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Opinion

Adelaide Lightning WNBL season preview

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17th December, 2021
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In the 2020 WNBL hub season, the Adelaide Lightning had five wins and eight losses and finished in sixth spot.

The Lightning started the season with four wins and one loss, with their best win in overtime against the University of Canberra Capitals in their first match.

Departures
Experienced forward/centre Louella Tomlinson has announced her retirement. Tomlinson played for a number of WNBL teams including AIS, Dandenong Rangers, West Coast Waves/Perth Lynx, Melbourne Boomers, Bendigo Spirit and Southside Flyers.

Tomlinson played college basketball for St Mary’s and played in Europe including playing in a Hungarian League championship. Tomlinson’s experience and impact in the key will be missed by the Lightning.

Alex Wilson has won two WNBL championships, one with the Townsville Fire in 2014-15 and one with the Sydney Uni Flames in 2016-17. In 2013-14, Wilson won the WNBL Rookie of the Year. Wilson led the Lightning in assists in the 2020 season. Wilson has recently signed with the Bendigo Spirit.

Morgan Yaeger has signed with the Sydney Uni Flames as a development player. Yaeger played her junior career with the Forrestville Eagles in Adelaide. Yaeger played college basketball for the University of Oregon Ducks. Yaeger played three times in the Pac-12 regular season championships and twice in the Pac-12 Tournament Championships.

Aimee Brett and Carlie Smith will also not return from last season’s squad.

Returning players
Steph Talbot will again be a key player for the Lightning this season. Talbot won the WNBL 2020 Suzy Batkovic MVP and the Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year awards.

Talbot was also a member of the All-WNBL First Team. Talbot was the 2012-13 WNBL Rookie of the Year. Talbot has played all over the world with the Phoenix Mercury, Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm in the WNBA. Talbot has also played in Poland and France and had a stint with the Melbourne Boomers.

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Talbot is one of the first players picked for the Opals and has represented the Opals at the Olympics, World Cup, Asia Cup and Commonwealth Games. Unfortunately, Talbot’s Tokyo Olympics was interrupted by a foot injury and the Opals definitely missed Talbot’s impact. In the 2020 WNBL season, Talbot led the Lightning in scoring with 237 points.

Steph Talbot reaches for the ball

(Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

Mareena Whittle is a Nunawading Spectres junior who played college basketball with the North Dakota State University Bisons. Whittle received the Most Improved Player award at the Perth Lynx in 2019-20.

Whittle led the Lightning in offensive rebounds in her first season for the team. Whittle has also spent time at the Townsville Fire and Bendigo Spirit. Whittle averaged 17.23 points, 10.92 rebounds and 2.23 assists per game for the Ringwood Hawks in NBL1 South.

Guard Abbey Wehrung will spend her second season with Adelaide Lightning. Wehrung, who is from the Victorian town of Korweinguboora, has previously played for the University of Canberra Capitals and Bendigo Spirit.

Wehrung averaged 11.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists in her first season with the Lightning. Wehrung averaged 17.93 points, 4.93 rebounds and 4.46 assists for the Bendigo Braves in NBL1 South. Wehrung also made her Opals debut at the 2021 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup.

This season will be Chelsea Brook’s sixth season with the Lightning. Brook previously won the Halls Medal for the MVP of the SA Premier League in 2018 as a teenager. Brook averaged seven points per game and 2.7 rebounds per game in the 2019-20 WNBL season. In the 2021 NBL1 North competition, Brook averaged 19.43 points, 8.56 rebounds and 3.31 assists per game for the Mackay Meteorettes.

Taylor Ortlepp was a development player for the Lightning in 2015-16 and played for the Norwood Flames. Ortlepp returned to the Lightning for the 2020 WNBL hub season. Ortlepp played college basketball for the Boston College Eagles. In 2018-19 as a junior Ortlepp averaged 10.3 points per game for the Eagles.

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Ortlepp has played in Europe including in Italy, China and the Czech Republic. In the 2021 NBL1 Central competition, Ortlepp averaged 19.77 points, six rebounds and 5.04 assists per game for the North Adelaide Rockets.

