The Sporting Capital is a sports series by Lachlan Roberts, who has intimate conversations with Canberra’s sports stars. For the fourth instalment in the series, Lachlan grabbed coffee with the WNBL record holder for games played and former Canberra Capitals skipper Jess Bibby about her youth development, her passion for basketball in Canberra, and her season of AFLW with the Giants.
Development of a legend
“I grew up in Kilsyth in East Melbourne and that is where I first played. Kilsyth Basketball, in my opinion, is one of the biggest and best basketball associations in the country and that was the club I was drafted into, so to speak. I was lucky because in primary school I had Gary Fox as my coach, who went on to become the assistant coach of the Opals and a coach at the Sixers in NBL.
“Growing up, I didn’t have my eyes on the prize. I didn’t even know what the prize was. I took an interest in basketball because my brother’s friend, who lived up the road, started playing and I thought it looked fun. There is a picture of me somewhere, maybe when I was six, and I have a denim skirt on and I have the long socks and sandals on, dribbling the ball. At that age, I wasn’t dreaming about playing with the national team and becoming pro. I did it because it was fun. So I got involved in the school program and I was lucky that the school I went to had a great basketball program. I played as much as I could because I loved basketball.
“I have the confidence now to say that there aren’t too many people in this country that have shot the ball better than me. And what I was taught in the under-12s stayed with me my whole career and that’s what I teach kids these days.
“Gary Fox came up to me when I was in under-16s when I was maybe 13 or 14 years old. One training he pulled me aside and said, ‘there is this thing called under-16 national championships and you are gonna get picked to go’. I had never heard of it before. I was a little bit sheltered because my mum didn’t know anything about the basketball pathways. So when I was away at the national championships, my mum was approached by Phil Brown, who was the coach at the AIS. Once I got back, my mum said to me, ‘I got called into this meeting and this guy said he wants you to go to the EAS’. And I was like, ‘What? What is the EAS?’ We eventually figured out it was the AIS.
“So I am in year nine at school, and I get a phone call from Phil Brown, saying there is a plane going to America to play colleges, and you are coming with us. He said I would get a scholarship next year and they would organise my schooling for next year and that all the kids go to Lake Ginninderra to finish off their year 11 and 12. I had to tell him that I was still in year nine and he was shocked.
“I think that was my lightbulb moment where I thought basketball could be a career for me.”
Two injuries away from the perfect career
“I never like to say ‘what if’, I mean it doesn’t help in any way. But I look back at the training camp before the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and I knew all I had to do was get through that camp. I knew I was injured. I knew my back was gone but I kept saying to myself, ‘You just have to make it through this camp, and you are in’.
“But I couldn’t get through the camp.
“There was nothing I could do about it. It was round two of the injured back, so missing the birth at the Commonwealth Games which then transferred into missing out on going to Athens. I look back and I see that was my opportunity to make the Olympics. I look back at that team and they had to bring some veteran players into the squad and I look back at it and I think ‘That’s my spot’. There wasn’t anyone, in terms of shooting guards, that was better than me at the time. But having that back injury, I missed four years and then missed another two and it was after the second one I came to Canberra. And that’s when I stopped thinking about going overseas and playing pro in Europe didn’t bother me anymore. I just wanted to play. Canberra was so good to me and Carrie Graf was amazing. She monitored my training really well and in the ten years that I played here, I had maybe one little back flair up.
“In terms of regrets or wishing I had done this or done that, I don’t have any. I was just two injuries away from having the perfect career. I say those two, but I have no regrets. To be able to miss what I missed and to be told ‘You are done’ at 22 years old and to be told I will never play basketball again, to then retire having played for Australia and more games than anybody in the history of the WNBL, I think that’s pretty good. I’m happy with that.”
Giant learning curve
“My Grandpa was the president of Fitzroy so football was always something that I grew up with. I was exposed to AFL when I was quite young and I have been a one-eyed Carlton fan my whole life. I loved hearing my Grandpa’s stories of his involvement with Fitzroy and the VFL so I always had a passion for AFL but basketball is where I focused all my energies.
“I knew when the WAFL started up that they would need athletes from other sports to play in the competition and to kickstart the elite mentality. I knew that they would also have to lean on people that had been in that sort of environment before, and it was a coincidence that my retirement happened as the competition kicked off.
“I remember when the Giants had just signed me and Erin (Phillips) had been signed to the Crows. And Phil Brown and I had a chuckle to ourselves, thinking they had no idea who they had just announced. Adelaide had signed the jackpot and they didn’t even know. She was going to be the best player in the competition. The AIS struggled to recruit Erin when she was 15 because she was the best footballer in the country. Not the best female footballer, she was better than the boys at 15 years old. The AIS had to say to her that there was nowhere else to go. She had reached the highest level she could and they convinced her to switch over to basketball.”
