To get to 300 games in any sport, you need a fair degree of luck along with countless hours of dedication and, of course, considerable skill.
Bendigo Spirit guard Kelly Wilson has had plenty of good fortune in her career, especially in the form of the people she has shared her basketball journey with.
After growing up in Leongatha, Wilson has forged a career as a highly skilled, versatile guard, and is renowned among teammates and opponents alike as a tenacious competitor.
While it is no small feat to rack up 300 games in a national competition – as Wilson will do when Bendigo takes on Melbourne at Bendigo Stadium on Saturday night – it is decidedly more special to do it with your sister and your best friend playing alongside you.
“It’s awesome, Andrea and Gabe (Richards) being here was one of the main reasons I came to Bendigo in the first place,” she said.
“Gabe and I started our basketball journey a very long time ago, I’m actually embarrassed to say how long ago, and have been really good friends ever since.”
Richards was less embarrassed about revealing when the pair met as she paid tribute to her current teammate, former housemate and “best friend” this week.
After their years playing and living together, she considers Kelly
to be family.
“I’ve been really lucky to share my career with her. We started way back when we were juniors for Vic Country. It was in under-14s, so I think we were 12,” Richards said.
“She was growing up in Leongatha and I was growing up in Seymour so we would meet at state camps and things like that, and because we are the same age group we went through all of that together.
“We went to the AIS together but Kel stayed here when I went to the United States.
“Then when I got back I moved in with (Andrea) here in Bendigo and we were recruiting for the Spirit and said ‘come on Kel, you’re in Townsville but you’ll have more fun here’ and she has been here ever since.”
On the court, Wilson is well-known for her competitiveness, but her game has constantly evolved over the years.
With the ability to play either guard position, she was a catalyst for the Spirit’s two championships under Bernie Harrower and is still crucial to Bendigo’s success.
“Three-hundred games is an amazing achievement, and when you sit down and look at the amount of hours and trainings that went into that it is a real credit to her,” Spirit coach Simon Pritchard said.
“She is probably one of the best guards of her generation. She’s pushed herself, got the absolute best out of her body despite not being as tall as a lot of players at her position.
“She is going to be a life member of the league, and I have no doubt that in the fullness of time she will have her jersey retired by the club because she is the best guard of her generation.”
Wilson credits her inherent competitiveness as a major driver throughout her career.
“I was always an extremely competitive child, to a fault sometimes, but I think it’s one of those things that is hard to change about yourself,” she said.
“Basketball, for me, is an environment that is competitive. I have other things in life where I don’t carry that over, but when I’m playing sport, that’s my time to be competitive and I enjoy it.
“(Andrea) and I had so many battles in the backyard. I don’t think she would remember then as fondly as I do sometimes, because I was the older sister and played with my older brothers a lot, and I guess sometimes you aren’t so kind to your siblings growing up. But there were definitely more positive times
The same is true for her time with the Spirit, and her two championship wins stand out as career highlights.
“When you get in that winning spirit it is really hard to look at the prospect of not winning, it is so addictive,” she said.
“It wasn’t just winning, but we had spent a lot of hard years off the court and just struggling to even make the finals every year, so when it clicked that was amazing.”
Now married to husband Michael and about to start a new role at work – she is a teacher at Bendigo South East College – Wilson says she isn’t going anywhere soon.
“Well it definitely is home, Michael is a Bendigo boy and I don’t think he has any intentions of leaving any time soon and that’s fine with me,” Wilson said.
While Kelly Wilson has been lucky to have the Spirit, Bendigo has been just as lucky to have her in the number 22, both now and into the future.