The announcement of the winners for the 2021/2022 WNBL Awards is upon us, and plenty of star players have been named as candidates for the five awards on offer.
Steph Talbot will be looking to add another Suzy Batkovic Medal – WNBL MVP to her trophy cabinet, while several coaches could win the coach of the year after many had spectacular seasons.
These are the Inner Sanctum’s predictions for who will walk away with the awards.
Betty Watson Youth Player of the Year
Ezi Magbegor (MEL)
A dynamic and versatile player for the Melbourne Boomers, this young gun was explosive on the court.
Ezi Magbegor consistently showed improvement throughout the 15 games she played during the regular season, which earned her this well-deserved nomination.
This season, the 22-year-old was the best in her short professional career so far. In 15 games, Magbegor averaged 16.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.6 blocks per game.
Her shooting capabilities were also a highlight of her campaign. The young centre shot the ball efficiently, shooting the ball at 57.6 per cent which had her ranked first place in the league for field goal efficiency.
Katie Deeble (SYD)
In just her first year with the Sydney Uni Flames, Deeble has already generated buzz with the potential she has shown during the 2021/2022 season.
In the 11 games, Deeble averaged 3.2 points, one rebound and one assist per game.
There were some growing pains as she shot 32.5 per cent from the field, however, she was a very good free-throw shooter, shooting 80 per cent from the charity stripe.
There is no doubt that Deeble will be a powerful asset for her side should she take her game to the next level.
Shyla Heal (SYD)
Last year, Shyla Heal was lucky enough to be drafted into the WNBA, being picked up at Pick 8 by the Chicago Sky. However, her first year in America was a little shaky as she found her waived after being traded to the Dallas Wings.
Heal decided to come back to Australia and signed with the Sydney Uni Flames and the 20-year-old’s performance this season has scored herself a nomination and for good reason too.
The young star bolstered Sydney with her ability to manoeuvre around the court. The 1.68m powerhouse played 14 games and averaged 15.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.Embed from Getty Images
Jade Melbourne (UCC)
Since making her debut for the UC Capitals this season, Jade Melbourne has burst onto the scene and made an early impression in the WNBL.
There’s no doubt that her side had picked up a gem. Melbourne showed a glimpse into her shooting abilities which was beneficial for the Capitals, shooting 40.6 per cent from the field.
The 19-year-old thrived as a first-year player and averaged 9.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. Melbourne will be a young gun to keep an eye on in the years to come.
Samantha Simons (ADL)
Samantha Simons showed glimpses of her brilliance this year with the Adelaide Lightning and did not disappoint.
Simons’ shooting was a standout for the Lightning, producing a field goal percentage of 39.6 per cent. In the regular season, the 22-year-old pocketed 56 total points, typically coming off the bench.
For the season, the rising star averaged 3.3 points and 1.2 rebounds per game. Simons is yet another young gun to keep an eye on in the years to come.
Whilst Shyla Heal played a prominent part for the Sydney Uni Flames this year, it would be hard to go past the brilliance shown by the in-form Ezi Magbegor.
Magbegor’s athleticism and shooting accuracy has been one of the key components which has seen the Melbourne Boomers stride closer to that converted championship.
Robin Maher Defensive Player of the Year
Stephanie Reid (TSV)
Stephanie Reid brings significant pressure on the defensive side of the floor. Among one of the defenders in the league, the 25-year-old is often found guarding the opposition’s best guard.
The Fire defensively struggled at times this season, they finished the year ranked seventh for points against, conceding 76 points per game.
Despite Townsville’s defensive woe, head coach Shannon Seebohm knew Reid would fight and scrap defensively.
The guard finished in the top 10 for steals, ending the season with 23 steals. In the 17 games she played, Reid averaged 1.4 steals per game.
Kiera Rowe (SYD)
Kiera Rowe in her second year in the WNBL proved she can be a valuable rotational player. Last year the 23-year-old averaged 12.5 minutes per game in 12 games, this season Rowe bumped up her playing time and averaged 27.5 minutes per game.
Often not looked upon to score, the young forward was used in a defensive role. Although her stats aren’t eye-catching, Rowe still finished in the top five at Sydney Uni Flames for steals and blocks.
In 17 games, Rowe finished the season with four blocks and 11 steals.
Kalani Purcell (SYD)
Kalani Purcell is the second member from the Sydney Uni Flames that is being considered for the defensive player of the year award.
The Flames knew what they were getting when signing the born-and-bred New Zealander. Purcell is known for her high basketball IQ and relentless work on the defensive end.
The experienced forward led the league this season for steals, finishing with 40 steals. In 17 games, the 27-year-old averaged 2.9 steals per game.
As the Flames, only had three genuine frontcourt members – Keely Froling and Kalani Purcell along with forward/centre Bec Pizzey. The Flames often found themselves playing a lot more with a small-ball lineup.
