Tonight Southside Flyers guard Maddison Rocci plays the 100th game of her WNBL career in a home game at Dandenong Stadium against the Sydney Uni Flames. Rocci reaches the milestone at 23 years of age in WNBL season number five and for the second season in a row ranks in the league’s top 10 for assists and steals per game.
As a junior Maddison Rocci commenced her basketball career at 11 years of age with the Werribee Devils in Melbourne’s western suburbs. Rocci progressed to represent Vic Metro at National Championships in the under 16’s, under 18’s and under 20’s and played for the Australian under 17’s and under 19’s teams. Rocci was the captain of the 2015 under 18 Victoria Metro team that won the gold medal and was a starter for Australia at the 2017 Under 17 World Cup until an arm injury ended her tournament.
In 2017/18 Rocci made her WNBL debut 19 years of age for the University of Canberra Capitals and finished runner-up in the league’s Betty Watson Rookie of the Year Award behind then Capitals teammate Ezi Magbegor.
During 2018/19 and 2019/20 Rocci played in back to back WNBL Championships with the University of Canberra Capitals and took on more responsibility during this time. During 2018/2019 Rocci started some games early in the season due to injuries to team-mates and then became a permanent starter in 2019/20.
Playing in the Queensland Basketball League in 2020 Rocci flourished as the go-to player for Sunshine Coast Rip City, averaging 32.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game to win the league’s Most Valuable Player Award. In July 2020 Rocci was included in the extended 23 player Australian Opals squad for the Tokyo Olympic Games and attended several Opals training camps.
During the 2020 WNBL season guard Rocci took her basketball to another stratosphere, excelling with her speed, reading of the play and quick hands to rank in the top 10 of the WNBL for scoring, assists and steals. Rocci was recognised for her brilliant season by winning the University of Canberra Capitals Most Valuable Player Award, was selected in the All-WNBL Second team and finished fifth in the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award.
Rocci returned to Victoria to play for the Southside Flyers during the current 2021/22 WNBL season and is a team-mate of sister in law Aimie. Maddison ranks seventh in the WNBL for assists per game and equal ninth for steals.
At the 2022 FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournament held in Belgrade, Serbia Rocci made her Australian Opals debut at 23 years of age, playing all three games off the bench.
Maddison Rocci’s basketball career at junior level, with the Opals and in the WNBL with the University of Canberra Capitals and Southside Flyers is covered in more detail below.
Early life, junior career and SEABL
Maddison Rocci was born on 1 June 1998, grew up in Werribee, and is one of five children to parents Maryanne and Marco, having three brothers Kristian, Julian and Lucas and one sister Monique. Maddison played netball and did some dancing before she followed the lead of her older brothers Kristian and Julian and started playing basketball.
In a video interview Player Feature – Maddy Rocci published by Basketball Australia on 26 March 2021 Maddy spoke about her basketball pathway, saying “I grew up playing basketball in Werribee, Victoria, I played my whole junior career there. I started playing basketball due to the fact that my older siblings had started playing and I attended a game that they were playing at that time and then it made me want to start playing and see how far it could really take me.”
Rocci began playing club basketball for the Werribee Devils at 11 years of age and quickly progressed to play for the Devils’ representative team in the Victorian Junior Basketball League (VJBL).
On the basketball goals Rocci had when she was growing up she told Transition Sports in a video interview in March 2019 “I always had my major goal obviously to be an Olympian and go to the Olympics but then I broke it down into well first I need to obviously play for my state, then play for Australia and work my way up from there but it also comes with developing my game obviously on the outside of that as well and working hard on and off the court.”
Maddison represented Victoria Metro at national championships in the Under 16’s, 18’s and 20’s and during her junior career won four gold medals. In 2015 Rocci was the captain of the Under 18 Victoria Metro team that won the national championship in Ballarat during April. In the victory against South Australia Country in the final Rocci scored eight points and had nine assists.
There was a high degree of competitiveness when Maddison played basketball with her siblings in the backyard of their Werribee home, in particular the battles with her younger brother Lucas and this tenacity developed in the backyard has flowed through to the duo’s sporting careers. Lucas played basketball for Victoria Metro at National Championships and playing Australian Rules Football for the Western Jets Lucas won the Morrish Medal as the League best and fairest in the NAB League Under 19’s in 2019.
In 2015 Maddison received a Basketball Australia National Performance Program Scholarships and at 17 years of age moved away from her family in Werribee to join the basketball program at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra and represented the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence and Australian Under 17 and Under 19 teams.
