Kelly Wilson commenced her basketball journey in the Gippsland town of Leongatha and has spent much of her distinguished basketball career playing in Country Victoria for Bendigo Spirit in the WNBL and for the Bendigo Lady Braves in the SEABL and NBL1. University of Canberra Capitals point guard Wilson has played a WNBL record 399 games and is set to create league history by becoming the first player to reach 400 WNBL games, however earlier today Wilson’s milestone was delayed for a second time as a result of a Capitals game being postponed due to COVID protocols.
On Wednesday night 5 January 2022 the University of Canberra Capitals were scheduled to play a Round 6 WNBL home game against the Sydney Uni Flames at the National Convention Centre in what would have been Wilson’s 400th game. Due to a positive COVID-19 case Canberra’s game against Sydney was postponed on Wednesday afternoon, all other games in Round 6 were also postponed except one, a game scheduled for this evening, Saturday 8 January between the Melbourne Boomers and Canberra Capitals Boomers at Gippsland Regional Indoor Sports Stadium (GRISS), Traralgon, in the region that Wilson grew up. It would have been fitting if point guard Wilson played her 400th WNBL game in Gippsland, however late this morning the WNBL announced that this game had also been postponed due to COVID protocols. With all Round 6 WNBL games having been postponed due to COVID protocols the Capitals next scheduled game is at home at the National Convention Centre against the Sydney Uni Flames on Friday 14 January, hopefully it will be a case of third time lucky and Wilson will be able to take the court and play WNBL game number 400.
170 centimetre tall Wilson will achieve the incredible milestone of reaching 400 WNBL games in her 19th WNBL season and has made a significant impact in the league throughout her career, from winning the WNBL’s Betty Watson Rookie of the Year Award in her debut 2002/03 season with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) through to averaging a career-high 6.2 assists per game in 2018/19 with the Capitals to lead the league in this category.
Wilson’s record breaking 399 WNBL games is comprised of 205 games for Bendigo Spirit, 103 games for Townsville Fire, 43 games for Sydney Uni Flames, 30 games for University of Canberra Capitals and 18 games for the Australian Institute of Sport. In the past decade Wilson has played on four WNBL Championship winning teams, 2012/13 and 2013/14 with Bendigo Spirit followed by 2017/18 with Townsville Fire and 2018/19 with the UC Capitals. In both WNBL Championships with Bendigo and the 2018/19 Championship with the Capitals Wilson was team-mates with forward, Kelsey Griffin and the duo are teammates again with the Capitals this season.
Kelly Wilson playing for the University of Canberra Capitals against the Dandenong Rangers on 30 December 2018 at Dandenong Stadium
In a video published by the University of Canberra Capitals on 4 January 2022 Wilson’s long-time teammate and friend Griffin was asked “What comes to mind when you hear the name Kelly Wilson?” Griffin responded “I suppose a lot of things come to mind but her work ethic is yeah unparalleled and I hold myself to a pretty high standard and then there is Kelly Wilson standard. But there is so much more to her, she is unassuming and she doesn’t speak out or say a lot but when you have time to stop and think and reflect on her career, like what she has achieved as a country kid coming out and doing what she’s done is just remarkable, it’s incredible but I suppose the first thing that I think of is yeah, Kelly’s work ethic, it is just something I have never seen before.”
Wilson had her 37th birthday on New Year’s Day and played 18 consecutive WNBL seasons from 2002/03 to 2019/20. Wilson missed the 2020 WNBL season as she was pregnant with her first child, Teddy was born in February 2021. In July 2021 Wilson made her basketball return with the Bendigo Lady Braves during the 2021 NBL1 South season.
In seven consecutive WNBL seasons from 2013/14 to 2019/20 Wilson averaged at least 4.0 assists per game. On 24 January 2020 Wilson played her 395th WNBL game in a home game for Bendigo Spirit at Bendigo Stadium, to set a new record for most WNBL games played, surpassing the previous mark of 394 games set by Dandenong Rangers and University of Canberra Capitals shooting guard Jess Bibby. During her 399 game WNBL career Wilson has made 1,316 assists to rank third on the WNBL’s All-time list behind Kristen Veal and former Bendigo Spirit teammate Kristi Harrower.
At state league level Wilson has won a regular season Most Valuable Player Award three times, in the SEABL in 2009 with the Bendigo Lady Braves and in 2013 with the Knox Raiders as well as in the inaugural NBL1 season with Bendigo Lady Braves in 2019. Wilson played in two SEABL Championship winning teams, with Knox Raiders in 2013 and with the Bendigo Lady Braves in 2018.
During the 4 January 2022 episode of SEN Breakfast Wilson was asked “What does playing 400 games mean to you?” Wilson responded “A couple of seasons ago I broke Bibby’s record and I didn’t really think too much of it at the time because I wasn’t sure if I was going to play again after having my son but I felt good and I was still feeling a bit competitive so obviously came back this season. I think it is something that maybe I will reflect on when I finish playing, it seems like it wasn’t that long ago that I broke her record, look I am just more concerned about getting the win tomorrow night so that’s the focus for me right now.”
Kelly Wilson’s remarkable basketball career is comprehensively covered below, from progressing through the Basketball Victoria pathway to playing in the WNBL and at state league level in the SEABL and NBL1.
Early Life and junior career
Kelly Wilson was born on 1 January 1985 in Melbourne and grew up in the Victorian country town of Leongatha, which is located in Gippsland approximately 135 kilometres south east of Melbourne. Kelly has a sister Andrea who is 11 months younger and has been a teammate of Kelly’s at junior level, in the WNBL with Bendigo Spirit and at State League level with the Bendigo Lady Braves in the SEABL (South East Australian Basketball League) and NBL1.
Kelly and Andrea Wilson played their junior basketball at the Leongatha Basketball Association. The Kelly Wilson Award is presented to the most promising junior player at the Leongatha Basketball Association with one player each nominated from the under 16 girls, under 16 boys, under 18 girls and under 18 boys.
