As the upcoming 2016/17 WBBL season approaches, I take an inside look into who to watch out for and even throw in some early predictions of my own.
Helen Naylor [SF, Sheffield Hatters]
Arguably the best UK player in the country, I don’t expect anything less than Helen to continue showing her impact and dominance. The GB international was very much the early runner for MVP honors last season putting up big numbers leading her team, where I really see her taking it all to another level this season. Could this be Helen’s MVP season? I think so.
Dominique Allen [F, Manchester Mystics]
I’m really pleased to see more GB internationals come home and play in the WBBL – it’s great for the female game! I’ve always been a fan of Dominique’s game where her strength and inside presence will cause many teams some match up issues. Add her experience of playing pro ball in Europe, I see Dominique fitting in just fine putting up big numbers in the WBBL.
Brittany Winborne [F, Sheffield Hatters]
Coach Vanessa Ellis has seemed to replace Baendu Lowethal with another double-double machine who posted 10.7 points and 11.1 rebounds at University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) last year. I’ve seen Winborne’s highlight tape and she looks like an absolute dominant force inside who is going to be a handful for the league. I expect big things from her this year as Hatters for me are still very much the team to beat in the WBBL.
Ashley Harris [F, Nottingham Wildcats]
The entire WBBL should already know the impact the versatile forward has on offence from both inside and outside to the 3-pt line. She is one to watch this season as Ashley was somewhat in Amber Stokes’ shadow last season where this year the Wildcats are very much her team. She will be given more touches and more responsibility on her shoulders, which should mean a even bigger and better season ahead of her.
Alex Smith [G, Leicester Riders]
The sharp shooting guard is back at the Riders but this year I see her taking on more of a lead role for the team. She will likely play the PG spot as well as off the ball so expect the ball in her hands a lot to distribute and score to be Coach Matthew Harber’s lead playmaker. With this new role I see it only resulting in an even more productive season in store for Smith.
Kristina Benic [G/F, Nottingham Wildcats]
The resume speaks for itself – Croatian international playing for a variety of top European clubs. I actually got to see some of her footage before the Wildcats signed her via Coach Dave Greenaway and was immediately impressed. She has great length and a high skill set on the perimeter with the ability to shoot the ball and attack off the dribble so I’m sure she will be used in a variety of ways. I see her being a difference maker as to what silverware Nottingham Wildcats win this season.
Abigail Asoro [F, Team Northumbria]
She is arguably the the most exciting player in the WBBL where the Swedish small forward showed last season she is so versatile with her ability to play anywhere on the court at both ends. This year’s squad is without many key players from last seasons Playoff Championship team so Abigail is going to have a bigger role to play if they want to repeat that. As long as she can stay injury free, she makes Team Northumbria so deadly and able to beat any team in the WBBL. Stats note: I see her being right up there leading the league in double doubles this season.
Abigail Johnson [F, Barking Abbey]
After putting in a fine display at the FIBA U20 European’s this summer I really expect Abigail to have her best season yet in the WBBL. Barking Abbey don’t have the returning services of Italian forward Abiola Wabara which gives her a major role this season. She will be asked to be effective on both ends of the floor, especially needing to score more where I’m confident she will produce and show she is more than capable to compete with the WBBL’s best Bigs.
Kyla Nelson [G, Oaklands Wolves]
After putting in a huge amount of work this off-season, Kyla is fitter, quicker and stronger where I really expect bigger things from her this season. She will have to score big numbers for Oaklands to win games, which she is more than capable of doing. She will also need to take a leadership role with such a young team where I see a breakout season from her as she pursues her journey to land a USA scholarship.
Under the Radar
Robyn Lewis [PG, Caledonia Pride]
Her role at the Riders last year as the back up PG may have gone a little unnoticed but she now has the time to shine with a new team and starting role. Robyn shows a huge amount of grit and determination on court but also has a very high skill set and basketball IQ where I really feel she will have a good year numbers wise. She will need to look to be more aggressive on offence which she is capable of doing – I’m looking forward to seeing her playing major minutes in a leading role this season.
Ta’Yani Clark [G/F, Sevenoaks Suns]
Arguably the best USA player to ever play in the UK, you cannot write off Ta’Yani. I’ve had the pleasure of coaching her where her mindset really sets her apart from many. She of course has the talent but her drive this season is personal where she needs to get fully fit as a priority with injuries playing a major role in slowing her down for the last 2 years. She has a redemption season ahead and I wouldn’t for one second doubt her.
Teams to Watch
The two teams this season that you need to keep an eye on and will undoubtedly improve on their league places from last season are Leicester Riders and Manchester Mystics. This is why…
I openly put out last season that Team Northumbria were the most stacked team which this year has to be said about the Riders. Coach Harber may have lost Gerogia Jones but he still has the rest of the core group of returning players led by Alex Smith and has added the likes of GB international Jamila Thompson, Estonian rising star Kadri Uiga and Lithuanian Vitalija Vasciunaite. Add in they stay injury free and the likes of some very talented juniors, well you have the new “Team Stacked”. This shows real intent from the club of pushing to grow and build which I love. I’m going to predict that they finish Third place in the League this season! Yes I said it. Hold me to it.
This team have landed two of the biggest signings of the season with the homecoming of GB internationals Georgia Jones and Dominique Allen. Georgia has been one of the best PG’s in the WBBL for the last 2 seasons and Dominique has played in top European leagues. The Mystics have also added Rheanne Bailey and Joanna Clayden who have been forces in previous years in this countries top flight league as well as American-Spanish guard, Jasmine Simmons. Then you cannot forget about their core returning players led by Amy Browne and Nicola Welling giving them way more depth than last year. They will be a tricky team to play against and led by newly appointed Coach Jeff Jones I see them shocking some teams this season.
I’m super excited for the WBBL season to kick off this weekend with the annual Betty Codona Classic, which I will be making the journey to watch! More information and tickets can be found here.