindsay Allen

Tessa Lavey

Ezi Magbegor

Maddison Rocci

Steph Talbot

Zitina Aokuso

Leilani Mitchell

Cayla George

Maddie Garrick

Sara Blicavs

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

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