In a Pathway / Kelly Wilson, Bendigo Spirit video published by Basketball Victoria in 2016 Wilson commented “I first started playing basketball when I was about 10 years old and the only reason I went and started playing was because my friends were playing and I didn’t want to miss out, turns out I liked it a lot more than they did. I really enjoyed basketball and stuck with it and I started trying out for things and worked my way through the Victoria Country programs, so the ITC program and I played in the Vic Country state teams all the way through my junior years, from there I progressed to the AIS and then started playing WNBL.” One of Wilson’s teammates in the Vic Country Under 14’s was Gabe Richards and the duo went on to become long-term teammates at several levels of competition, juniors, WNBL and SEABL.
At national championships Wilson represented Victoria Country between 1999 and 2002. Wilson was a member of Victoria’s gold medal winning team at the under 20 national championships in 2002 and 2003 and won the R.E Staunton Medal as the most valuable player at the 2003 tournament.
In 2003 Wilson represented Australia at the FIBA Young Women’s World Championship held in Sibenik, Croatia from 25 July to 3 August. Australia finished fifth at the tournament and USA won the Gold Medal.
WNBL career from 2002/03 to 2007/08
At 17 years of age Wilson made her WNBL debut with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). In a WNBL video Here comes Kelly Wilson Round 10 published in December 2015 Wilson commented on her debut WNBL season “I actually don’t remember my first game at all, I remember my first season with the AIS. I certainly remember a few games getting beaten by a lot of points by some of the more established clubs in the WNBL but that experience for me was huge. I was so excited to be playing in the WNBL against my idols who I had watched on the TV in years previous.”
Wilson’s AIS teammates in 2002/03 included Gabe Richards, Lauren King, Hannah Zavecz and Hollie Grima. The AIS had four wins, 17 losses, a percentage of 85.04% and finished last out of eight teams in 2002/03. Wilson played 18 games for the AIS during 2002/03 and averaged 9.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Wilson made a significant impact in her debut WNBL season and won the league’s Betty Watson Rookie of the Year Award.
Wilson joined the Sydney Uni Flames for the 2003/04 WNBL season and was part of the Flames team coached by Karen Dalton that finished second on the ladder in 2003/04 and third on the ladder in 2004/05. In both seasons Sydney progressed to the Grand Final at Dandenong Stadium and were defeated by the Dandenong Rangers in low scoring encounters, 53-63 in 2003/04 and 47-52 in 2004/05. In two seasons with the Sydney Uni Flames Wilson played 43 games and averaged 4.1 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 0.7 steals per game.
From 2005/06 to 2007/08 Wilson played three seasons and 62 games for the Townsville Fire, playing her 100th WNBL game at 22 years of age late in the 2006/07 season. In all three seasons Townsville finished in sixth place and missed the finals. In 2005/06 Wilson averaged a then career-high 10.6 points per game and then equalled this mark two seasons later in 2007/08. During 62 games for Townsville Fire from 2005/06 to 2007/08 Wilson averaged 9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.0 steals per game.
WNBL career with Bendigo Spirit from 2008/09 to 2015/16
In early 2007 a team based in country Victoria, Bendigo Spirit were granted a license to join the WNBL. Kelly’s younger sister Andrea made her WNBL debut with Bendigo Spirit in the club’s inaugural 2007/08 season. Kelly joined Andrea at Bendigo Spirit for the club’s second WNBL season in 2008/09.
In a Pathway / Kelly Wilson, Bendigo Spirit video published by Basketball Victoria in 2016 Wilson commented “When I was growing up there was no national league teams in country Victoria, so even just now for the juniors working their way up, the fact that there is a national league program in country Victoria is a really exciting prospect for them.”
“When I left the Institute the Spirit didn’t exist then and I ended up playing in Sydney, that was a great experience but when I had the opportunity to come back closer to home and be in country Victoria I jumped at the chance.”
Bendigo local Bernie Harrower coached the Bendigo Lady Braves in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) from the mid 1990’s onwards and played a pivotal role in Bendigo Spirit being given a WNBL licence. Bernie’s daughter Kristi was born in Bendigo, is one of Australia’s greatest ever basketball players and at the time Spirit joined the WNBL had won silver medals with the Australian Opals at both the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games, a gold medal at the 2006 World Championships and had played in the WNBL, WNBA and Europe.
Bernie Harrower was appointed Bendigo Spirit’s inaugural WNBL coach. In the club’s first ever WNBL game at the Bendigo Schweppes Centre the Spirit defeated the Dandenong Rangers 87-66 with Kristi Harrower scoring a game-high 21 points. Due to commitments with UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia it was the only game that Kristi played for Bendigo in 2007/08. Kelly’s under 14’s Victoria Country teammate Gabe Richards joined Bendigo Spirit for their inaugural 2007/08 WNBL season. In their debut WNBL season Bendigo Spirit had 10 wins and 14 losses to finish seventh at the end of the 2007/08 regular season out of 10 clubs.
From 2008/09 to 2015/16 Kelly Wilson played eight consecutive WNBL seasons with Bendigo Spirit. Point guard Kristi Harrower joined Bendigo for the 2008/09 season and played her first WNBL season since representing the Melbourne Tigers in 1999/2000. Bendigo Spirit made the WNBL finals for the first time in 2008/09.
During the 2009/10 WNBL season Wilson, Harrower and Richards were joined at Bendigo Spirit by Canadian import forward Chelsea Aubrey. After consecutive elimination finals defeats in 2008/09 and 2009/10 Bendigo broke through to record their first finals victory, defeating Logan 74-53 in a 2010/11 semi final. Bendigo lost to Canberra 78-83 in a preliminary final.
