Having watched the UC Capitals playing as a young girl, it was an honour for 19-year-old Abby Solway when she was asked to join the squad for a second year in a row as a WNBL23 development player.
The second youngest player on the team punches well above her weight, having spent the off-season with the Canberra Nationals where she averaged 14 points per game with a free throw percentage of more than 67 per cent.
She is one of many promising young players on their way to the big leagues via the UC Capitals’ multiple development pathways.
Head coach for “the Caps” Kristen Veal says these pathways are of strategic importance to developing the sport in the Territory.
“These kinds of streams are already done well in other states, but there’s a smaller talent pool here, so our development pathways are a key way for us to get the calibre of players we need,” she says.
In partnership with Basketball ACT, the Caps hold a Development Player and Futures Day as well as training camps for kids as young as six.
For three athletes a year who perform really well and who deserve a development opportunity with the Caps, there are “Futures” spots.
“It’s essentially like an internship,” Veal says.
“They watch practice, come to individual workouts, have coach catch-ups, come to game day and shoot around, sit behind the benches at games and get the full experience of what it’s like to be a pro athlete.
“It’s a really exciting opportunity.”
But populating the pipeline in the Nation’s Capital is a long game that goes beyond flushing out existing talent.
That’s why for those who perhaps aren’t old enough to go onto training or development spots, there are training camps.
“These camps are hitting the broad base to cater to all children,” Veal says.
“Our youngest athlete is six years old and joined as soon as she finally met the age requirement. She’s our biggest Caps fan. She makes posters and bracelets for the girls on the team.
“Then we have young kids who’ve only been playing for six months, so this has been a sort of touch point for them to take them over the line in understanding what an amazing sport basketball is and everything it offers – on and off the court.”
With players coming from as far as Moss Vale, training camps are one of the ways the Caps are showing young players “the ladder to the top”, according to Veal.
“Often younger kids can’t see a way to the top unless you build them a ladder, with rungs mapping out a clear pathway there,” she says.
“Our development opportunities exist to show young basketball players in Canberra the rungs that form a clear pathway upward.”
The various streams have sent several promising juniors on to become major success stories.
Solway was a Queanbeyan kid who reached the development squad via the high-performance pathway.
She was joined there by Chloe Tugliach, who came via the Caps’ Futures Day.
Players Elizabeth Tonks, who signed up for her first season in WNBL last year and Isabelle Bourne, who went through the Basketball ACT’s high-performance program were both selected by Basketball Australia as Centre of Excellence (CoE) scholarship athletes.
And there was Sarah Berry, an ACT kid who went on to win championships with the Caps in the late 90s and early noughties.
Veal says players have demonstrated the importance and efficacy of Basketball ACT’s development pathways time and again.
“We want to show young people the possibilities and how it works,” she says.
“You start young and just get in and practise as much as you can. Then there’s something after that, and something after that so you can continue to grow, develop and dedicate your time to learning and getting better as a basketball player.”
For more information on the Basketball ACT development pathways visit the website.