Rocci represented the Australian Sapphires at the 2014 Under 17 World Cup held in the Czech Republic from 28 June to 6 July. In Australia’s third Group C game against Mexico Rocci scored eight points and took eight rebounds – ranked second for the game behind team-mate Anneli Maley with 11 rebounds. Australia won all three Group C games to finish on top of the group.
In a 72-34 Round of 16 victory against Mali Rocci scored 10 points, took six rebounds and made two assists. Australia had their only loss of the tournament in a quarter final against the Czech Republic 50-61 after being outscored 27-12 in the third quarter. In the Sapphires last game of the tournament they defeated France 69-39 in the play-off for fifth place, Rocci had her best game of the tournament, scoring an equal team-high 10 points along with Maley, made four of her five field goal attempts, took seven rebounds and made four assists.
During the 2014 Under 17 World Cup Rocci played all seven games, averaging 4.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.0 steals and 12.2 minutes per game. Australia finished fifth at the tournament and Rocci ranked equal second for the Saphires in steals, fourth for in assists and sixth for rebounding,
At the 2017 Under 19 World Cup held in Italy from 22 to 30 July Rocci was part of the Gems starting line-up. In a 109-34 victory against Mexico Rocci scored 14 points, made five of her nine field goals, one of two three-pointers and had a game-high seven assists. Australia won two of their three Group D games with the loss being to Japan 61-66 in their opening game.
In a Round of 16 game against Latvia the score was 53 all with 1 minute and 20 seconds remaining in the game. Rocci made a jump shot with one minute and seven seconds remaining to give Australia a two point lead and followed up to provide an assist for a Chloe Bibby lay-up and made four free-throws to play a pivotal role in the 61-56 victory. Rocci finished the game with 10 points, six rebounds and a game-high six assists.
After starting the Australian Gems first four games of the 2017 Under 19 World Cup Rocci was unable to play for the remainder of the tournament due to an arm injury. Without Rocci Australia lost a quarter final to Russia 65-67, defeated China 70-64 and lost to France 45-47 to finish sixth. Rocci played four of Australia’s seven games, averaging 10.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steal and 20.5 minutes per game. Rocci led the Gems in assists per game, ranked fourth in scoring behind Ezi Magbegor, Chloe Bibby and Jaz Shelley, and fifth for steals.
From 2016 to 2018 Rocci played three seasons in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL), playing for the Geelong Supercats in 2016, the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence in 2016 and 2017 and the Diamond Valley Eagles in 2018.
In each SEABL season from 2016 to 2018 Rocci averaged more than 7.0 points and at least 3.0 rebounds per game. During 2017 playing for the BA CoE Rocci averaged 13.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists to set her SEABL highs in all three categories.
2017/18 WNBL season with the University of Canberra Capitals
On signing with the University of Canberra Capitals for the 2017/18 WNBL season weeks after her 19th birthday Rocci commented “I’ve been working so hard to secure a WNBL contract and I couldn’t be happier to sign with the University of Canberra Capitals. I came to Canberra to chase my goal of playing for Australia and I’m excited to be able to continue my progression and development in the WNBL. I can’t wait to get started.”1
Paul Goriss was in his second season as the University of Canberra Capitals head coach in 2017/18 and had briefly coached Rocci when she was at the Australian Institute of Sport. Only three players from Canberra’s 2016/17 core rotation returned for the 2017/18 season – guards Kate Gaze and Abigail Wehrung along with forward Keely Froling. In her debut WNBL season Rocci was able to learn from several experienced team-mates including imports Mistie Bass and Jordan Hooper, two-time Opals Olympian Rachel Jarry and point guard Nat Hurst who had played in all seven of Canberra’s WNBL Championships to that point. One of Rocci’s team-mates from the Australian Gems Under 19’s team, forward/centre Ezi Magbegor was also recruited by the Capitals.
Canberra finished the season strongly, winning five of their last six games of the season to have a record of seven wins and 14 losses to finish sixth on the ladder, recording an identical win-loss record to the Jayco Rangers but finished above the Rangers due to winning their head to head season series 2-1. Canberra finished three games ahead of the last placed Bendigo Spirit and five games behind the fourth placed Melbourne Boomers.
In her debut WNBL season Rocci played 21 games for Canberra including two games as the starting point guard and averaged 3.8 points, 1.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. Rocci polled 28 votes in the WNBL’s 2017/18 Betty Watson Rookie of the Year Award to finish runner-up behind Capitals teammate Magbegor who polled 41 of a possible 42 votes to be the first Capitals player to win the WNBL’s ROTY Award.