In 2011/12 Wilson was one of six players at Bendigo that played more than 500 minutes court-time for the season along with Harrower, Richards, Tess Madgen, Deanna Smith and Aubrey. No other Spirit player had more than 300 minutes court-time for the season. After three consecutive finals appearances Bendigo finished sixth in 2011/12 with a record of 12 wins and six losses, finishing one win behind Townsville and Sydney who finished fourth and fifth respectively and played each other in an elimination final.
The quartet of Wilson, Harrower, Richards and Aubrey all suited up for Bendigo again in 2012/13 however the players that ranked first and second for the Spirit in 2011/12 for scoring departed with Madgen joining the Bulleen (now Melbourne) Boomers and Smith joining the West Coast Waves (now Perth Lynx). Bendigo wanted their second import to complete their starting line-up for 2012/13, however received a set-back when the player recruited to fill this role – Kathleen Scheer had to be cut by Bendigo after the WNBL pre-season tournament due to a recurring left knee injury.
After receiving a phone call from Chelsea Aubrey, forward Kelsey Griffin joined Bendigo a third of the way into the 2012/13 season as the Sprit’s second import, Aubrey and Griffin had been college team-mates at the University of Nebraska. Before American import Griffin joined the club Bendigo had already displayed that they were a championship contender, winning six of their first seven games, thriving in pressure situations to win all four games decided by three points or less. Griffin fitted seamlessly into a strong Bendigo starting line-up alongside Wilson, Harrower, Richards and Aubrey. Kelly’s younger sister Andrea continued her role as a back-up guard.
Bendigo finished on top of the WNBL ladder at the end of the 2012/13 regular season with 21 wins and three losses, two games ahead of Dandenong, with Adelaide in third place with 18 wins and Townsville completing the top four on 13 wins. In a semi final against Dandenong Rangers at Bendigo Stadium the Spirit trailed Dandenong by 10 points at half-time, 34-44. During the third quarter Wilson made four three-pointers to gain the ascendancy for Bendigo who outscored Dandenong 24-9 for the quarter to lead 58-53 at three quarter time. Bendigo defeated the Jayco Rangers 78-71 to qualify for their first WNBL Grand Final. All of Wilson’s shot attempts for the semi final were from long range and she was very effective as a spot-up three-pointer shooter in 34 minutes court-time as a starter, scoring a game-high 21 points, making seven of 14 three-pointers at an accuracy of 50% and made a game-high three steals.
On 10 March, 2013 Bendigo Spirit defeated Townsville Fire 71-57 in the Grand Final at Bendigo Stadium to win the Spirit’s first WNBL championship in the club’s sixth season. Wilson score nine points and had an equal game-high five assists along with Harrower. Griffin registered a double-double comprised of 20 points and 11 rebounds to win the Rachel Sporn medal as Grand Final MVP.
During the 2012/13 WNBL season Wilson made a career-high 49 three-pointers at an accuracy of 35.3% and just over half her made field goals were from long range, making a total of 95 field goals for the season. In her first five seasons with Bendigo Spirit from 2008/09 to 2012/13 Wilson played 118 games for Bendigo and averaged 8.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 0.7 steals per game.
Bendigo Spirit’s five starters from 2012/13 – Wilson, Harrower, Richards, Griffin and Aubrey all returned for the 2013/14 season. Bendigo won the minor premiership for the second season in a row, having a regular season record of 22 wins and two losses, six games ahead of the second placed Dandenong Rangers and Townsville Fire in third position.
Bendigo continued their dominance over Dandenong to win their semi final 71-62 at Bendigo Stadium and qualify for their second Grand Final in a row. Wilson scored 14 points in the semi final, ranked second for Bendigo with Harrower, behind Griffin with a game-high 19 points. Townsville won a thrilling preliminary final against Dandenong 74-71 at Dandenong Stadium.
With the 2013/14 Grand Final being hosted by Bendigo against a visiting Townsville Fire outfit that had won the season split between the two clubs 2-1 the expectations were that it would be a closer Grand Final than the previous season. This was exactly how it played out with Bendigo leading by only two points at three-quarter time. Bendigo scored the opening nine points of the final quarter to set up an 11 point victory over Townsville to win back to back WNBL championships. In the Grand Final Wilson scored 14 points, made five of seven field goal attempts at an accuracy of 71.4% and made four assists, ranked second at Bendigo behind Harrower with nine. Bendigo forward Kelsey Griffin scored 28 points and took 15 rebounds to set game-high’s in both categories and won the Rachel Sporn medal as Grand Final MVP for the second year in a row.
During 2013/14 Wilson set a new career-high of 4.0 assists per game, surpassing her previous best of 2.7 assists per game in 2012/13. Wilson also had the most accurate shooting season of her WNBL career in 2013/14, having a three-point accuracy of 42.5% and a field goal accuracy of 42.9%.
During the WNBL video Here comes Kelly Wilson Round 10 published on 11 December 2015 Wilson commented “The biggest highlights in my WNBL career was certainly the back to back championships we won here at the Bendigo Stadium (in 2012/13 and 2013/14), extremely proud to be a part of those two teams and it is something that I will remember forever.”
Bendigo again retained most of their core including all five starters for the 2014/15 season. Wilson was joined at Bendigo by another player that grew up in Gippsland, three-time Olympian Belinda Snell. Kristi Harrower had a reduced playing role in 2014/15 with her primary role being that of assistant coach.
For the second season in a row Bendigo Spirit commenced the season with a road trip to Townsville, Bendigo were defeated in the 2014/15 edition by three points 70-67. In early January 2015 Kristi Harrower announced that she was 16 weeks pregnant and was retiring from basketball immediately.
During Series 2, Episode 13 of Basket Case podcast Shame it’s not on telly on 7 January 2016 Wilson spoke about being a teammate of Harrower’s for an extended time at Bendigo Spirit, saying “I feel really privileged to have played with Kristi for so long, I actually never really played a game against her because my entire time at the Spirit was the years that she was there, So for me to get to train and learn from her everyday was a huge benefit for me, I learnt a lot from her and Bernie as well.”