Ella Batish was signed to replace the injured Alanna Smith for the 2020 WNBL season, where she made her debut. Batish is a forward/centre from Cheltenham in Melbourne.

Prior to joining the Lightning, Batish played for the Southern Sabres in the NBL1. In the 2021 NBL1 South season, Batish averaged 8.8 points, 4.86 rebounds and 2.06 assists per game for the Frankston Blues.

Brooke Basham grew up in Victor Harbor and played for the Eastern Mavericks in the SA District Competition prior to her rookie WNBL season with the Lightning. Basham averaged 16.7 points per game and 5.1 rebounds per game for the Mavericks in the 2019 SA Premier League. Basham played with Forestville Eagles in the 2021 NBL1 Central season, where she averaged 18.78 points, 4.92 rebounds and 2.71 assists per game.

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Recruits
It is amazing to think that 2021-22 will be Alanna Smith’s first WNBL season. Smith had signed with the Lightning for the 2020 season but had to withdraw from the compressed season due to injury. Smith has been with the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA for three seasons.

Her best WNBA season was in 2020 when she averaged 15.6 minutes, 6.1 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Smith played college basketball for Stanford and was selected at pick eight in the 2019 WNBA draft. Smith averaged 19.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in her senior year at Stanford.

Smith was part of Australian Opals teams that won silver medals at the 2018 FIBA World Cup and the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup and represented the Opals at the Tokyo Olympics. Smith comes from basketball royalty. Her father Darren and uncle Jason are former NBL stars.

The Adelaide Lightning have recruited one of the most exciting young players in the WNBA, New York Liberty’s Kylee Shook. Shook is a forward/centre who was taken at pick 13 in the 2020 WNBA draft. Shook averaged 10.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in her senior year at the Louisville Cardinals.

Shook was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year as well as receiving All-First Team and Defensive Team selection. Shook averaged 5.7 points and four rebounds per game in the 2021 WNBA season. Don’t be fooled by her size, Shook can shoot from range and shot at 39.3 per cent from the three-point line in the 2021 WNBA season.

Basketball going through the net

Guard Kiana Williams joins the Lightning after being drafted at number 18 in the 2021 WNBA draft by the Seattle Storm and played eight games with the Storm. Steph Talbot was a teammate of Williams at the Storm and Alanna Smith was a teammate at the Stanford University Cardinals.

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Williams is the all-time leader in made triples for the Cardinals and led them to the 2021 national title. Williams averaged 13.5 points, 3.4 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game for Stanford. Williams was awarded the Pac-12’s most outstanding player in 2021.

South Australian Sam Simons has joined the Lightning. Simons played college basketball for St Mary’s Gaels. In the 2021 NBL1 Central competition, Simons averaged 21.63 points, 8.47 rebounds and 5.31 assists per game for the Forestville Eagles.

Simons comes from a strong basketball family. Her father Andy played in the NBL with a number of clubs including St Kilda Saints, North Melbourne Giants and Adelaide 36ers. Sam’s mother Sharon (nee Washington) played in the WNBL with a number of clubs including North Adelaide, Forestville, Coburg and Bulleen.

Jasmin Fejo was originally signed by the Lightning for the 2020 season. Fejo sat out the season as she was expecting her first child. After giving birth, Fejo returned to the West Adelaide Bearcats for the NBL1 Central season. Fejo averaged 13.21 points, 3.21 rebounds and 2.85 assists per game for the Bearcats in 2021.

Teenager Tayla Brazel is one of the fastest rising stars in South Australian basketball. Brazel averaged 12 points and 3.23 rebounds per game for the Sturt Sabres in the 2021 NBL1 Central season. Brazel was a standout at the Under 18 National Championship, where she averaged 22.75 points, 5.88 rebounds, three steals and 2.75 assists per game.

Prediction
The Adelaide Lightning have a number of quality players including Steph Talbot, Alanna Smith and Kylee Shook. However, the roster’s depth may get tested.

Predicted finish: eighth.

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