“I was a literal rookie when I started. I had kicked the footy in the backyard with friends and I had watched plenty of football and the hardest part for me to adjust playing footy was running in footy boots and running on grass. I was used to running on hard, even floors. You start running on grass, you have to watch where you are running and where you are planting your feet.
“I remember Ellie Brush and I were sitting together before the first training as they w rote the first drills up on the board and we both looked at each other. We had no idea what the drills were and there was no explanation of the drills because they were basic footy drills. So Ellie and I went to the back of the line to watch and figure out what we had to do. It was an adjustment from the free-flowing nature where we knew what every drill was.
“I was so excited for pre-season but then I broke my hand. One of the girls stood on my hand as I went to scoop up the ball. I had four fractures and two ruptured tendons. The girls couldn’t believe it. Apparently, they get stood on all the time and no one breaks their hand that badly. I had been playing pro basketball for twenty years and I had never once hurt a finger and now in my first week of AFL footy, I busted my hand, 20 minutes into my first training session.
“They threw me in for the first game of the season anyway, and we played the Crows in the first game of the season. At one point to start the second quarter I was matched up with Erin and we had a great little chuckle to each other.
“We then played Carlton in round two and it happened to be the family day so the men’s team was out there as well and gave the Carlton girls a guard of honour. The Carlton song came on as we were warming up, and I was there singing along, ‘we are the Navy Blues’ under my breath. I’ll support the GWS in the WAFL but I will always be a Carlton fan. You know you are a Carlton fan when you celebrate a pre-season win over the Saints.”
Bringing up the new generation
“I do private training every afternoon, and I am so busy that I can’t fit any more kids in. Parents have approached me for individual work with their kids and most of these kids are in the development representative programs and my job is to help them to figure out how to take the next step. There are kids that have been in the rep program who aren’t quite making the division one teams and I give them a little bit of extra training so they can push on.
“I would love to able to commit more of my time and to start my own academy but here in the ACT, we do not have enough courts. For me growing up in Melbourne, the mentality was to play and train as much as possible because as a kid that’s how you develop. But we don’t get that here in Canberra. You go to Melbourne and every region has got a ten court stadium plonked in the middle of suburbs.
“I know a training program that was kicked out of Tuggernanong stadium because they were doing their warmups with skipping ropes. The Southern Cross Club, which runs the Tuggernanong stadium, wasn’t happy that the skipping ropes were hitting and marking the courts, so they told them they aren’t allowed to train there anymore. It is a basketball stadium! I can’t believe it!
“One of the things that we struggle within the ACT in junior sport is representative coaches. Basketball ACT wants people to commit all this time to run practices and to travel away for tournaments and it’s all on a volunteer basis. I would love to be able to volunteer my time, but unfortunately, I can’t. The coaches they have in place are volunteers with very minimal experience when it comes to teaching. Basketball ACT needs to look at where they are putting their resources. I don’t think they are getting a heap of funding from the government, but they need to put it all into the development of kids.
“My training’s focus is on the fundamentals. I get kids in under-14s and under-16s that have been in the development programs for two to three years that are missing major bits that they should have been taught way back on day one. These results are all across the board with Basketball ACT. They go away to national championships and regularly finish last and are happy to accept that because ‘we are the ACT, we are little’.
“No! No! No!
The birth of Shotclock
“Eventually, I knew it was time for me to stop playing a professional sport. When the new pre-season kicked off, not one part of me missed running a two-kilometre time trial or spending my winters running laps of the oval and getting myself conditioned.
“So I thought to myself about what I was going to do once I finished my sporting career and I knew I didn’t want an office job. I wanted a job in basketball but not a full-time role. Along the way, I had learnt how to make coffees and I actually really loved it. It was really fun and I love talking to people. So I went and bought my trailer and that’s how Shotclock espresso started.
“I was keen to try my hand at my second biggest passion in life, which is coffee. Having lived most of my life on the shot clock, the name was a way I could use as both a coffee and a basketball term. I take the trailer out every day and it only takes five minutes to set up. Monday to Friday is always the same, I start at the Governer Generals in Symonston then Deakin for a section of Defence and then Government house.
“I want to learn how to roast my own beans, and I plan to buy another trailer but we will wait and see.”
“I don’t regret taking retirement properly. And one day, when I have this coffee empire happening, I might put my feet up for a little while.”