14/04/2024

Emilee Whittle-Harmon has signed with the UC Capitals for WNBL23. (Photo: Emilee Whittle-Harmon/Instagram)

Veteran big Emilee Whittle-Harmon's path to her second WNBL contract only makes her a more valuable addition to the UC Capitals for WNBL23, says coach Kristen Veal.

No athlete’s path to the top is easy, but Emilee Whittle-Harmon’s has been a bit different to others.

The 32-year-old only earned her first WNBL contract last year, joining the Southside Flyers. While she had only limited court time to show what she could do, she proved to be a tough big to match up against.

Returning to the NBL1 for Dandenong, her scoring prowess and toughness under the rim was on display. She’s averaged 21.81 points and 8.27 rebounds, including season bests of 26 and 13 respectively.

Born in Ohio, she’s lived and played in Australia since 2015, scrapping for every opportunity and taste of top level basketball.

Now, new UC Capitals coach Kristen Veal has identified Whittle-Harmon as a key part of her WNBL23 squad, signing her on a one-year deal.

Taking over from Paul Goriss after he departed for WNBA side Atlanta Dream, the former premiership Capital saw the value of Whittle-Harmon’s signature.

“[We signed Emilee] for a number of different reasons,” the coach told reporters on Thursday.

“I think she’s a really good piece for what we’re trying to establish as a whole group. We’re quite a young, dynamic group, and having a couple of key pieces in that senior space that have been around, know how to be a professional, can role model that for our younger ones coming through is really important.

“Em is talented. She’s got this nice balance of unpredictability in her game, flair and just hard nosed at it… she’ll be really great for our team culture.”

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Since making the leap to live in Australia, Whittle-Harmon has been exceedingly close to a WNBL breakthrough multiple times.

Before joining the Flyers, she had prime opportunity to make a roster in 2020 when import players were disallowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t yet granted permanent residency, meaning she couldn’t sign for a roster spot at all.

Veal appreciates what it’s taken for her newest signing to get to the point she’s at.

“There is something to be said about athletes that take a challenging path to get to where they want to go, or they choose a different route,” the coach said.

“Britt Smart was quite similar to that… she’s just been working. The appreciation and the gratitude and the desire to be a part of something at this level, it just shines through, and I think that comes through with Em.

“You can’t teach that; it’s something that’s either born or through life experience you get.”

Building towards the top

Whittle-Harmon couldn’t stress more to reporters just how much her dreams had been fulfilled after getting another chance in the WNBL.

The early days before becoming an Australian resident were hard, competing against some of the best talent from the USA and Europe to be signed as an import.

WNBL is the level she’s always aspired to, she explains.

“Watching from afar for a few years, the expectations built up because that’s what I wanted to be a part of,” Whittle-Harmon said.

“It was a bit harder, and so when I finally got the chance, I was grateful to just be there and it lived up to my expectations.

“The level of professionalism and competitiveness, it was just a whole other dimension to the game that I hadn’t gotten probably since college. Everyone was a pro, everyone was expected to be there and show up every day to give it their best.

“There were definitely points where I felt like I had gotten so close [to a contract]. In the 2020 season… that was the point, because I’d gotten so close and it was almost ripped away.

“I’m surrounded by a lot of good people who kept pushing me. It was worth every second. For every door that was closed, just getting the one opened was worth it.”

Squad loading…

Whittle-Harmon becomes the seventh player signed to the Capitals’ roster for WNBL23. She links up with former teammate Gemma Potter, as well as exciting young Opals talent Jade Melbourne and Canberra legend Alex Bunton.

The next step for the Capitals is consolidating the imports. Superstar guard Britt Sykes departs to Hungary to play for Sopron Basket, leaving a big talent gap to fill.

Add in the loss of Kelsey Griffin to the Bendigo Spirit, and Veal has her work cut out for her.

Assuring that she is currently in talks with one import while narrowing down the field for another, the coach has no doubt the quality of the squad will be as high as ever.

“[The teambuilding] is good,” she said.

“I was warned it was going to be challenging and a bit of a slow process, but I think there’s not that many new pieces. When one drops in, it feels like we’re really close to being there. We’ll have another piece announced soon.

“We’re honing in on our imports, and then 11th and 12th player and we’ll connect with the ACT and Basketball NSW and NBL1 programs to offer development player opportunities.”

WNBL23 pre-season begins on September 21, with Round 1 kicking off on November 3.

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