Imports can make or break a team’s fortunes in the Women’s National Basketball League. Bendigo Spirit star Kelsey Griffin is the perfect example of how a great import can make a club.
Arguably, the Spirit wouldn’t have won back-to-back WNBL championships without her, she has established herself as the most consistent import in the league and she is the face of the Spirit on and off the court. Last year the Spirit’s decision to recruit centre Joy Burke didn’t work and her inability to measure up at WNBL level left a gaping hole in the rotation and the club paid a heavy price down the stretch of the season.
Burke’s replacement for the 2016/17 season Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe arrived in Bendigo this week and it’s not hard to see why Spirit coach Simon Pritchard can’t wipe the smile off his face. Raincock-Ekunwe has similar attributes to Griffin – aggressive, athletic, a competitive beast at both ends of the floor and a team-first mentality.
“It’s really exciting to have such a great athlete join us,’’ Pritchard said. “Nayo is lean, but she is as strong as an ox and has long arms.
“With Nayo in our group we now have the flexibility to play big or small. We’ll be multi-skilled, we’ll be more athletic, we’ll be able to play at a quicker tempo and, I think, we’ll be better defensively.” Raincock-Ekunwe arrives in Bendigo just a month after helping Canada reach the quarter-finals of the Rio Olympics.
The 25-year-old forward becomes the second Canadian international to join the Spirit, following in the footsteps of Chelsea Aubry. “I’ve heard lots of good things about the Australian women’s league,’’ Raincock-Ekunwe said.
“It’s a very strong league and I can’t wait to get started.” Raincock-Ekunwe averaged eight points and six rebounds per game at the Olympics, including a 10-point haul in the quarter-final loss to France.
“(Going to Rio) has given me some confidence and I want to take my game to the next level,’’ she said. Raincock-Ekunwe has enjoyed successful stints in Switzerland and Germany before heading to Australia.
Standing 187cm tall, Raincock-Ekunwe conceded height and weight to some big frontlines in Europe, but her work ethic and speed ensured she was a potent force at both ends of the court. “Often I’m undersized against my opponents, but that makes me work even harder,’’ she said.
“In the low-post I use my speed and create problems for the defence.” With Griffin and centre Gabe Richards already established frontcourt stars in the WNBL, Raincock-Ekunwe will get the opportunity to play in the post and on the perimeter with the Spirit.
Raincock-Ekunwe will play her first pre-season game for the Spirit against the Melbourne Boomers in Ballarat this weekend. The Spirit’s regular season tips-off on October 8 against Adelaide at Bendigo Stadium.