If WNBL championship favourite Perth Lynx are to triumph in 2022, they will have to overcome a pre-season and home-and-away campaign like no other team in 41 seasons of the league.
The Lynx finally hit the floor this afternoon, almost a month after the season tipped off, and will be on the road for weeks from Adelaide to Melbourne, Gippsland, Bendigo, Ballarat and Sydney.
So, how is there championship hype around a club that’s yet to play a game and only ever won one title, back in 1992?
Lynx counting on Sami Whitcomb to fire
With the return of imports to the league, after the 2020 campaign was played in a north Queensland bubble, Perth quickly put pen to paper signing two big stars.
Jackie Young, 2019 number one WNBA draft pick and Tokyo Olympic gold medallist, who is coming off a WNBA grand final series with Las Vegas Aces, is joining the fold alongside Dallas Wings star Marina Mabrey.
And then came Christmas morning, when Perth unveiled its final signing, Australian Opals and WNBA gun Sami Whitcomb.
Whitcomb’s successful international career was built in the WNBL.
The league changed the career and life of the US-born guard so much she is now an Australian citizen, a WNBA champion and bronze-medal-winning captain of the Opals at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup in Jordan.
The 33-year-old was set to play in the hub last season but opted out with the arrival of son Nash with partner Kate.
Whitcomb played in France and was due to return there again this season, but Kate, a teacher, landed a new job in Perth so having the family together in Australia became top priority.
Perth ready to hit the court after false starts
Now, after a pre-season that began, was paused, then resumed, game time is here for the Lynx with a date against Adelaide Lightning in Round 5.
“It’s been a little frustrating and hard seeing other teams starting to play. Pre-seasons drag on and we’ve just wanted to play together in a real match,” Whitcomb said.
“It’s felt like Groundhog Day every day but we’ve stayed focused making sure we get what we want to get out of every practice and scrimmage and remembering what we’re doing this for.
“But everything we’ve been doing is building towards our season and the hardest part has been the wait for the fun stuff.”
Guided by second-year coach Ryan Petrik, Perth has embraced the circumstances and counted silver linings.
“If it’s five weeks on the road, three games a week, we are ready for it to be our current situation,” Whitcomb said.
“We are a new team and I think being on the road will bring us together and gel us quicker. You tend to lean on your teammates more when you’re on the road because you don’t go home to your family. Hopefully, we see that lead to our on-court chemistry.
“We’ve had a bit more time to find our team chemistry and we’ve had the opportunity now to scout a bit as well, watch the other teams more. That’s the hand we’ve been dealt, so that’s the way we’re approaching it.”
American imports Jackie Young and Marina Mabrey to make an impact
Whitcomb, a championship player with Seattle Storm before crossing to New York Liberty in 2021, is relieved to play with, not against, Young and Mabrey.
“I don’t think people understand how excited they really should be, these two are going to be really, really good. I think when people see them play live they will be even more excited and even more impressed,” she said.
“I’ve played against them for a couple of years and they still do things that just really impress me. I’m really excited and fortunate that I don’t have to guard them this season.”
Whitcomb is embracing the hype around her team and said it could be a great thing.
“WA doesn’t usually get that expectation so I think it’s really great and that people are saying it, obviously we have to live up to that and it means pressure, but that’s exciting as well,” she said.
“I’d rather be on a team that people think is great and expect to win and try to live up to that than maybe be a team nobody thinks is any good.
“I’ve been on both sides, the underdog and the team with the expectations, and I’m excited to be on this side of it.
“Hopefully, we can be a team that can live up to that, reach a grand final and see how good we can be because I think if we get rolling, it’s going to be exciting.”
Megan Hustwaite is part of the ABC’s WNBL commentary team.
You can watch the game of the round live on ABC TV each Saturday at 5pm AEDT.