Bendigo’s Kelly Wilson (right) will play her 300th WNBL game against Melbourne Boomers on Saturday. Photo: Mick Connolly
Kelly Wilson is an ever-present basketball player. From WNBL debut as a 17-year-old at the Australian Institute of Sport to time with the Sydney Flames and Townsville Fire, then the past eight seasons with Bendigo Spirit, Wilson is constantly in the action and rarely on the sidelines.
That helps explain why at just 31 she will play her 300th WNBL game when the Spirit take on Melbourne Boomers at Bendigo Stadium on Saturday night.
“It doesn’t feel like I have played a lot of games but when I think about it I have been around for a long time,” Wilson said. “Someone said to me the other day how does it feel to be in the 300 games group with someone like Rachael Sporn, and for me I don’t feel I’m in that league. I feel out of place when someone mentions names like that – I guess I’ve just stuck around for a long time.”
As a 170-centimetre guard from Leongatha, Wilson worked her way through the Vic Country junior basketball system with best friend Gabe Richards.
In the WNBL she had to find ways to stay on the court and be valuable to the team.
Without having outstanding speed, strength or athleticism, Wilson instead developed into an all-around guard who could play point guard and run the team or shooting guard and work off other players.
Since her debut season in 2002-2003, Wilson has never played less than 18 games and always played major minutes, either as a starting guard or a regularly used reserve. Her three-point shooting now sits among the best in the league, as does her on-ball defence – Wilson is in the Opals’ squad and in Rio Olympic discussions although the battle for the guard positions remains strongly contested.
After learning her trade from the likes of Belinda Snell and Trish Fallon at the Flames, Wilson came into her own when she joined Bendigo Spirit in their second season.
“I’ve been pretty fortunate in my career to play a lot,” Wilson said. “In Sydney I was playing with people like Belinda Snell and Trish Fallon and I was still learning how to train and from how they handled themselves.
“When I first went to the institute I was still a girl and found it hard to compete with the older players so I guess it was learning how to use your size and strengths to your advantage. It’s not necessarily all about speed and stuff like that but basketball smarts as well – that’s something the older players taught me.”
The Spirit and Wilson proved the perfect match as she could join Richards and her younger sister Andrea Wilson.
The trio shared a house in Bendigo for almost their whole careers with the Spirit and only “split up” in recent years after Wilson got married.
“I was ecstatic I could come to play for Bendigo,” Wilson said. “It was a huge drawcard to come here where my sister was already playing and my best friend was playing.
“I’m pretty sure we made the finals each year but it was a struggle and an achievement for us to get there competing with powerhouses of the league.
“To get to the point where we were competing for and winning championships and to do [that] with the same core of players Bernie Harrower had initially recruited was even more rewarding.
“We had spent so many years struggling but once you get that feeling of winning it’s addictive and once you win championships you want to keep winning them.”
That core Spirit side remains even after the retirement of Kristi Harrower and end of Bernie Harrower’s time as coach.
The Spirit have less depth than past years and a new coach in Simon Pritchard but they still sit in third place in the WNBL ladder after playing the most games in the league during the first half of the campaign.
A win over the Boomers will be another step towards a finals run and that’s all Wilson is after.
“Each game is extremely important, last time against the Boomers we certainly weren’t at our best and they did a good job of taking us out of our structure,” Wilson said.
“I think depth in terms of previous years is not the same as it was but if you look at the players we have in the team we can compete with anyone in the league.”
Once again Wilson has been a constant for the Spirit this season and has built a life in Bendigo working as a teacher at Bendigo South East College for the past seven years with the school’s ongoing support allowing her to remain an elite athlete and a teacher.
There is nothing stopping Wilson from remaining an ever-present Spirit player for the years to come.
The Spirit play Melbourne Boomers at Bendigo Stadium on Saturday night at 7.30pm.