FEW players have been on the Bendigo Spirit roster longer than star point guard Kelly Wilson.
And not many who have represented the franchise across its nine-year history have made such a valuable and lasting contribution as the 30 year-old former Leongatha junior.
Wilson, who joined the Spirit in their second season (2008-09), will this Saturday celebrate her 300th game in the WNBL.
Her WNBL journey has included stints with the Australian Institute of Sport (2002-03), Sydney University Flames (2003-05) and Townsville Fire (2005-08), before deciding to join younger sister Andrea and best friend Gabe Richards in Bendigo.
While her basketball has taken Wilson around the world, she said her proudest WNBL moments had come in Bendigo, most notably a pair of championships in 2012-13 and 2013-14.
“When I first started with the Spirit we were just trying to establish ourselves in the WNBL,” Wilson said.
“It was a new club and I played a few years where we struggled just to reach finals every year.
“Had you have said to us then, maybe in a few years’ time you might make some grand finals, I don’t think any of the players would have taken that too seriously.
“From where we were to be in a position to be extremely competitive is something I am really proud of.”
The 170cm guard’s move to Bendigo has proved a win-win, with the Spirit securing a world-class shooter and defender and Wilson getting her wish to be closer to friends and family.
It was in Bendigo where she met her now husband Michael, who Wilson described as a “source of great entertainment” and a “tremendous support”.
Wilson, the WNBL’s rookie of the year in 2003, heads into her milestone game against the Melbourne Boomers in scintillating touch.
Her 10.7 points per game season average sits comfortably above her 8.4ppg career average, while Wilson leads all WNBL players this year with 5.57 assists per game, compared to her 2.7 career average.
Wilson was keen to acknowledge the influence on her career of coaches past and present.
“Each WNBL club I’ve been to, you learn plenty along the way,” she said.
“Obviously I’ve been at the Spirit the longest, I’m appreciative to Bernie (Harrower) for recruiting me and bringing me to Bendigo.
“I’ve learned a lot from Bernie and Kristi (Harrower) as well.”
Wilson rated four-time Olympian Harrower as her toughest opponent in basketball.
“Strangely enough I never really played against her, but obviously I trained against her day in and day out,” she said.
“And that was a challenge.”
Wilson said the milestone had presented her with a chance to quietly reflect on a career that has included Opals representation, a gold medal with Australia at the 2007 World University Games.
But indicative of her team-first ethos, Wilson said she was more focused on getting a win and hopefully contributing to another title run for the Spirit.
“I’m certainly proud to say I have played in the WNBL for a very long time,” she said.
“I certainly look at the championships I have won with the Spirit as my proudest moment in the WNBL.
“We need to do well in these last two weeks before Christmas to put ourselves into a good position on the ladder.”
Teammate Gabe Richards, who has played alongside Wilson since their days in Victoria Country squads, said it was fitting her best friend got to play her 300th game in front of a big home crowd.
“She’s played so many years here in Bendigo and given so much to the local community,” the Spirit centre said.
“She is just such a fierce competitor and brings it day in, day out,”
“You always know what you are going to get with Kel, she’s going to give you 110 per cent everytime.
“It will be really exciting this weekend with the Bendigo crowd coming out and celebrating that, and also (Belinda Snell’s) 250th which happened in Queensland last weekend.”