The WNBL is set be boosted by American superstar Cappie Pondexter and the anticipated return from injury of Opals icon Lauren Jackson.
Cappie Pondexter, the most decorated basketball import to come to Australia, will be a major attraction in the new WNBL season which begins on Friday.
Named one of the top 15 players in WNBA history, 31-year-old guard Pondexter will suit up with Victorian club Dandenong Rangers.
She adds lustre to what looms as a fiercely-contested competition, reduced to eight clubs following the withdrawal of Queensland’s Logan Thunder.
Also eagerly anticipated is Lauren Jackson return for Canberra, with the injured Opals great expected back on court before Christmas.
All clubs appear to have a legitimate shot at making the finals, even perennial straggler West Coast, who won the pre-season tournament.
Bendigo and Townsville, the grand finalists in both of the past two seasons, again look to be the teams to beat.
Two-time defending champions Bendigo have added Opals stalwart Belinda Snell to their roster, while back-to-back runners-up Townsville have recruited Opals frontcourt star Cayla Francis and New Zealand representative Jillian Harmon.
Melbourne will likely lose Opal Rachel Jarry for the season with a knee injury while Adelaide possess plenty of height and Sydney have Shannon Seebohm taking over as coach from long-serving Karen Dalton.
But there will be plenty of attention focussed on Dandenong Rangers after they acquired American Pondexter, a six-time WNBA All Star who averages 18 points a game over eight seasons in that competition.
She will add scoring muscle to a Dandenong side deprived through injury of Opals centre Liz Cambage, import Monica Wright and rising star Alice Kunek.
“Other than Lauren Jackson, she (Pondexter) is obviously the most decorated player this country has ever seen and the only Olympic gold medalist in basketball to have ever played here,” Rangers’ coach Mark Wright told AAP.
“It’s an unbelievable coup for us to get her.
“It’s like getting (NBA star) Dwyane (Dwyane) Wade over here to the NBL, that’s the comparison.”
Jackson will miss Canberra’s first few rounds due to knee and hip issues.
“Her rehab’s coming along really welland our plan is that we will have have her on court before Christmas,” Canberra coach Carrie Graf said.
“We’ve got her for this season and next so we don’t want to bring her back before she’s ready.
“It’s one of the toughest and most deep and even competition’s there’s been for quite a while.”
Bendigo coach Bernie Harrower predicted it could be one of the best seasons ever in the WNBL and suggested clubs would find it tough to emulate the Spirit’s effort of dropping just two games in their charge to last season’s minor premiership.
“It might be a situation where, six, seven, eight losses might even still get you top spot with head-to-head advantage,” Harrower said.
Townsville coach Chris Lucas said: “II’s the best level of competition I’ve seen in well over 10 years.”