Brittany Sykes (UCC)
Brittany Sykes is a candidate for this award because of her ability to guard any position on the court.
Canberra is already known for its defence, so adding another defender to its ranks made it an even better team. The Capitals allowed the third least points against, only conceding on average 74.4 points per game.
Adding length to the Capitals backcourt, the 28-year-old played extremely hard on the defensive end of the floor. Sykes finished WNBL22 with 40 steals, and in 16 games she averaged 2.6 steals per game.Embed from Getty Images
Maddison Rocci (STH)
It was a tough year for the Southside Flyers but Maddison Rocci continued to demonstrate why she is considered one of the upcoming stars in the competition.
Moving from the Capitals to the Flyers in the off-season, the 23-year-old showed her defensive prowess.
With her quick hands and ability to read the play really well, Rocci illustrated to supporters that she is a problem for opposing offences.
Although the Flyers ended the season giving up the most points, conceding 83.75 points per game. In 16 games, Rocci averaged 1.7 steals per game and finished the regular season with 25 steals.
Tiffany Mitchell (MEL)
Tiffany Mitchell is the Melbourne Boomers’ x-factor, she is well known for her offensive ability but it’s on the defensive side where she proved to be handy.
Mitchell would often be given the job of guarding the opposition’s best guard. Her defensive capabilities were one of the many reasons why Melbourne finished as one of the best defensive teams in the league.
Surround by shot-blockers in Ezi Magbegor and Cayla George, it allowed Mitchell to play aggressively on defence against her opponent and go for steals. The 27-year-old finished the season equal eighth for steals, with 23 steals in 17 games.
Steph Talbot (ADL)
You are going to see Steph Talbot’s name again as she is a candidate for the most valuable player award for her overall efforts, but her defensive ability sees her going for defensive player of the year for the second year in a row.
This season, the Adelaide Lightning was among the top three best defences in the competition, conceding 70.1 points per game and a lot of that was due to Talbot’s length and size.
The 6’2 forward was able to put pressure on the opposition by getting in passing lanes and intercepting any ill-directed passes.
Talbot ranked in the top 10 for both steals and blocks, finishing with 27 steals and 12 blocks in 16 games.Embed from Getty Images
With so many elite defenders in the competition, this award was difficult to hand out but we’ve awarded Melbourne’s Tiffany Mitchell the Robin Maher Defensive Player of the Year.
Like many of the candidates, they’re given the responsibility to guard the opposition’s best player. We couldn’t go past Mitchell’s impact on the Boomers’ defence, which was the best defence in the league, conceding the least amount of points against.
Sixth Woman of the Year
Stephanie Reid (TSV)
After a standout debut season last year, Stephanie Reid continued to improve and cement her spot as one of the best role players in the league.
Reid is also nominated for the best defensive player award, she brings significant pressure to both ends of the floor.
She is one of the best defenders in the league and provides a spark on offence, especially with her ability to create out of on-ball screens.
In just her second season, the 25-year-old has been spoken about as the next player to join the Opals squad. This year could potentially be the last year she’ll be eligible for this award – as we may see her on a starting roster come the 2023 season.
Chelsea Brook (ADL)
A three-point specialist – Chelsea Brook has been an important role player for the Lightning and head coach Chris Lucas.
Brook is a stretch four that can shoot from distance and defend in the paint and that is an important commodity to have in this league.
This season, the 23-year-old averaged seven points per game – scored in double digits five times including a season-high 16 points against Bendigo.
Brook averaged over 20 mins per game in WNBL22 and is an important cog in Adelaide’s rotation.
Alex Ciabattoni (PER)
To understand how highly rated Alex Ciabattoni is amongst the league – you only have to look at this nomination.
Perth is stacked with talented guards who can create their own shot. For Ciabattoni to be recognised in such a strong team of guards shows how feared she is around the league.
Although the 2016 WNBL Rookie of the Year doesn’t light up the stat sheet, she does provide a positive impact – averaging a steal and three assists per game.
In a team that relies heavily on its offence, Ciabattoni comes off the bench and is able to keep the scoreboard ticking over and also helps create opportunities for her teammates.Embed from Getty Images
Kristy Wallace (STH)
There’s no greater story than Kristy Wallace and her journey in the last 12 months.
Recovering from multiple knee injuries – Wallace not only proved how valuable she was to Southside but she was also included in the Australian Opals team and has been called up to return to the WNBA with Atlanta.
There’s no doubt Wallace has the ability to be the starting point guard in any team. She’s an elite ball-handler and has no fear when attacking the paint.
She also showed her ability to shoot from distance, shooting a handy 34.6 per cent from three-point range.
Jade Melbourne (UCC)
In a veteran team, Jade Melbourne has been the young spark off the bench that has helped the Capitals make finals and compete for their ninth championship.
