Sandy Brondello’s Shock at the Women’s Game in Australia
By Sam Squiers
When Sandy Brondello talks people listen.
And Basketball Australia should.
The basketball legend was a star of the NBL and NBA – and now, as a coach, leads some of the biggest names the sport will ever see and will forever remember.
So when she says the women’s game in Australia hasn’t developed adequately since she pulled on the singlet and dazzled the stadiums with her basketball brilliance, then something needs to change.
“I think it definitely could be developed more, this is a world sport, so many countries play this and it’s such a big sport in so many countries,” Sandy told Sportette while in Australia for a brief visit.
We’ve got a lot of talented players out there but I don’t think they’re promoted or marketed as well as they should
“I still think it’s the same as when I played, we were on TV once a week and got a little bit of coverage, but I don’t think it’s improved in that regard.”
There’s plenty to promote with an ever-growing depth of talent.
“The talent is still here and I think the standard of playing gets better and better because players are staying home now and you’re getting quality imports,”
“I’ll always say there’s more they can do because we have so many talented players but the community doesn’t know much about them unless it’s Lauren Jackson or Liz Cambage.”
Sandy knows the potential behind women’s basketball having played and coached in the most successful leagues in the world. The 46 year old admits she’s still spinning after coaching the Phoenix Mercury to the WNBA title in her first year in charge.
“It still feels a little bit surreal, it’s been a really great year and one that I will always remember as a pretty special season, it’ll be pretty hard to match that one,” Sandy tells Sportette after also being named WNBA coach of the year.
Taking centre stage on the American sporting scene is a world away from the childhood of this Queenslander.
The daughter of a sugarcane farmer in Mackay, Sandy’s father recognised her talent and passion from a young age. He mowed a makeshift basketball court into the grass and put a backboard up against the water tank for her to train.
“That’s where I practised my trade, as a coach I’m always emphasising defence but as a player my strength was offensively. It really comes from the practice that I did in the backyard on the grass, rocky, uneven field,” Sandy tells Sportette of her Bradman-esque training method.
“I could only really do one bounce pull up or a catch and shoot and that was obviously my biggest strength when I played so those early fundamentals really carried for the rest of my career.”
It certainly helped, by the age of 17 she was training at the AIS and pulled on the green and gold for the Opals a year later. Over her 17 year professional playing career, she was named a WNBA all-star and the WNBL MVP, she also won 10 German Cup Championships in her off-seasons and competed in four Olympics (including winning two silver and one bronze medals).
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, if you really want it you can always go get it. I was very driven from a young age, if someone said I couldn’t do it, it would motivate me even more, if there were obstacles in the way, I saw that as opportunities to get better.”
As for schedules they don’t get any more gruelling than Sandy’s – coaching 11 and a half months of the year. Following the end of the WNBA season, Sandy’s straight over to Russia where she works the off-season as assistant coach of UMMC Ekaterinburg. The head coach is her husband Olaf Lange. During her WNBA season he assists her and also helps take care of her two children.
“If I’ve learned the most from anyone as a coach, it’s my husband,”
“He’ll consult and I ask him things, but he takes care of the kids and helps me where he can.”
In April, she’ll return to the states and be straight into pre-season for the Phoenix coaching some of the biggest names in Women’s Basketball including Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Australia’s Penny Taylor.
Sportette has written in the past about the rise of the female coach in both the women’s and men’s game. The NBA made history this year with the current champions the San Antonio Spurs appointing Becky Hammon as assistant coach.
Always looking for the next big challenge, would coaching the NBA be an option for this Aussie?
“I love the game of basketball and I love coaching at the highest level so I would never say never but at the moment it’s not something I really think about,”
“At the moment no, but maybe down the track my feelings might change.”
I just see the netball and the coverage they get and I wish that basketball would somehow take the approach that they have
Sandy’s passion for basketball and the women’s game is one thing that won’t change and she urges Basketball Australia to look at a sister sport to identify what is possible.
“I just see the netball and the coverage they get and I wish that basketball would somehow take the approach that they have. How have they been so successful? I mean sometimes you just need to steal the ideas and how are they getting those big sponsorships because we’ve got a lot of talented players out there but I don’t think they’re promoted or marketed as well as they should.”