International threat for Ipswich to deal with
WITH international players the calibre of Marianna Tolo in this year's Queensland Basketball League competition, the annual state series is getting better and more challenging.
But for QBL coaching stalwarts like Ipswich Force mentor Brad George, that's the appeal of lining up each week against the best teams from around the state.
"It's definitely got tougher and tougher with more depth,'' George said, preparing for his ninth state league season as a head coach.
Having highly credentialled basketballers like Australian Opals, Canberra Capitals and Los Angeles Sparks centre Tolo playing at least some games bolsters the QBL's quality.
Women's NBA and NBL regular Tolo will line up for Mackay this weekend, including against an improved Ipswich combination which finished second in last year's regular season.
"It's always good to see a lot of them (Australian players) come in. It makes the competition good,'' George said.
"We're seeing more of the good Division 1 or the good College players coming in as well to join the imports so the teams have a lot more depth than previous years.''
Bolstered by quality off-season recruits Kaili McLaren, Makaela King and Amy Lewis, this year's Force line-up is expected to challenge for top four honours heading into the playoffs.
"The pre-season has been good but you don't really get a full idea until the season has started,'' George said, keen to get his 2019 campaign under way this weekend.
"The first game (on Sunday) will be a good test to see where we are at.''
He's wary of having to contain Australian Opals players like 1.96m tall Tolo.
"Tolo is probably the second best big in the country, back-up centre to Liz Cambage,'' George said.
"That will make things a lot harder. She's a quality player.''
However, he's backing his imports Amanda "AJ' Johnson and McLaren to enjoy the challenge in the 1pm match at Ipswich stadium.
Former national league player Bree Farley continues as Force captain, supported by other experienced leaders like AJ, McLaren and Lewis.
After such a successful 2018 season, George said his team's main challenge was replicating their second place finish heading into the playoffs.
Force's bid for a first QBL title fell short when they lost some key players late in the season due to college and other commitments.
However, some astute off-season recruiting has George confident Force will up with the big guns again this season.
"We don't lose anyone this year so that's a benefit,'' George said, eagerly awaiting what Ipswich's rivals present in coming weeks.
"Some teams have really gone hard (recruiting). We're looking to get into the playoffs again.
"If we didn't make the finals, I'd see the season as a failure.
"But once you get there, anything can happen.''
He rates Rockhampton another major threat, having created a new-look team.
George has completed his team's build-up with a normal preparation, fine-tuning plays to better familiarise import McLaren with Ipswich's game style.