Not afraid of the moment, Melbourne can turn a game with her attacking offence and lockdown defence.
The emerging guard is one of the most respected players in the league as she plays the game the right way with a competitive edge and a smile on her face.
Averaging close to 10 points per game off the bench, she has been an integral role player for Canberra.
This may be the hardest category to predict a winner in. However, due to the importance of a quality backup point guard to any side’s success, it’s hard not to look at the three-point guards in contention as the eventual winner.
For her ability to play both ends of the floor with such energy and enthusiasm, her improving basketball IQ and the importance of her contribution to her team – it’s difficult to not select Stephanie Reid from Townsville as the Sixth Woman of the Year.
Coach of the Year
In a league with just eight teams, we are spoiled in this country for great coaches. They possess multiple championships and international medals as assistant coaches and head coaches in their own right.
Two of those coaches, Guy Molloy and Paul Goriss are hoping to win a championship before heading off to their respective challenges.
Molloy is moving to New Zealand to lead the Tall Ferns on a full-time basis and Goriss is headed to the WNBA as an assistant coach.
The Inner Sanctum has identified four coaches who we believe could win the Coach of the Year honours.
In just his second season as a head coach in the WNBL, Ryan Petrik had the greatest challenge of all the coaches in the league – spending most of the season away from home.
His ability to keep his team in the right mindset and compete on the road needs to be commended.
Petrik built a team for success with local and overseas talent with arguably the greatest depth in the league.
Losing his leading scorer (Marina Mabrey) for a big chunk of the season saw Petrik give more responsibility to Jackie Young who flourished in her new role.
Coaching at the elite level is more than just the X’s and O’s and looking from the outside in – there’s no doubt Petrik’s relationship with his players and ability to keep them focused and motivated is the reason why Perth is one of the championship favourites.
One of the coaching veterans in the WNBL. Chris Lucas returned to Adelaide in 2016, he took over a side that had some challenges off the court and took on the role knowing he needed to help build the program back up again.
Not only has Lucas built a team for success – he’s created a culture where the likes of Steph Talbot and Alanna Smith want to play.
He has also been instrumental in creating pathways for local Adelaide junior players to make it to the WNBL.
Lucas is invested in the success of the Lightening and basketball in South Australia, which is evident on and off the court.
He is a master coach and has the ability to change the game in his team’s favour and will be hard to beat in this year’s finals series.
In Guy Molloy’s last season in charge of the Melbourne Boomers, he has once again proven he is one of the best coaches in the country, guiding his team to the top of the ladder – losing only five games.
Molloy is a great tactician and is meticulous in his preparation. His teams are always well drilled and ready for any challenge.
Although he has high expectations of his team, his players always respond – proving how much respect they have for him.
Molloy has a reputation for players wanting to play for him and his current playing group couldn’t speak more highly of him about the impact he has on the team and with the players individually.Embed from Getty Images
Although the Bendigo Spirit missed out on playing finals, finishing the season in fifth with seven wins and nine losses, Tracy York needs to be in consideration for coach of the year.
The Spirit was one of the most consistent hard-working teams in the league. They were undersized which impacted their ability to defend the paint, however, what they lacked in height they made up for in heart.
Anneli Maley – the leading scorer and rebounder of the competition and one of the favourites for the MVP award would arguably not have reached the same heights she did with her consistency without the guidance and culture set by York.
York has won over many supporters with her never say die attitude and the high standards she set for her team.
Although they may not have had the same depth as the teams that made finals – York made sure they were always a chance to win.
Ryan Petrik’s coaching performance in just his second season as head coach, with a team that played only 4 games at home should see him receive the coach of the year award.
Suzy Batkovic Medal – WNBL MVP
Brittany Sykes (UCC)
With Capitals teammate Kelsey Griffin’s slow start to the regular season, Brittany Sykes needed to stand up and that’s what she did.
The 28-year-old’s consistency is one of the main reasons Canberra were able to finish in third on the ladder.
Having played for the Los Angeles Sparks, Sykes knows when to stand up when it matters.
Whether it is taking the ball into her own hands and shooting or making the right pass to an open player, Sykes demonstrated it all this season.
She was also the first ‘Player of the Week’ for her dominating performance in Round 1 against the Sydney Uni Flames. She finished that game with 16 points, seven rebounds, three rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
Jackie Young (PER)
When Jackie Young signed with the Perth Lynx, there was a lot of high expectations seeing as she is a former first overall WNBA draft pick and had a highly talented college career at Notre Dame.
Young had a slow start to the season but picked up the pace and lived up to expectations.
She scored above 26 points in five games, all occurring at the back-end of the season. The 24-year-old scored a season-high 36 points against the UC Capitals in Round 14.
In Perth’s three games in Round 14, Young averaged 24 points, almost four rebounds, three assists and over two and a half steals. Her performances earned her ‘Player of the Week’ for Round 14.