Bendigo remained near the top of the WNBL ladder throughout the 2014/15 season but weren’t as dominant as they had been in the previous two season, recording 15 wins and seven losses to finished second, two games behind minor premiers Townsville and three games ahead of Dandenong in third place with the Sydney Uni Flames completing the top four on 11 wins.
In the semi final at Townsville the home side defeated Bendigo comfortably, 82-63. In the first two and a half quarters of Bendigo’s home preliminary final against Sydney Wilson scored 14 points and Bendigo led the Flames 59-56 with four minutes and 28 seconds remaining in the third quarter. In the remainder of the game Wilson lifted her scoring output even higher to score all of Bendigo’s 11 points in the last four minutes and 28 seconds of the third quarter, single-handedly outscoring Sydney 11-6 during this time to extend Spirit’s lead to 70-62 at the final change. During this purple patch Wilson scored one three pointer, two two point jump shots and four free-throws. In the last quarter Wilson added another seven points to her tally in a Bendigo 85-77 victory against Sydney. Wilson was phenomenal, scoring a game-high 32 points at a field goal accuracy of 57% and was even more damaging from long range, making five of eight three-pointers at an accuracy of 62% in a match-winning performance. Wilson also made all seven free-throws and had five assists – ranked second at Bendigo behind Griffin with six. The second ranked players in the game scored 17 points each and Wilson made more three-pointers than all other players in the game combined, five to four which highlights just how dominant Kelly was in a sublime shooting exhibition.
Bendigo met Townsville in the Grand Final for the third season in a row however the Fire hosted the 2015 edition at Townsville RSL Stadium. Bendigo led the Grand Final by two points at quarter-time however a dominant 26-16 second quarter gained Townsville the ascendancy and they went to win the club’s first ever WNBL championship 75-65.
Teammate Griffin became an Australian citizen in November 2015. Wilson played her 300th WNBL game in December 2015. During the WNBL video Here comes Kelly Wilson Round 10 published on 11 December 2015 Wilson spoke about playing her 300th WNBL game, commenting “So I am proud to be able to say that obviously this weekend I will have played 300 WNBL games. When I was younger I really wanted to play in the WNBL and I really looked up to the girls that played WNBL. It is humbling to see the likes of the names that I will be joining like Rachel Sporn and Jess Bibby but to be honest I feel a little bit out of their league, so whilst I am happy to be in there I do feel a little bit out of place.”
Kelly Wilson playing for Bendigo Spirit against the Melbourne Boomers on 21 November 2015 at the State Basketball Centre
After making three consecutive Grand Finals from 2012/13 to 2014/15 Bendigo Spirit missed the finals in 2015/16, recording 12 wins and 12 losses to finish sixth out of nine clubs. In 2015/16 Wilson averaged 11.4 points and 5.5 assists per game to set new career-highs in both categories during her 14th WNBL season. During three seasons from 2013/14 to 2015/16 Wilson played 68 games for Bendigo Spirit and averaged 9.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 0.9 steals per game. During this three-season period Wilson took on more of the ball handling responsibility with Harrower’s workload being reduced before she retired in January 2015. Wilson’s average of 4.8 assists per game during this season was double the 2.4 assists she averaged per game during her first five WNBL seasons with Bendigo from 2008/09 to 2012/13.
In January 2016 Wilson told Basket Case podcast about winning a Gold Medal with Australia at the 2007 World University Games, commenting “It was awesome, it was a great experience, I hadn’t played international basketball for a while, I had played Sapphires for Australia, under 23’s and stuff like that when I was younger but it had been a couple of years so just to go and experience that level of competition and obviously to win a gold medal, it was really exciting, it is certainly something I look back on and have fond memories of anyway.” The 2007 World University Games were held in Bangkok, Thailand in August.
Wilson represented the Australian Opals team that won Oceania Championships against New Zealand in 2013 and 2015. Wilson played off the bench in both tournaments. Game one of the 2015 tournament was played at Rod Laver Arena as part of a double header with the game between the Opals and Tall Ferns followed by a men’s match Oceania Championship match between the Australian Boomers and the New Zealand Tall Blacks.
2016/17 and 2017/18 WNBL seasons with Townsville Fire
Wilson returned to Townsville Fire for a second stint commencing in 2016/17. Due to a fractured ankle suffered during a Round 5 game in November 2016 Wilson missed over a month and a half of training and made her WNBL return in January 2017.
In a home game for Townsville Fire against the Dandenong Rangers in Round 18 Wilson played brilliantly to score 16 points, take nine rebounds and had seven assists, shot the ball at 66% from the field and made no turnovers in 30 minutes court-time. For her superb performance in Townsville’s victory Wilson was named the WNBL’s Round 18 Player of the week. Wilson commented to WNBL Media “I’m feeling a lot more confident out on the court and probably for the first time this season I’m feeling good and ready to go. I feel like I’ve had a three-month holiday in the middle of the season, but I am good to go now.”1
At the half-way point of the 2016/17 season Townsville had a record of five wins and seven losses and looked to be in serious danger of missing the finals however a strong finish to the season resulted in the Fire winning nine of their last 12 games to make the finals for a sixth consecutive season. Townsville finished in fourth position with 14 wins and 10 losses, four games behind minor premiers, the Sydney Uni Flames and one game behind the Jayco Rangers and Perth Lynx in second and third place respectively. Sydney defeated Townsville in the semi final series two games to nil to end the Fire’s 2016/17 season.
During the 2016/17 season the Townsville Fire had a core rotation of eight players who each played more than 350 minutes for the season, five of these players returned to Townsville for the 2017/18 season – Wilson, Suzy Batkovic, Mia Murray, Micaela Cocks and Darcee Garbin. Townsville’s most high profile recruit for the 2017/18 season was forward Cayla George who played in Townsville’s 2014/15 and 2015/16 championships and represented the Australian Opals at the 2016 Olympic Games and 2014 World Championships. Other recruits that were part of the Townsville Fire core rotation in 2017/18 were imports Sydney Wiese and Laurin Mincy along with Australian point guard Mikhaela Donnelly. 2017/18 was Claudia Brassard’s second season as Townsville Fire’s head coach, being just the fourth person to hold this role.