2018/19 WNBL season with the University of Canberra Capitals
After signing Rocci for the 2018/19 season Capitals head coach Paul Goriss commented “We are thrilled to have Maddi back for another season. Maddi is a fearless competitor and brings speed to our team when she is on the floor. She attacks the basket aggressively and will continue to improve her game and grow as a leader on the court.”2
In the off-season the University of Canberra Capitals recruited three players that had each been selected in the WNBL All-Star Five multiple times in Mariana Tolo, Kelsey Griffin and Leilani Mitchell. They also recruited Canadian import guard/forward Kia Nurse and veteran point guard Kelly Wilson. Front-court duo Griffin and Tolo were appointed as the Capitals co-captains.
When the Capitals were at full strength during the 2018/19 season their starting line-up was Mitchell, Wilson, Nurse, Griffin and Tolo however Rocci started some games early in the season due to teammates being injured and spent time at both the point guard and shooting guard positions throughout the season.
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.
In their semi final series the Canberra Capitals defeated Perth Lynx two games to nil, winning game one at home 95-76 and game two on the road 91-75. The Capitals defeated the Adelaide Lightning two games to one to win the club’s eighth WNBL Championship. The home side won each game with the Capitals having 86-67 and 93-73 victories in game 1 and 3 respectively whilst Adelaide won a thrilling game 2 74-73 after a field goal by Adelaide captain Nicole Seekamp at the end of the fourth quarter was counted despite the Capitals camp being adamant that Seekamp had not beaten the buzzer with her shot.
During 2018/19 Rocci played 26 games for the Capitals, averaging 5.3 points, 1.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. During the finals Rocci played a reduced role and less minutes than she had during the regular season as the workload of Capitals veteran guards Mitchell and Wilson increased. At the Capitals end of season awards Rocci won the Capital on the Rise award.
On the Capitals transformation from the 2017/18 season to the 2018/19 season Rocci told Wyndham Star Weekly in late-February 2019 “Last season (2017/18) was a rough one. We didn’t go as well as we wanted to. When they re-signed me, they said that they were looking to recruit some big-time players and improve on how we did last year. I guess I had trust in them, but I didn’t think in my second season I’d have a WNBL championship already.”3
In a YouTube video Inside the Key II Maddi Rocci published by Transition Sports on 13 March 2019 Rocci spoke about how she felt playing in the Capitals 2018/19 Championship winning team, saying “Still very excited, I mean it feels a bit surreal. It was an amazing feeling in those last two minutes of the game knowing that you could celebrate and know that you have won the WNBL Championship. It was a goal of ours from the start of the season to lockdown and win that championship and yeah, we succeeded, it was an amazing feeling.”
2019/20 WNBL season with the University of Canberra Capitals
In early April 2019 Canberra Capitals head coach Paul Gorriss commented to Caden Helmers from the Sydney Morning Herald on Rocci’s 2018/19 season and possible changes to the Capitals 2019/20 roster which could provide her with increased opportunities “Hopefully we’ll get answers from Lei and Kelly soon, but if not we’ve got Maddy there ready to start and play a bigger role. Her improvement was so rapid from her rookie season to last year. She put in a tremendous amount of work in the off-season when she went and played in the SEABL. She showed that in the early parts of the season, we were winning games and part of that was to do with Kelsey [Griffin], Kia [Nurse] and the rest of the group, but Maddy was a huge part of that. Her minutes were valuable, scoring, defending some key players on the opposition and making sure she could actually score and shoot the ball better than she did [previously]. Her production probably dipped a little bit over the playoffs and that comes with experience. I can see she can be a starter within our group.”4
Wilson and Mitchell both decided to leave the Capitals, joining rival WNBL clubs the Bendigo Spirit and the Southside Flyers respectively for the 2019/20 season. Rocci was elevated into the starting line-up which also included imports Kia Nurse and Olivia Eopua along with veteran front-court duo Kelsey Grifin and Mariana Tolo when the Capitals were at full-strength. During 2019/20 the Capitals five starters and sixth-man – forward Keely Froling all averaged more than 25 minutes court-time per game.
The University of Canberra Capitals finished second at the end of the regular season with 15 wins and six losses, the same record as the third placed Melbourne Boomers, two wins behind the minor premiers – the Southside Flyers and three wins ahead of the fourth placed Adelaide Lightning. Due to winning the regular season split 2-1 the Capitals had home-court advantage in the semi final series against the Boomers which proved critical, the home side won each semi final and Canberra defeated the Boomers two games to one to progress to a Grand Final against the Southside Flyers.
Canberra won the regular season split against Southside 2-1 with the away side winning all three games. The Capitals easily won regular season games at Dandenong Stadium 91-72 and 98-74 in Rounds 5 and 14 respectively whilst the Southside Flyers defeated the Capitals 70-65 at the National Convention Centre in Round 9.
