Ashleigh Karaitiana says she’s ready to play whatever role her Bendigo Bank Spirit coach Simon Pritchard asks of her during the 2016-17 WNBL season. The versatile former Australian under-19 representative arrived in Bendigo last week and he has been quick to get to work on the practice court.
Not that Karaitiana is not already well prepared. The New Zealand-born 24-year-old has spent the past few months sharpening her game in the SEABL with Brisbane Spartans.
She averaged 16.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 15 appearances for the Spartans, who eliminated Bendigo’s Lady Braves from contention in the first week of final before falling to Nunawading. The sweet-natured guard hoped the Bendigo crowd would be forgiving for her prominent role – 14 points, eight rebounds and eight steals – for the Spartans in the Lady Braves’ finals demise.
“I didn’t know if that was going to be a problem,” she said with a laugh. “But the Lady Braves were an awesome team and very competitive.
“It’s great to see a few of those girls are on the Spirit team, so instead of playing against them, I can join them.” Noted for her strong output at both ends of the court, Karaitiana had a season-high 40 points against Albury-Wodonga in late-July and 34 points in a win against Frankston in the final week of the regular season.
That she ended up in Bendigo was not much of a surprise. Spirit coach Simon Pritchard has known her since her junior days and regularly kept in contact with the guard during her final two years at the University of Hawaii.
“At that point in time I was very interested, but i didn’t want to commit to anything because I was still in the college process and that would be a violation of (the NCAA) rule book,” she sa “But when I came back and played SEABL I kept contact with Simon and later on down the track he made me an offer to play WNBL for the Spirit.
“It’s an opportunity I wouldn’t miss for the world, I am very excited about it.” It won’t be Karaitiana’s first WNBL stint.
She played one year as a development payer with Sydney University Flames before leaving for Hawaii. “I did travel most games, but I wasn’t seeing much court-time,” she said.
“I am really excited to be back in the WNBL. “We’ve only had two (practice) sessions so far, one on-court and one weights session, but they are a really good bunch of girls and I am looking forward to getting to know them off and on the court.”
Pritchard said the 182cm guard had a defensive game the envy of a lot of players. “But she’s also creative offensively,” she said.
“She played against my team as a junior at a national championships and I was really impressed with her then. “I also worked with her at the institute of sport, so I knew the quality of the person she was.
“It tried to recruit her last year, but she went back for another year of university, so once the season finished this year I rang her straight away.” Karaitiana represented Australia at the 2009 Under-19 World Championship in Bangkok, where Australia finished fifth.
Her teammates in Thailand included gun Opal Liz Cambage. She later represented the Gems at the 2011 Under-19 World Championship in Chile.
Karaitiana will don the Spirit singlet for the first time in a practice match against Melbourne Boomers in Ballarat this Saturday.
Article and photo courtesy of the Bendigo Advertiser