In what has been the most successful period for the club since the halcyon days of the mid 90s and early 2000s, your 2018/19 Brydens Sydney Uni Flames look to return to the WNBL playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
A number of starters from last year’s outfit may have moved on, but much of the team’s core from the past two seasons remains and an injection of fresh blood may provide that additional Championship spark.
While club stalwart Katie Rae Ebzery has made the move to Perth for the coming season, the Flames retain a number of players that have played vital roles over the past few seasons.
Three-point assassin Alex Wilson will remain a crucial part of the team’s backcourt rotation after playing more minutes last season than any other returning player, but the return of recent Opals call-up Tahlia Tupaea after an injury-hit 2017/18 campaign should help ensure that the backcourt minutes are more spread this time round.
The addition of American guard Brittany Smart will also bolster the backcourt following Ebzery’s departure, with Sarah Graham and Susannah Walmsley continuing to provide solid minutes off the bench.
The return of former Flame Vanessa Panousis to the club after four years in college and a season with the Adelaide Lightning also adds to the side’s guard rotation, with the former Virginia Tech star adding to the Flames’ cohort of deadly outside shooters.
Things certainly get more interesting in the frontcourt though, where there has been plenty of upheaval.
Opals World Cup squad member Alex Bunton and American import Amanda Johnson both join the Flames this season and the pair look set to slot into the frontcourt to replace Asia Taylor and Jennifer Hamson.
Bunton has done incredibly well to come back from a number of injuries to make the World Cup, while Johnson was a tour de force in this season’s QBL, winning the MVP award ahead of a number of players with WNBL and Opals experience after leading the league in both scoring and rebounding with 25.2 points and 14.1 boards per game.
Shanae Greaves will once again provide a spark off the bench in the front court, while Lara McSpadden is set to see a sharp increase in her minutes after being instilled as the true backup to Bunton in her third season in the league.
That leaves just the small forward position, but it is set to be filled by a legend not only of the Flames, but of Australian basketball in the form of Belinda Snell, who continues to age like the finest of wines, having made her WNBL debut twenty years ago.
While she may be world renowned as a three-point assassin, Snell is an extremely well-rounded player and will serve as the team’s leader on court this year, and who better for league debutant Maddie O’Hehir to learn from in her first season in the league.
O’Hehir has come on in leaps and bounds under Snell’s tutelage whilst playing SEABL for the Sydney Uni Sparks, with her elevation to the Flames roster just reward for her work with the development program.
Only time will tell as to whether the roster that has been compiled by the Flames will challenge for the title against teams such as the Melbourne Boomers, who have brought Ezi Magbegor, Cayla George, and Steph Talbot into the fold to replace Liz Cambage, as well as the always-dangerous Perth Lynx and Townsville Fire, but with plenty of championship experience and a three-time WNBL Coach of the Year and Opals assistant in Cheryl Chambers leading from the sidelines, the team looks set to give the 2018/19 campaign a red-hot crack in an attempt to win a second title in three seasons.