Townsville finished the 2017/18 regular season third on the ladder with a record of 14 wins and seven losses, level with second placed Sydney Uni Flames and one game behind minor premiers the Perth Lynx who after starting the season with only one win in their first five games had a club record 14 game-winning streak. The Melbourne Boomers finished fourth with 12 wins and nine losses.
Kelly Wilson playing for Townsville Fire against the Perth Lynx on 26 November 2017 at the State Basketball Centre
Townsville won the semi final series against Sydney two games to nil to progress to the club’s fifth Grand Final in six seasons. The second game of the semi final series was Wilson’s 100th game for Townsville Fire – becoming the 10th player in the club’s history to reach this milestone.
All three Grand Final games between Townsville Fire and Melbourne Boomers 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. Wilson was part of Townsville’s starting line-up for the Grand Final series along with Batkovic, George, Murray and Wiese. Townsville won game 1 of the Grand Final series 69-64 at Townsville Stadium and were defeated 57-58 on the road by Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre in Game 2.
In game 3 of the 2017/18 WNBL Grand Final Wilson played her 350th WNBL game, becoming the ninth player in league history to reach this milestone. On the eve of Wilson’s 350th WNBL game Townsville Fire head coach Claudia Brassard commented “Kelly is such a hard worker. Her work ethic is second to none. She has an insatiable appetite to get better and she’s become a terrific leader. She controls the team exceptionally well and she brings a raft of intangibles – outside of being an elite player – to your locker room which teammates love.”2
Kelly Wilson shooting a free-throw for Townsville Fire against the Perth Lynx on 26 November 2017 at the State Basketball Centre
In game three Wilson scored nine points, took six rebounds and had three assists in Townsville’s 70-57 victory over the Boomers to win the Grand Final series. In 2016/17 and 2017/18 Wilson played a total of 41 games for Townsville and averaged 5.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 0.9 steals per game.
Playing in the SEABL
Early in her career Wilson played seasons in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) in 2002 and 2005. In the final decade of the SEABL from 2009 to 2018 Wilson played 10 consecutive seasons in the league and won the regular season Most Valuable Player Award twice and played in two SEABL championships.
Wilson spent most of her SEABL career with the Bendigo Lady Braves and bookended the final decade of the SEABL with selection in the All-SEABL first team in 2009 and 2018. Wilson also won the first of her Most Valuable Player Awards in 2009 playing for the Braves.
During 2013 playing for the Knox Raiders Wilson achieved the double of winning the regular season MVP and winning a SEABL Championship with Knox Raiders defeating Bendigo Lady Braves 82-61 in the Grand Final. Wilson scored 24 points in the 2013 Grand Final shooting at 57% from the field, took six rebounds and made seven assists. Knox Raiders teammates Gabe Richards and Bec Allen both registered double-doubles with Allen winning the Grand Final MVP Award.
Kelly Wilson driving to the basket for the Bendigo Lady Braves against the Launceston Tornadoes in the SEABL Grand Final on 18 August 2018 at the State Basketball Centre
During 2018 the Bendigo Lady Braves put together one of the most dominant SEABL seasons in league history, going through the regular season with a perfect 20 wins and zero losses. During the finals the Braves did suffer a loss to the Launceston Tornadoes at home in a qualifying final, however when the sides met again in the Grand Final at the State Basketball Centre Bendigo Lady Braves prevailed in a shoot-out to win the Grand Final 119-96. Wilson and Gabe Richards dominated in the Grand Final for the Braves, Wilson had already registered a double-double at half-time and finished the game with 27 points, three rebounds and 20 assists whilst Richards scored 43 points and took 24 rebounds to win the Grand Final MVP. Kelly’s younger sister Andrea was also a member of the Braves 2018 SEABL Championship winning team.
In five consecutive seasons from 2013 to 2017 Wilson averaged between 6.0 and 7.5 assists per game. During the 2018 SEABL season Wilson played 24 games for the Bendigo Lady Braves and averaged an astounding SEABL career-high 12.4 assists per game.
Kelly Wilson playing for the Bendigo Lady Braves against the Launceston Tornadoes in the SEABL Grand Final on 18 August 2018 at the State Basketball Centre
2018/19 WNBL season with University of Canberra Capitals
Wilson joined the University of Canberra Capitals for the 2018/19 WNBL season, with the opportunity to once again be teammates with Kelsey Griffin playing a role in the decision to join the Capitals. When the Capitals were at full strength during the 2018/19 season their starting line-up was Wilson, Leilani Mitchell, Canadian import Kia Nurse, Griffin and Mariana Tolo. It was a new look starting line-up for the Capitals, Tolo was the only one that had played for the Capitals previously, having played 110 games for Canberra and been a member of the club’s WNBL Championship winning teams in 2008/09 and 2009/10. Other members of the Capitals core rotation included guard Maddi Rocci and forward Keely Froling. Tolo and Griffin were appointed Canberra’s co-captain’s. Paul Goriss was in his third season as the Capitals head coach in 2018/19.
Kelly Wilson playing for the University of Canberra Capitals against the Dandenong Rangers on 30 December 2018 at Dandenong Stadium
In the opening game of the 2018/19 season and Wilson was only one point and two rebounds shy of a triple double in the 97-78 road victory at Brydens Arena, scoring nine points, took eight rebounds and made a game-high 11 assists and had an equal game-high three steals.
In a Round 8 83-91 road loss to Adelaide Lightning at Titanium Security Arena Wilson registered a double-double comprised of 13 points and a game-high 11 assists whilst also taking six rebounds.