Very little separated the Flyers and the Capitals during the Grand Final series, the Flyers held the lead in both games of the Grand Final series at a stage in the last four minutes, however in the dying stages the Capitals were more composed and shot the ball more efficiently to win Game 1 82-80 at Dandenong Stadium and Game 2 71-68 at the AIS Arena on 4 March to win the 2019/20 WNBL Championship.
In the Betty Watson Youth Player of the Year Award Rocci polled 11 votes to finish third behind Magebgor (38) and Shyla Heal (28). Rocci played 26 games for the Capitals during 2019/20, averaging 9.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.2 steals and 30.1 minutes per game. During the 2019/20 season Rocci set new career-highs for scoring, rebounds and assists, increasing her scoring output by 70% from the 2018/19 season.
Representing Australia and attending Australian Opals training camps
At the 2016 FIBA 3×3 World Championships held in Guangzhou, China from October 11-15 Rocci at 18 years of age represented Australia alongside two-time Olympian Jenni Screen, Kelly Bowen and Isabella Brancatisano. Australia won three of their four games and finished 11th at the World Championships.
In 2019 Rocci was part of the Emerging Opals team at the World University Games held in Italy during July. The Emerging Opals were undefeated throughout their six games at the tournament, defeating the Unites States of America in the final 80-72 to win the gold medal.
Due to the coronavirus the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games were postponed by 52 weeks to commence on 23 July, 2021. On 13 July 2020 Basketball Australia named 23 players in the Senior National Women’s Chemist Warehouse Opals squad. Rocci was named in an Australian Opals squad for the first time on 13 July 2020. On being included in the Opals 23 player squad Rocci told WNBL.com.au “I got an email from Sandy about being named in the Opals squad and to be honest I had to look at it a couple of times and re-read it to make sure it was right. I was honestly lost for words. It’s been such a big dream of mine to be named in the Opals squad, so it was a very special and proud moment.”5 Rocci was one of four players from the 2017 Australian Gems Under 19 World Cup team selected in the Opals 23 player squad along with Ezi Magbegor, Zitina Aokuso and Jaz Shelley.
On joining UC Capitals teammates Mariana Tolo and Kelsey Griffin in the Opals squad Rocci commented to WNBL.com.au “It’s special to be able to join the Opals alongside two of the best leaders and players I’ve ever played with or against. They have helped me so much on and off the court and have been a massive influence on my development. Having them will be good because I know how they play, and I know that I can definitely go to them for any help I need.”6
During 2021 Rocci attended several Opals training camps commencing with a week long camp on the Gold Coast in January. In a video Player Feature – Maddy Rocci published by Basketball Australia on 26 March 2021 Rocci commented “Growing up I always wanted to be an Australian Opal and I always dreamt of going to the Olympics. It was a massive honour to be named in the Opals squad, obviously you dream of always being named in that squad as a little girl growing up and playing for all those junior teams. There’s a lot of competition out there so to be named in the final 23 in Australia and getting preparation to go to the Olympics is a massive deal, it is super exciting and to play alongside some of these athletes that I have never played (with) before but have played against them is a really cool moment.”
In March 2021 Rocci commented to Basketball Australia on the experience of attending Opals training camps “I think coming in day in and day out at these Opals team is pretty intense and gotta just learn things on the fly, there’s no stop, there’s no time to dwell on your mistakes.”
On Australian Opals coach Sandy Brondello Rocci commented “I think Sandy is an amazing coach, obviously watching her coach in the WNBA was really cool and then seeing that I could actually be coached by her at these camps is obviously an amazing experience as well, she is just super smart, knows what she is talking about and just loves the game. With her playing (experience) as well, it is always good to have a coach who has been there and done that, so she knows the experience and she knows what she is going to give to us going forward. There’s such a great bond and the culture is so good, everybody gets along, you can always have a laugh on and off the court which is something that is really important when you are playing the game of basketball.”
In May 2021 Rocci commented to NBL1.com.au on attempting to make the Australian Olympic team “I know I’ve done all the hard work to try and make it but at the end of the day, I know I’ve put everything forward including all the hard work and training. If there’s disappointment there, I know I have many years to come to be an Opal.”7
After attending several Opals training camps Rocci was one of two players along with fellow 2020 All-WNBL second team Shyla Heal that made their debut appearance for the Australian Opals at the 2022 FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournament held in Serbia from Thursday 10 February to Sunday 13 February. The Opals team included seven players that represented Australia at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games in Cayla George, Marianna Tolo, Steph Talbot, Bec Allen, Alanna Smith, Tess Madgen and Sara Blicavs. The Australian team also included three members of the bronze medal winning team at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup in Perth Lynx duo Sami Whitcomb and Darcee Garbin along with point guard Kristy Wallace.