The Lynx import averaged 17.9 points for the season including 72 total rebounds and 57 assists and guided the Lynx to second on the ladder, one win off Melbourne.
Anneli Maley (BEN)
Anneli Maley is having a season to remember being the only player in the competition to average a double-double.
This is no ordinary double-double though as she averaged 19.8 points per game, shooting 41.4 per cent from the field. The 23-year-old also averaged 15.7 rebounds, 5.5 of them on the offensive glass.
The Victorian is the complete package and has had such a good season that she has signed to attend a WNBA tryout with the Chicago Sky.
Maley single-handedly helped her team win multiple games and won ‘Player of the Week’ a season record of three times in Rounds 4, 10 and 12.
The only negative to Maley’s chances of becoming the new MVP is that she failed to get the Bendigo Spirit into the postseason with the Spirit only winning seven of its 16 games.
Steph Talbot (ADL)
Stephanie Talbot is known for being a great contributor with the ball and being very unselfish when it comes to scoring points.
This season, Talbot led the league in assists with 6.4 per game and came sixth in rebounds with 8.8 per game just behind teammate Alanna Smith.
Being one of the older players on the Adelaide roster, she has provided plenty of experience to the younger girls in the locker room. The 27-year-old helped the Lightning finish in fourth at the end of the regular season.
The forward’s unselfishness has helped her and teammate Alanna Smith in becoming a formidable dynamic duo for Adelaide.
With Talbot providing the ball and Smith finishing it off, teams have had a hard time in defence as they don’t know which one to mark or double-team.
The superstar shot 40.7% from the field and 73.5% from the free-throw line. Her shooting efficiency has helped make Adelaide a contending team.
Kelsey Griffin (UCC)
Kelsey Griffin has had quite the year for Canberra, after a slow start to the season by her standards, the 34-year-old averaged 15.1 points per game.
She also came in fourth in average blocks with 1.1 per game and eighth in average rebounds with 8.2 per game.
The forward has found it easy to dominate when in the paint for the Capitals and help provide them with an easy go-to option in the attacking half of the court.
The three-time WNBL champion is renowned for her defensive prowess but was inconsistent at the start of the year and only really ramped her form up during the second half of the regular season.
Apart from this, she helped Canberra reach the finals and finished the season with the same amount of wins as Perth. However, due to its inferior winning percentage, the Capitals finished third.Embed from Getty Images
Alanna Smith (ADL)
Having been ‘Player of the Week’ twice this season, Alanna Smith is the fourth player on the leaderboard in average points and fifth in rebounds.
Smith nearly averaged a double-double, putting up 17.4 points per game and 9.1 rebounds.
Alongside teammate Stephanie Talbot, the 25-year-old provided Adelaide with some stellar performances, especially in Rounds 5 and 11.
She put on a repeated amount of 20+ point games, with her highest point total this season of 28 points against the Southside Flyers.
Cayla George (MEL)
Cayla George is one of the more experienced players in the league. The experience of George and playing together with teammate Magbegor has helped the Boomers on both ends of the floor.
George averaged a double-double this season, with 14.2 points and 10.8 rebounds. Her shooting efficiency was instrumental, shooting 47.4 per cent from the field and 40.5 per cent from three-point range.
The 32-year-old proved to be difficult for opposition teams to guard as they weren’t sure whether to defend her at the three-point line.
George received the last ‘Player of the Week’ for her performance in the last round of the season, where she had 23 points, 15 of those coming from the three-point line, eight rebounds and five assists.
Ezi Magbegor (MEL)
The young gun who is also nominated for Betty Watson Youth Player of the Year had a great season for the Boomers. Magbegor was an unstoppable force on the defensive end, providing 1.6 blocks and 7.5 rebounds per game.
As much as she is known for her defensive presence, Magbegor provided Melbourne with an attacking presence at the centre position.
In 15 games, Magbegor averaged 16.1 points per game but more importantly, she did so at an efficient clip, shooting 57.6 per cent.
Magbegor received ‘Player of the Week’ for her Round 3 performance against Bendigo Spirit and MVP nominee Anneli Maley. She dominated, finishing the game with 21 points and 16 rebounds.
Her consistent performances across the season helped the Boomers clinch the top spot on the ladder.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the Suzy Batkovic Medal indicating the best WNBL player has to go to Anneli Maley.
She has put up some ridiculous numbers this year, especially when looking at her shooting percentages.
The only player coming close to defeating her for the medal would be Alanna Smith but the difference between the pair’s stats is wild.
Maley averaged 19.8 points per game, shooting 41.4 per cent from the field. She also averaged 15.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
Compared to Smith, who averaged 17.4 points per game, shooting 47.2 per cent from the field. The 25-year-old also averaged 9.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
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