The University of Canberra Capitals started the season strongly and continued with their momentum to record 16 wins and five losses during the 2018/19 regular season to finish on top of the ladder, one win ahead of the second placed Melbourne Boomers and three wins ahead of Adelaide and Perth in third and fourth place respectively. Kelsey Griffin won the WNBL’s Most Valuable Player Award and Kia Nurse finished seventh. Wilson led the WNBL in assists per game and teammate Mitchell ranked fifth in this category.
Kelly Wilson playing for the University of Canberra Capitals and about to pass to Leilani Mitchell against the Dandenong Rangers on 30 December 2018 at Dandenong Stadium
University of Canberra Capitals defeated Perth two games to nil in the semi final series, winning game one at home 95-76 at AIS Arena and game two at Bendat Basketball Centre 91-75. In game one Wilson scored nine points and had an equal game-high seven assists along with two teammates – Mitchell and Griffin. The Capitals had an incredible 29 assists for the game on 34 made field goals. During the game two victory Wilson had a double-double comprised of 15 points and a game high 12 assists. Wilson made seven of 13 field goal attempts for a field goal accuracy of 53% and also took six rebounds.
During game 3 of the Grand Final Wilson scored 16 points, made six of eight field goal attempts at an accuracy of 75%, made both three-point attempts, took four rebounds and had four assists in Canberra’s 93-73 victory at AIS Arena against Adelaide which secured the WNBL Championship for the Capitals. It was the second time that Wilson had played in back to back WNBL championships however this time the titles were with different teams, having won the 2017/18 championship with Townsville Fire and the 2018/19 championship with Canberra Capitals. Wilson played 26 games for the University of Canberra Capitals in 2018/19 and averaged 8.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game. In WNBL season 17 Wilson set a new career-high for assists per game.
2019/20 WNBL season with Bendigo Spirit
For WNBL season number 18 Wilson returned in 2019/20 to play for Bendigo Spirit who were coached by Tracy York. On returning to Bendigo Wilson told WNBL Media “I feel privileged to have the opportunity to return home to join the Bendigo Spirit. I am excited to be able to work with Tracy and the rest of the team for the upcoming WNBL season. I look forward to playing in front of my family, friends and the loyal Bendigo supporters in the new world class facilities that are on offer. The Spirit have a rich history in the WNBL and I am hopeful of helping the team have a successful season.”3
Kelly Wilson playing for Bendigo Spirit against the Southside Flyers on 26 October 2019 at Traralgon Stadium
Wilson was appointed Bendigo Spirit co-captain along with fellow guard Tessa Lavey. Wilson was one of three players on Bendigo’s team that had primarily played as a point guard throughout their career along with Lavey and Shyla Heal.
Kelly Wilson shooting a jump shot or Bendigo Spirit against the Southside Flyers on 26 October 2019 at Traralgon Stadium
Wilson played her 200th game for Bendigo Spirit on 21 December 2019. It was a big summer for milestones as on 24 January 2020 Wilson played her 395th WNBL game in a home game for Bendigo Spirit at Bendigo Stadium, surpassing the previous mark of 394 games set by Dandenong Rangers and University of Canberra Capitals shooting guard Jess Bibby. After breaking the WNBL’s games record Wilson told wnbl.basketball “I reflect on when I started out and was trying to break into the league. If someone had have said then I’d play this long, let alone reach the games record, I would’ve thought they were crazy. I look back at that kid who was so eager and enthusiastic about playing in the WNBL. I knew I’d played a lot of games but wasn’t really aware of the record. I still enjoy it and that’s why I’m still playing.”4
Kelly Wilson playing for Bendigo Spirit against the Southside Flyers on 26 October 2019 at Traralgon Stadium
Bendigo Spirit finished seventh on the ladder in 2019/20 with five wins and 16 losses. Wilson played 19 games for Bendigo and averaged 8.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Against Perth on 12 January Wilson made a game-high 11 assists. Wilson ranked second in the WNBL for assists per game behind French import Olivia Epoupa who played for the Canberra Capitals.
NBL1 with the Bendigo Lady Braves in 2019 and 2021
During winter 2019 Wilson played in the inaugural NBL1 season with the Bendigo Lady Braves which was a great lead-in to the 2019/20 WNBL season as Wilson, Tessa Lavey, Gabe Richards and Becca Tobin were all playing for the Lady Braves in NBL1 and the Spirit in the WNBL.
The Bendigo Lady Braves had a dominant 2019 regular season, finishing on top of the ladder with 19 wins and one loss. A preliminary final loss to the Geelong Supercats ended the Bendigo Lady Braves season. During the 2019 NBL1 season Wilson averaged 19.2 points, a phenomenal 10.5 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. Wilson easily led the NBL1 for assists per game with the second ranked player in this category Chanise Jenkins having 6.4 assists per game. Wilson won the NBL1’s 2019 Regular Season Most Valuable Player Award, it was the third time in 11 seasons that Wilson had won a state league MVP Award, having won the SEABL MVP in 2009 and 2013.
Due to COVID-19 an NBL1 season was not played in Victoria during 2020. When NBL1 resumed in 2021 the Victorian based league had been rebranded as NBL1 South and was one of four NBL1 conferences along with NBL1 North in Queensland, NBL1 Central in South Australia and NBL1 West in Western Australia.
After having her son Teddy in February 2021 Wilson wasn’t sure if she would return to playing basketball. On the 4 January 2022 episode of SEN Breakfast Adam Cooney asked “Tell us about the work that you had to do to get yourself back to play competitive basketball?” Wilson responded “Yeah, it is no joke coming back from having a baby. It’s lots of work. I have a very supportive husband and family and like I said I wasn’t sure that I was going to come back because obviously I have got different priorities now in life, but I just started to feel good and went and started shooting and training again and thought I can still do this. It was a slow and long process but it was a slow year in Victoria, we were pretty effected by COVID, in and out of lockdown so no-one was doing too much at the time, so it kind of worked out quite well.”