The Opals recorded two victories and one loss at the tournament, defeating Brazil 65-52 in their first game and Korea 79-61 in their third and final game. After leading Serbia 56-53 at three quarter-time in their second game Serbia outscored the Opals 15-25 in the last quarter and the Opals were defeated 71-78. Against Serbia Rocci made two of four field goal attempts, one of two three-pointers to score five points and had three assists.
Rocci played all three games at the 2022 FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournament for the Opals off the bench and averaged 2.3 points, 1.7 assists, 0.7 steals and 8.2 minutes per game. One of Rocci’s strengths throughout the tournament was the ability to drive to the basket and either shot a lay-up or pass to an open teammate.
On 26 March, 2020 it was announced that Sydney would host the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup for five on five basketball from 23 September to 3 October with 12 teams competing in the tournament. It will be the second time that Australia has hosted a FIBA Women’s World Cup with Sydney also having been the host city in 1994 where Australia narrowly missed out on winning its first ever World Cup medal, finishing fourth after being defeated by China 65-66 in a semi final and lost the bronze medal game to the United States of America 95-100. The Opals broke through to win a bronze medal at the 1998 World Cup and have won a medal at five out of six World Cups from 1998 to 2018 including a gold medal at Rio in 2006.
Queensland Basketball League and NBL1 North
During the 2019 Queensland Basketball League season Rocci played 14 games for University of Sunshine Coast Rip City, averaging 17.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. Rocci scored at least 20 points in a game six times, including a sequence of four consecutive games in the second half of the season.
On 30 October 2019 Basketball Queensland and the National Basketball League (NBL) announced a “New partnership to bring NBL1 to Queensland in 2020. NBL1 will replace the existing Queensland Basketball League (QBL) to create more professional pathways and opportunities for male and females playing basketball in Queensland.”8
The Queensland conference of NBL1 was due to commence in 2020, however as a result of COVID-19 the NBL1 2020 season had to be cancelled.
Rocci had moved to the Sunshine Coast for the scheduled 2020 NBL1 season in Queensland. After the cancellation of the 2020 NBL1 season in Queensland Rocci commented to The Canberra Times about her position and the support she was receiving from her family “Because I’ve got no income, I kind of broke down a little bit knowing I wasn’t going to be able to earn money and play this off-season, but they’re super supportive and always there for me. I’ve still got my house on the Sunshine Coast so I’m waiting to see what they’re going to do with all of that. I do have a job at a school, so I’m waiting to see if they go back for term two, and if not, I’ll see. I can’t really go anywhere right now because the borders are closed so I’m kind of stuck. But I guess it’s not a bad place to be stuck in.”9
When basketball leagues were able to resume later in 2020 a condensed Queensland Basketball League season was played. Rocci took on increased scoring responsibility for USC Rip City in the 2020 Queensland Basketball League season.
On Rocci’s performances and role for USC Rip City in 2020 Capitals head coach Paul Gorriss commented to Basketball Draft Central “It’s really important because she does have a specific role with us at the Capitals, but being able to step away from that and become a go-to player that’s going to handle the ball, that’s going to take on scoring responsibilities and have leadership within the group is really important. I’m hoping she brings that [experience] back for pre-season with the Caps, as it is a great learning curve to have to take on those extra responsibilities.”10
In 10 games Rocci thrived for Sunshine Coast Rip City in 2020, dominating to average 32.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game to win the Queensland Basketball League’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award. Rocci was the only USC Rip City player that averaged more than 9.0 points per game and also led the team in rebounds and assists. Rip City finished seventh out of 12 teams with five wins and six losses.
The Queensland conference of NBL1 was named NBL1 North and the inaugural season was played in 2021 with 14 teams. Rocci left Sunshine Coast Rip City and joined the Southern Districts Spartans for the 2021 NBL1 North season. Rocci was one of four WNBL players on the Southern Districts team along with Kalani Purcell, Nadeen Payne and Ashleigh Karaitiana. On changing teams for the 2021 NBL1 North season Rocci told nbl1.com.au “I loved my time with Rip City. I have nothing against that team, I just moved to Southern Districts to be closer to home. I also wanted to be around players that wanted to help me get better and grow my game. I know that with the team we’ve put together this season, I’m going to be able to do that. The team we’ve put together at Southern Districts is a really good team. From the practice matches we’ve played and the training sessions we’ve had, I can tell it’s going to be a really exciting season.”11
With USC Rip City in the 2020 Queensland Basketball League season Rocci was the clear go-to player. Southern Districts had more players with WNBL experience in 2021 than Rip City had in did in 2020 which led to a change in role for Rocci.
