This article was first written for and published for the Roar.
The start of the 2020-21 WNBL season is just one week away and for Southside Flyers guard Rebecca Cole, this season is all about opportunity.
“The pandemic has meant that a lot of Australians have come home to compete in the WNBL because it is a lot safer here than other parts of the world,” said Cole.
“The broadcast deal is also massive. The WNBL is going to be on Fox and free-to-air television.
“The more people that can see us play, the better. There isn’t a lot of other sport happening at the moment, so come on people, get more involved in women’s basketball because it is awesome.”
The announcement of the broadcast deal was big news for a league that has desperately missed being on free-to-air television. The agreement between the WNBL, Foxtel and the ABC mean that all 60 games of the 2020 season will be available live across Australia.
You can’t be what you can’t see and this season is an important opportunity for women’s sport to become more visible, particularly ahead of a crucial period for basketball.
Of course, there are the Olympics next year and then the FIBA Women’s World Cup in Australia in 2022.
At this stage, Cole has two opportunities to represent Australia at Tokyo: firstly with the Australian Opals and secondly as part of the 3×3 team. The 3×3 concept is being introduced for the first time at the Tokyo Olympics and Cole is hopeful that Australia will qualify. At this stage, the qualifiers will be held in May in Austria.
“The introduction of 3×3 is really exciting and I feel super lucky that I have two options for Tokyo,” said Cole.
“For younger people coming up, the fact that they now have even more opportunity to represent their country in basketball, which should bring new people to our game.
“3×3 is so much fun. It is modern, urban and athletic. The more you play, the more obsessed you become with it.”
Cole is extremely positive heading into this WNBL season and she has every reason to be. After a positional change, during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, Cole was a stand-out in the WNBL. She averaged more than 17 points a game, was runner up in the 2018-19 WNBL Most Valuable Player Award and has been selected in the WNBL All-Star team in both of the past two seasons.
This is even more impressive considering some of the hurdles Cole has had to overcome during her career.
Growing up, the family motto was ‘life isn’t fair’.
“To others it may seem a bit dark, but for us it meant that if something bad or negative happened, you were allowed a day or two to process it, feel all the emotions and then charge on forwards,” said Cole.
Throughout her career, Cole has had several serious injuries. When she was 19 years old and playing at the Australian Institute of Sport, Cole suffered an ACL injury. She worked her way back and again, suffered an ACL injury in May 2015.
Additionally, Cole has had some challenges in her personal life too. In 2019, after returning from a 3×3 tournament in Tokyo where she was representing Australia, Cole found out that her dad had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The Cole family is a tight-knit unit so that was another difficult time. At any point, Cole could have thrown in the towel. But she decided not to.
“When I went through those injuries, they sucked, but they made me fall in love with the game more and more,” said Cole.
“For me, I thought about my potential like a box and it was only half full. I knew I had so much more to give and I knew that I could get there if I got my body right and had the time to grow as a basketballer.”
Cole also had plenty of goals that she was intent on fulfilling.
“I wanted to go to an Olympics. I wanted to go play overseas. I wanted to play a World Cup for my country,” said Cole.
“Now that I have been able to do those things after a couple of really good seasons, I know that all the blood, sweat and tears have been worth it.
“I have been through a lot, but I love it and I work hard. Everything that comes my way I deserve, because I have put everything into it.”
Cole also hopes that her journey can inspire the next generation of Aussie basketballers.
“These women used to be my heroes. I remember going to the WNBL and getting to meet Penny Taylor and what a moment it was for me,” said Cole.
And now Cole finds it hard to believe that there are young fans that feel the same way about her.
“The fact that someone looks up to you makes you feel really warm in your heart,” said Cole.
“Whether they love the way you play, who you are as a person or what you have overcome, you just want to take them under your wing.
“For us to have all the fans that we have, we are so grateful and when we play, we play for you and to inspire you.”