In Wilson’s return to basketball on 2 July 2021 for the Bendigo Braves during the 2021 NBL1 season she scored nine points, took nine rebounds and made nine assists against Albury Wodonga in 23 minutes and 57 seconds court-time. Wilson played three more games for the Bendigo Braves before the season was paused in early August due to COVID-19 and ultimately the remainder of the NBL1 South season was cancelled. In four games for the Bendigo Braves during the 2021 NBL1 South season Wilson averaged 15.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
2021/22 WNBL season with the University of Canberra Capitals
After playing 18 consecutive WNBL seasons from 2002/03 to 2019/20 Wilson missed the 2020 season as she was pregnant and had a son Teddy in February 2021. On her experience of watching the 2020 WNBL season Wilson told WNBL Media “I really enjoyed watching it as a spectator and fan because I was in absolutely no physical shape to be able to compete. It was great because there were so many games to watch. I was watching at home pregnant and I noticed the amount of mums running around and it did cross my mind ‘maybe I can play again.’ I did get that motivation from the likes of Steph Blicavs, Mia Murray, Kayla Steindl and Ash Karaitiana and who knows, maybe I can be that for someone else. That would be quite rewarding.”5
A key reason that Wilson started playing basketball as a child is that she didn’t want to miss out on sharing experiences with her friends and this same reason is a factor in Wilson continuing to play in the WNBL, with one friend and teammate Kelsey Griffin being a driving influence. After signing with the University of Canberra Capitals for the 2021/22 season Wilson told WNBL Media “Kels has this power over me where she and (wife) Erin just plant the seed and I always take it. It’s a huge part of why I’m back here (in Canberra) again, I love playing with Kels. I enjoy playing basketball when I’m playing with her.”6
After Wilson signed with the club UC Capitals head coach Paul Goriss commented “It’s great to have one of our championship guards returning to Canberra with the UC Caps. Kelly not only brings championship experience and leadership, but she brings basketball IQ, passing ability, vision and a history of winning chemistry with Kelsey. I am elated to have Kelly back in a Caps uniform. She understands our culture, history, she knows how we like to play, and she had a massive impact on our championship. She is a warrior and her longevity in the WNBL proves her worth to our team. I am looking forward to coaching Kelly again. She’s a fantastic addition to the team.”7
Goriss is in his sixth season as Capitals head coach. Former Capitals player Carly Wilson returned for her fifth season as an assistant coach of the club. Carly played in three WNBL championships comprised of two with the Dandenong Rangers in 2003/04 and 2004/05 along with one with the Capitals in 2010/11, was named in the 2003/04 All-WNBL team and played 363 games, ranked eighth on the WNBL’s all-time games list. Kennedy Kereama joined the Capitals as an assistant coach for the 2021/22 and has previously coached the New Zealand Tall Ferns and been a head coach and an assistant coach in the WNBL.
In a Round 1 road game at Qudos Bank Arena on 5 December the University of Canberra Capitals defeated the Sydney Uni Flames 58-55. In her return to the WNBL after missing the 2020 season Wilson scored five points, made two of three field goal attempts at an accuracy of 66.7%, took six rebounds and made a game-high six assists. On how it felt returning to the WNBL after having her son Teddy, Wilson told Fox Sports in a post-game interview “Absolutely amazing and look I am just thankful that I have an extremely supportive cub behind me and my friends and family, obviously a shout-out goes to my husband Michael, but it is amazing to see my little boy in the crowd with my husband and to be able to be back playing at this level again.”
On 21 December a Statement regarding WNBL integrity breach was published on wnbl.basketball.com.au, the start of the statement said
“Basketball Australia today has issued bans to Paul Goriss Head Coach of the UC Capitals and Simon Cosier a WNBL referee.
Both Goriss and Cosier have been found guilty of engaging in Prohibited Conduct under Basketball Australia’s National Framework for Ethical Behaviour and Integrity in Basketball by misusing inside information and engaging in conduct that would impair public confidence in the integrity and good character of basketball and its participants.
Cosier supplied Goriss with confidential video clips of the Sydney Uni Flames training scrimmage that had been used for referee education purposes.”8
As a result of an investigation “Goriss is banned from all coaching activities including Opals duties until January 20, 2022 for using some of the clips for opposition scouting.”9 Whilst Goriss is serving his suspension Kereama is the head coach of the Canberra Capitals.
Against Bendigo Spirit in a home game at the National Convention Centre on 22 December 2021 Wilson scored 14 points, made 50% of field goal attempts, three of seven three-pointers and had a game-high 10 assists along with four rebounds and two steals in the Capitals 100-88 victory.
Due to suffering nasal and orbital fractures late in the Capitals opening game against Sydney Griffin missed the club’s next two games. In her return Griffin scored a game-high 20 points in Canberra’s 76-52 Round 5 victory against Townsville, Wilson had a game-high eight assists.
The Canberra Capitals have had three wins and one loss to be equal first on the WNBL ladder with Adelaide Lightning. Wilson has played all four games for the Capitals and is averaging 8.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 2.25 steals per game. Wilson ranks third in the WNBL for assists per game and equal fourth for steals.
After four games of the 2021/22 WNBL season Wilson is averaging 33.4 minutes per game playing as the Capitals starting point guard to be one of three players at the club averaging more than 30 minutes per game along with American import Brittany Sykes (35.9 minutes) and Griffin (30.1). Five Capitals are averaging between 16.0 and 26.0 minutes per game – guards Jade Melbourne and Brittany Smart along with frontcourt players Mikaela Ruef, Alex Bunton and Alicia Froling.
It was expected that in a home game at the National Convention Centre on Wednesday 5 January at 6 pm against the Sydney Uni Flames Wilson would plays her 400th WNBL game, becoming the first player in WNBL history to reach this amazing milestone.
Below is a list of the top 10 on the WNBL’s most games played list, the tallies for second ranked Bibby down to 10th ranked Peacock are as per page 12 of the WNBL 2021/2022 Media Guide.