During the 2021 NBL1 North season Rocci played 16 games for Southern Districts Spartans and reached double figures in scoring in every game including a season-high 29 points against Mackay on 4 September.
Southern Districts Spartans won all 12 regular season games to finish on top of the ladder. In the Grand Final the Spartans lost to Logan Thunder. During the 2021 NBL1 season with the Southern District Spartans Rocci averaged 18.2 points, 4.8 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game to be named in the NBL1 North Women’s All-Star 5.
For the 2022 NBL1 North season Rocci is returning to USC Rip City who commence their 2022 NBL1 North season against Southern Districts Spartans on Sunday 30 April at Rowland Cowan Stadium.
2020 WNBL season with the University of Canberra Capitals
On re-signing with the University of Canberra Capitals in early June 2020 for the 2020/21 WNBL season Rocci commented “The thing that motivated me to come back to the Caps again was the team that Paul was putting together and the people that were returning from last season. I have also developed so much being at the Caps under Paul, so I’m ready to take the next step and improve my game even more. I love playing for the Caps and being involved in their program has really helped me a lot. I also can’t forget playing in front of our amazing fans who support us.”12
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 in three locations, Townsville, Cairns and Mackay. The regular season was condensed to five rounds commencing 11 November with each team scheduled to play 14 regular season games, however this later got reduced to 13 games for each team due to COVID issues during the season. The top four teams contested a four game final series with each final being a single game rather than a three-game series and the Grand Final was played on 20 December.
After the 2019/20 WNBL season Canadian import Kia Nurse had announced that she would not be returning to the WNBL with the Capitals for the following season to enable her to pursue business interests in Canada and the United States. Being unable to sign imports for the 2020 WNBL season meant that French import Olivia Eopua was unable to return to the Capitals and enabled Rocci to take on more of the ball handling responsibilities.
In the opening game of the 2020 WNBL season on 11 November in Mackay the University of Canberra Capitals were far from full strength with Kelsey Griffen, Brittany Smart and Tahlia Tupaea all missing the game due to injury whilst centre Mariana Tolo played restricted minutes. The Capitals starters for the game against Adelaide were Rocci, Mikaela Ruef, Abby Cubilo, Jade Melbourne and Keely Froling. Against Adelaide Rocci scored a team-high 21 points, had eight rebounds, a game-high seven assists and an equal team-high two steals in the 73-85 overtime loss.
In the Capitals second game of the season against Townsville Rocci maintained her brilliant form in a 78-67 victory, scoring a team-high and new career-high 24 points, shooting at 58.3% from the field, made four of her six three-pointers, had a game-high seven assists, three rebounds, a game-high three steals and only one turnover. Rocci won the duel with another rising young Australian point guard in Shyla Heal who scored 18 points, took four rebounds and made four assists. Rocci was recognised for her outstanding start to the season with selection in the WNBL’s Round 1 Team of the Week.
Kelsey Griffin made her return off the bench for the Capitals in the club’s third game of the season against Bendigo on Monday November 16. The first time that the Capitals co-captains Tolo and Griffin each played more than 25 minutes in a game was in the Capitals fifth game of the season against Sydney. In a Round 3 95-72 victory against the Southside Flyers who were the favourites to win the championship Rocci scored 17 points – ranked second for the Capitals behind Tolo with 19 points.
Against Perth in Round 3 at Cairns Pop-Up Arena Rocci had her equal second lowest scoring game of the season with 11 points however she played an influential role in the Capitals regaining the ascendancy in the last quarter. After the Capitals trailed Perth 58-65 with five minutes and one second remaining in the last quarter Rocci made the next two field goals of the game with two lay-ups to reduce the margin to three points with three minutes and 35 seconds to play. Rocci provided assists for three-pointers made by Kelsey Griffin and Tahlia Tupaea to tie the game with 47 seconds left. In the final score of the game Tupaea provided the assist to Melbourne who made a three-pointer with eight seconds to play to put the Capitals in front by three points.
Despite injuries having a heavy impact, both with players being unavailable and minutes restrictions being placed on players the Capitals had a record of seven wins and one loss after eight games.
The Capitals had a 96-69 victory in their penultimate game of the regular season against Perth with Rocci scoring 27 points to register a game-high and a new career-high, making 9 of her 13 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 69.2% and made four of her six three-pointers at an accuracy of 66.7%. Rocci also made all five free-throws, had five rebounds and four assists.
