Massive coup for Ipswich: WNBA winner on the way
HAVING secured arguably the best player for this year's NBL 1 North women's competition, Ipswich Force players, coaches and fans are counting down the days.
Medal-winning Olympian Abby Bishop will bolster the talented Ipswich women's line-up when she returns to Australia following her latest stint with top four European league team Virtus Bologna.
For new Force head coach Brady Walmsley, the wait will be worth it.
"It's a big signing and I think it's probably bigger than most people have realised,'' the well-travelled coach said.
"She's an Olympian and a WNBA champion, WNBL MVP so there's not a lot of those going around.''
Bishop, 32, is expected to suit up for Ipswich mid-season in the inaugural NBL 1 North competition.
"She's going to come back (from overseas), just take a little bit of time off to rest the body and then get stuck in with us,'' Walmsley said.
The forward/centre was at the Australian Institute of Sport in 2005-06 before Women's NBL stints with Canberra (2006-10 and 2013-16) and Adelaide Lightning (2011-12 and 2017-18). She was the league's most valuable player in 2015.
Bishop was also a member of the Australian team that won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
She played for the WNBA championship-winning Seattle Storm in 2015/16 before her latest overseas series in Italy.
It was through a personal connection that Walmsley was able to secure the services of the accomplished and highly regarded basketballer.
Walmsley was the Basketball Queensland high performance manager from 2016-18, based in Rockhampton.
In 2017, he devoted eight weeks helping then Rockhampton Cyclones player Bishop prepare for a national opportunity.
"We spent some time working together in an individual setting just her and I, prior to an Australian Opals selection camp,'' Walmsley said.
"We just worked out together every day. I just put her through some stuff to prepare for the camp.''
With experienced leader Amy Lewis returning as Force captain and assisted by energetic vice-captain Georgia Ralph, Walmsley expects Bishop to play with freedom.
"We're really fortunate,'' the coach said. "We've got really, really strong leadership already.
"She (Bishop) is probably not going to have the pressure with that regard that she may be used to, which is a good thing for her.
"She just gets to come in and play hoops and fit in and do her thing.
"We're pretty confident that once we have Abby Bishop on our team, every game we play we've probably got the best player on the floor. And that's to go with some pretty good players we've already got.
"By the time she comes in, hopefully we are firing on all cylinders.''
Among other Ipswich talents returning are Catherine Macgregor and Iris Cubit.
Macgregor is currently in Mackay with the Queensland under-20 side contesting the national titles. She will be back for round one.
"Our roster is complete. It's all done now,'' Walmsley said.
"All we have to come in now is Abby Bishop.''
Having started Force training last November, Walmsley is excited about Ipswich's first match against the Gold Coast on May 16.
After that opening clash at Carrara, Force host Cairns on May 22 before facing Logan away the following day in their first double-header weekend.
"I'm really happy,'' Walmsley said.
"I think we've done a good job figuring out exactly what we are.''
While waiting for Bishop to arrive, Walmsley said the goal was trying to win at least half the matches to remain in touch with the top group.
"Once Abby comes in, we think everything is going to fit well and it should be a good run home,'' he said.
The Ipswich Force men are also completing preparations for the inaugural NBL1 North season, having won all their pre-season games in the recent NBL1 Blitz series.
They have secured the services of homegrown talent Matt Hodgson once he fulfils his 2021 NBL commitments.