Before she left for Australia, Connecticut Sun guard Rachel Banham received a thorough scouting report from players who had competed professionally for a team in the Women’s National Basketball League.
The reviews were glowing.
Friendly people? Check.
Passionate basketball fans? Check.
Knowledgeable coaches? Check.
Great food? Amazing scenery? Check, check.
Unfortunately, there was one negative on the list, and that one checked out too.
“Everyone talked about the spiders, which there were, there were a ton of spiders,” Banham said with a laugh. “They were big. Bigger than in the States. And I saw them every day. It’s so normal there for them. So that was kind of weird for me and not the greatest because spiders are gross. I’m not really afraid of them. I just think they’re gross. My roommate was deathly afraid, so she would be screaming over a baby spider.”
That was the only downside for Banham, who averaged 12.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists through 21 games for the Bendigo Spirit of the WNBL. It was the first overseas experience for Banham, who felt it was a perfect place to begin her international career.
“It was a really good starting point,” she said. “You never hear anything bad about Australia. It’s a short season, great weather, everyone is nice. There are not a whole lot of issues you’re going to deal with. It was a big step for me because it was my first year (playing abroad) and I was kind of scared and didn’t know what to expect.”
One of eight teams in the WNBL, the Spirit have a strong following in the city of Bendigo, which has a population of just about 96,000. The team won consecutive league championships in 2013 and 2014.
“Bendigo was really nice,” she said. “Great people. I loved the food there. They had really nice cafes so that was kind of one of my goals, to try all of the cafes, so that was nice. It has a really good basketball culture. You could tell everyone there was really passionate about basketball, which made it fun. It’s the kind of place where people enjoy watching the game, so I enjoyed that.”
Banham also enjoyed a reunion with Courtney Williams, who played for the Perth Lynx.
“It was just so fun,” she said. “It’s weird playing against (Courtney), but we had fun with it. We were competitive, but we’d still be poking at each other, joking with each other, talking. After the game, we got food and chilled for a couple of hours. It was fun.”
Missing Christmas was not as much fun.
“The weirdest part is that it wasn’t cold so it didn’t feel like Christmas,” Banham said. “The whole day, I was like, ‘Is it really Christmas?’ It did not feel like it. It was like 80 degrees that day. We were sitting by a pool. We were eating shrimp and salad. Cold food. I’m so used to having these hot meals, turkey, ham and mashed potatoes, and we were having salad. It was a little sad, but I think because it didn’t feel like Christmas it didn’t even register with me that much. It’s hard when you see your family and all your friends enjoying each other and you’re like, ‘Well, I’m all the way over here,’ so that part was hard.”
Banham worked hard on her shot and also focused on her defense overseas. Now back in Minnesota, she is working with a personal trainer and a basketball trainer, and is also practicing with the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team.
“As much as it sometimes isn’t fun when you can’t be with your family, you’re also experiencing something you may never experience again in your life or other people never get the chance of doing,” she said of the experience. “It kind of goes hand in hand. It kind of pays off in the end.”