The Capitals only won two of their final five regular season games which cost them a double chance, finishing the regular season with the same 9-4 win-loss record as the Melbourne Boomers and Townsville Fire and were two games behind the Southside Flyers who were the minor premiers with a record of 11 wins and two losses. In the head to head matches amongst the three tied teams Townsville had the best record which resulted in them finishing second and the University of Canberra Capitals meeting the Melbourne Boomers in a knock-out semi final.
With three minutes and eight seconds remaining in the first term of the semi final at Townsville Stadium the Melbourne Boomers led the Capitals 21-10. Several times the Capitals were able to get within one possession and they trailed 44-47 with six minutes and 23 seconds to play in the third quarter, however the Boomers then scored the next 12 points of the game and went on to win 68-78, ending the Capitals season. In the loss Rocci scored 14 points – ranked second for the Capitals behind Brittany Smart with 15 points, took five rebounds and had a game-high seven assists.
During the 2020 WNBL season Rocci played all 14 games for Canberra and averaged 16.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 29.4 minutes per game. In each of her 14 games during the 2020 WNBL season Rocci scored at least 10 points including seven games with more than 16 points.
Rocci was rewarded for her break-out WNBL season with a fifth placed finish in the WNBL’s Most Valuable Player award, polling 52 votes to finish behind Adelaide Lightning guard/forward Steph Talbot (73 votes), Southside Flyers centre Liz Cambage (67 votes), Townsville Fire guard Lauren Nicholson (65) and Melbourne Boomers forward/centre Ezi Magbegor (56). Rocci ranked second in the league for steals per game, seventh for scoring, ninth for free-throw percentage with an accuracy of 86.7% and equal ninth for assists.
Rocci finished third in the 2020 Betty Watson Youth Player of the Year Award with 22 votes, just behind winner Shyla Heal with 25 votes and runner-up Ezi Magbegor on 24 votes. Rocci earnt her first All-WNBL selection, receiving 12 votes to be named in the All-WNBL second team alongside Magbegor, Heal, Deakin Melbourne Boomers guard Tess Madgen and Southside Flyers forward Sara Blicavs. The All-WNBL first team was comprised of Cambage, Nicholson, Talbot, Perth Lynx guard Katie Ebzery and Deakin Melbourne Boomers forward/centre Cayla George.
On 8 February 2021 the UC Caps Awards night was held remotely and streamed on-line. During the Awards Rocci was asked “It was a fair while between seeing your family I understand when you were in the hub, what was that like, finally getting back to see all the family and friends?” Rocci responded “I hadn’t seen my family in like nine months which was pretty sad, quite emotional when I got to finally see them. Obviously I was super sad that they only got to watch one game because they came for the finals series. To see them after the game was obviously what I loved, I would have loved to have them for many other games if there was a normal season but obviously it was super tough with the COVID restrictions, to have them in the stands is obviously what I love and to see them there at the end of the game after that loss was something that was special to me.”
Rocci won the University of Canberra Capitals MVP Award and in her acceptance speech commented “Yeah I mean pretty speechless to be honest, I am really grateful to win that award, there are so many previous winners that have won that and to play in such a talented team and achieve an award like that obviously it couldn’t be done without my teammates behind me so a massive thank you goes to them this season.”
2021/22 WNBL season with the Southside Flyers
In April 2021 another WNBL player joined the Rocci family with Maddison’s older brother Kristian marrying Southside Flyers guard Aimie Clydesdale. On Aimie joining the Rocci family and now being her sister-in-law Maddison told NBL1.com.au “I’m so glad to have her in the family. She’s such a great person to talk to about lots of things like basketball and everyday life. It’s great to not only have her on the basketball side but also the family side. It’s amazing to be able to call her my sister.”13
Five of the eight Southside Flyers players that averaged more than 15 minutes court-time per game in 2020 returned in 2021/22. The Southside players in this category are Aimie Rocci, Jenna O’Hea, Sara Blicavs, Bec Cole and Rachel Jarry who have more than 1,000 games WNBL experience between them.
In late November 2021 Rocci commented to Women’sHealth on the importance of teamwork in basketball, saying “I get to be around my teammates all the time and that allows me to form a special bond with them – on and off the court. There are many challenges that comes with basketball that range from injuries to not making certain teams you try out for. But not being successful in a team is super tough, so the way you deal and come out of it as a team is what makes you a better player.”14
Against Bendigo Spirit on 4 December at Dandenong Stadium in the opening game of the WNBL season the Southside Flyers starting line-up was Maddison 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 her first game for the Flyers Maddison Rocci made a game-high eight assists.
In an away game at Melbourne Sports Centres Parkville on 11 December Rocci scored 21 points for Southside, making seven of 12 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 58.3%, all six free-throws, took five rebounds, made three assists and had two steals.
On 26 February against the Bendigo Spirit at MyState Bank Arena in Hobart, Tasmania Rocci scored a season-high and new career-high 29 points, making eight of 18 field goal attempts, four of nine three-pointers at an accuracy of 44.4% and nine of 11 free-throws at an accuracy of 81.8%. Rocci also took five rebounds, made three assists and a game-high three steals.
Due to representing the Australian Opals at the 2022 World Cup Qualifying Tournament in Serbia Rocci was one of three Flyers along with Blicavs and Wallace that missed the 5 February game against former team the UC Capitals on 5 February 2022. Maddison Rocci is the only Flyers starter from the opening game of the season that has played every game they have been available for. Abby Bishop played eight games before a central tendon tear in the soleus muscle in her calf ended her season. Back-up shooting guard Kate Gaze is the only Southside Flyers player to play all 13 of the clubs games to date this season.
Rocci plays her 100th WNBL game tonight in a home game against the Sydney Uni Flames at Dandenong Stadium. Earlier in the season several of Rocci’s Southside teammates have reached games milestones with Abby Bishop playing her 250th game and Aimie Rocci and Bec Cole both reached 200 games. Articles to celebrate these games milestones were published on Milestones and Misses. Below is a link to the website’s home page as well as the Southside Flyers category page:
Earlier this week Southside Flyers captain Jenna O’Hea announced her WNBL retirement, tonight will be her last home game with the Flyers before the club finishes their 2021/22 season with two road games.
Southside Flyers have three wins and 11 losses to be seventh on the ladder with two rounds of the season remaining. During the first 13 rounds of the 2021/22 WNBL season Rocci has averaged 10.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.6 steals and 29.9 minutes court-time per game. Rocci ranks seventh in the WNBL for assists per game and equal ninth for steals.
After Maddison Rocci attended a basketball game her older brothers Kristian and Julian played in she started playing the sport herself, firstly at 11 years of age at club level for the Werribee Devils in Melbourne’s western suburbs.
Rocci quickly progressed to play basketball for the Werribbe Devils representative team and aspired to play basketball for her state and then Australia with the ultimate goal being to represent Australia at the Olympics. Rocci won four gold medals playing for Vic Metro at under-age level and represented Australia in the under 17’s and the under 19’s.
After making her WNBL debut with the University of Canberra Capitals in 2017/18 Rocci played in back to back WNBL championships with the club in 2018/19 and 2019/20 and was a permanent starter in the later season.
Playing in the Queensland Basketball League in 2020 Rocci flourished being the go-to player for Sunshine Coast Rip City, averaging 32.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game to win the league’s Most Valuable Player Award.
With imports not allowed to play in the WNBL in the 2020 season and the Capitals having a lengthy injury list at the start of the season Rocci commenced the season superbly to be named in the WNBL’s Team of the Week for Round 1 and continued to play at a high standard throughout the season to increase her scoring output by 77.8% to 16.0 points per game and play a crucial role in the Capitals making the finals. Rocci’s outstanding season resulted in being selected in the 2020 All-WNBL Second team, finishing fifth in the WNBL’s MVP Award and being a worthy winner of the Capitals MVP Award, a significant progression from having been a role player two seasons earlier.
Playing for the Southside Flyers in 2021/22 Rocci ranks in the WNBL’s top 10 for assists and steals per game. In her fifth season Rocci plays her 100th WNBL game tonight and in her career has impressed with her speed, reading of the play, quick hands, passing and scoring to earn All-WNBL selection in 2020 and make her Australian Opals debut in February 2022.
Article and photographs by Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777
Milestones and Misses Milestones and Misses publishes articles to celebrate the achievements of sportspeople, mainly in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) and Australian Rules Football (AFL and AFLW). In sport as with life in general it is common that milestones are only achieved after overcoming adversity, so whilst the articles on the Milestones and Misses website celebrate sportspeople achieving milestones they also cover the misses along the journey such as a player having minimal game-time or spending a prolonged period on the sidelines due to injury. The aim of the articles is to enable readers to gain a greater appreciation of the journey sportspeople have had during their career. A link to Milestones and Misses homepage is below: https://milestonesandmisses.com/ The Milestones and Misses website was set up in December 2015. From 2020 onwards articles have been published on the following sportspeople: WNBL Cayla George Kelly Wilson Steph Talbot Bec Cole Aimie Rocci Abby Bishop Lindsay Allen Tessa Lavey Ezi Magbegor Maddison Rocci Zitina Aokuso Leilani Mitchell 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