399 Kelly Wilson
“394 Jess Bibby
377 Rachel Sporn
377 Lucille Bailie
375 Karen Dalton
372 Kristen Veal
369 Robyn Maher
363 Carly Wilson
351 Jo Hill
347 Tracey Peacock”10
In a video published by the University of Canberra Capitals on 4 January 2022 Wilson’s long-time teammate and friend Kelsey Griffin was asked “Why should Canberrans come along to Kelly’s 400th WNBL game?” Griffin responded “I mean the question why should you come along, its history, I mean every game this year and for the foreseeable future, for however long Kelly chooses to play is record breaking and I think it is a record that won’t be touched, they just don’t make people like Kelly Wilson so I think the opportunity to see something that for sure wont be broken in my lifetime, let alone some of the fans lifetime, why wouldn’t you come out and see. Also she is a player that was a huge piece in getting the Caps back on track to where we wanted to be and was so pivotal in my first season here and our season together. Kelly doesn’t ask for a lot, so I think people coming out and showing their support for her, I mean obviously the Capitals and the game is very important but to actually show appreciation for what she has done and given back to basketball in Australia. She hasn’t chased money, she hasn’t chased anything but greatness, success and championships and that is what you want in a player so why wouldn’t you come out and support her.”
Due to a positive COVID-19 case the game scheduled between the Capitals and Sydney for Wednesday 5 January was postponed on the afternoon of the game.
On Saturday January 8 Wilson was set to return to Gippsland to play for the University of Canberra Capitals against the Melbourne Boomers in a game starting at 5.00pm, however late morning on game day the WNBL announced that this game was postponed due to COVID protocols.
Whilst we don’t know where or when Wilson will play her 400th WNBL game she will create league history and become the first player in league history to reach this incredible milestone when she plays her next game for the Capitals.
In an article published on wnbl.basketball.com.au Gabe Richards commented “It’s absolutely no surprise that the first player to 400 games is Kelly Wilson. She is the energiser bunny and one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met and she just loves basketball so when you combine all those things together it’s not surprising. It’s an incredible, incredible achievement.
We’ve been best friends since we were 12 years old, we’re the same age so we were in all the state teams together. It’s really handy as a post player having a point guard like Kelly, so I guess it was destiny we were meant to grow up and play basketball together and that’s what we did.
Certainly, my proudest achievements and most enjoyable times on the basketball court have been with Kelly.”11
Milestones and Misses have published articles on the following WNBL games milestones earlier in the 2021/22 season.
Abby Bishop 250 games
Aimie Rocci 200 games
Bec Cole 200 games and
Steph Talbot 150 games
To view these articles as well as other WNBL articles published on Milestones and Misses please click on the link to the website’s home page below.
During SEN Breakfast on 4 January 2022 Julian de Stoop asked Wilson “Tell us about your friendship with Kelsey Griffin, because you follow each other around the country at times you two?” Wilson replied “I know, tell me about it, she has this power over me to entice me to come to the places that she is playing at. Look she’s a special player, she’s an exceptional leader and she’s one of those players that you want to play with. We obviously have a great friendship as well, I know that when I am playing with her I am enjoying basketball, so that is what it is all about.”
On the key to her longevity Wilson told SEN Breakfast on 4 January 2022 “I think probably I am a little bit too competitive for my own good, so that is probably the first thing, but also I wouldn’t still be playing now if I didn’t enjoy what I was doing and I think that goes a long way. I think those are probably the two key elements.”
The number of assists that Wilson has provided to her teammates has significantly increased during her WNBL career. In each of her first 11 WNBL seasons from 2002/03 to 2012/13 Wilson averaged less than 3.0 assists per game. In seven consecutive WNBL seasons from 2013/14 to 2019/20 Wilson averaged more than 4.0 assists per game. During her 17th WNBL season in 2018/19 Wilson set a new career-high of 6.2 assists per game in 2018/19 for the Capitals. The following season Wilson had 5.8 assists per game in 2019/20 for Bendigo Spirit to register the second highest assist average of her WNBL career.
In the first 399 games of Kelly Wilson’s remarkable career she has averaged 8.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 0.9 steals per game. Wilson’s 1,316 career assists ranks third on the WNBL’s All-time list behind Kristen Veal (1,617 assists) and Kristi Harrower (1,503). Wilson also ranks in the top 10 for three-pointers made with 374.
Throughout her career to date Kelly Wilson has made a massive contribution to Australian basketball, both in the WNBL and at state league level. Wilson has played in four WNBL championships, back to back with the Bendigo Spirit in 2012/13 and 2013/14 followed by 2017/18 with Townsville Fire and 2018/19 with University of Canberra Capitals. Wilson holds the WNBL’s game record and later this month will break new ground by becoming the first player in the league’s 42 season history to reach 400 games. Wilson has also excelled at state league level winning the SEABL MVP Award in 2009 and 2013 and the NBL1 MVP Award in 2019.
Kelly Wilson playing for Bendigo Spirit and looking to pass to Gabe Richards against the Southside Flyers on 26 October 2019 at Traralgon Stadium
For over 10 years Wilson has worked as a teacher in Bendigo and will return to this role from maternity leave in April. Many of Wilson’s skills from basketball including teamwork, leadership and resilience are transferrable to her teaching role.
On the highlights of her basketball career Wilson told SEN Breakfast on 4 January 2022 “Obviously the championships. I look back on my time when I was in Bendigo for a really long time and the club had come from the inception of the club and we won those two championships, they’re really special. The other two were really meaningful but the most important part for me has been the friends and people I have met along the way. I have got lifelong friends from just playing basketball so the fact that I am still best friends with some of the players that I was playing with in under 14’s that’s what I am really going to take out of this journey.”
Article and photographs by Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777
10 Women’s National Basketball League, 2021/2022 Media Guide, page 12
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:
The Milestones and Misses website was set up in December 2015. From 2020 onwards articles have been published on the following sportspeople: