Spirit's crucial next step

Joel Peterson | Bendigo Weekly | 10-Nov-2017

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Kelsey Griffin has been sidelined for the remainder of the WNBL season. Photo: Andrew Perryman.
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KELSEY Griffin’s season-ending hip injury is about as big an injury hit as any of the Women’s National Basketball League’s team could absorb.

But the injury and Griffin’s subsequent surgery this week should kickstart the process of the club looking at who its next long-term star may be.

It became apparent that even as Griffin again led the team to victory against Melbourne last weekend, she was hampered to the point that it was significantly affecting her on-court performance.

It is another blow for a Spirit team that can ill afford to lose any player, let alone its franchise cornerstone.

Bendigo was struggling to be competitive with Griffin in the lineup, not through a lack of effort, but simply limited talent.

Despite its 2-5 start you could argue that the Spirit’s on-court performance has been the best thing the club has offered up.

Atmosphere at the three Spirit home games has been almost as non-existent as the crowds, though the Bendigo Stadium was a fraction more populous during Saturday night’s win over Melbourne.

The club’s community involvement has also dipped, as noted by coach Simon Pritchard in a recent post match media conference.

Without Griffin, the current season amounts to little more than a chance to put minutes into young players and see what it has for the future.

Can Ash Spencer carve out a rotation spot at the WNBL level? What is Ebony Rolph’s ceiling? How far along can the club bring Jess Rennie, and Ahlise Hurst? 

All the while, the Spirit will lean on the already injured Betnijah Laney and Gabe Richards as well as Nadeen Payne and sharp shooting guard Rachel Banham to at least be competitive.

It all adds up to Bendigo having to look long-term. The future of Griffin and Richards beyond this season is uncertain at best and Laney and Banham would no doubt hope for a WNBA return down the track.

The Spirit has long bemoaned the fact it has struggled to make it from one season to the next. This type of long-term planning it can now do is exactly what the financial and administrative backing of the Bendigo Stadium Limited was sought for.

BSL will have to decide whether it believes that Spirit coach Simon Pritchard is the right man for the job.

It will also have to weigh up whether it will offer Griffin, 31 by the time next season rolls around and coming off two surgeries in a year, a long-term, big-money deal.

It may seem harsh given the truly immense impact Griffin has had on the club – off the court as much as on it – but it’s a question that the hierarchy should be asking.

With Spirit assistant coach Megan Moody set to be unveiled as Bendigo Lady Braves coach in coming days, the club and the stadium finally have an opportunity to create a defined, workable relationship between the Lady Braves and the Spirit.

That can be the first major step in building a unified front to represent Bendigo within the national basketball community, something that will pay big dividends in the long run.

Twitter: @joelbpeterson

Note: An earlier version of this story mentioned Simon Pritchard was out of contract after this season. His contract runs through the 2018/19 season.

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