OPALS star Katie Ebzery will play five games for the Newcastle Hunters in the Waratah Basketall League as she ramps up a "weird" preparation for the Tokyo Olympic Games and a shot at a gold medal.
In a major coup, Ebzery will lead her home town against the Central Coast on "reunion night" at the Newcastle Basketball Stadium this Saturday, and also feature against Illawarra, Sutherland, Basketball Australia's Centre of Excellence and the Canberra Nationals.
The 31-year-old relocated from Perth, where she was captain of the Lynx in the WNBL, to Sydney in March to be closer to family and avoid COVID restrictions and potentially quarantine.
She has been following a rigorous physical program in between Opals training camps but hasn't played competitively since an abbreviated hub-style WNBL season finished in December.
"I wasn't going to play initially" she said. "With COVID things change quite rapidly. We had a camp postponed last week. I need to get some games in order to be in the best shape. There is training and then there is playing games. I need the feel of playing proper basketball. I will try and fit in with the girls as quickly as possible and hopefully help them get some wins."
In past seasons, the WNBL has carried through until March. A number of the Opals, including adopted Novocastrian Leilani Mitchell, are in the US for the start of the WNBA season.
"It has been weird and a bit rough to be honest," Ebzery said of the Opals' lead-up to the Olympics. "In terms of a normal preparation - it is not what we have had in any way shape or form. It is a week to week thing.
"All I can do is lock in these five games with Newcastle. At least I have that set and then build around that. We have an Opals camp in Canberra next week.
"You don't want to leave any stone unturned. Gold is the goal [in Tokyo]. There is a lot to happen between now and then. If we can get everything right at this end, it makes that tournament a bit easier."
Newcastle Hunters women's coach Chloe Mullaney was more than happy to assist with Ebzery's preparation and said the Commonwealth Games medalist would "lift" the program.
"Her leadership will be invaluable," Mullaney said. "We have some development players in the squad and Kate Kingham and Amelia Raidaveta have just come out of under-18s. They will learn so much from Katie. It will be special for everyone.
"Katie needs to get some game time and wants to play in the point position. If we are running an offence and she thinks we should tweak it, I welcome her input. She has that much experience."
Ebzery will team up with younger sister and Hunters leader Alison.
She followed a similar path before the 2016 Rio Olympics, where the Opals were shocked in the quarter-finals by Serbia.
"I played a handful of games for the Hunters that season in similar fashion," she said. "It is nice to be around family and play with Alison. We haven't played a lot together over the years. Also to play for Newcastle again. It has been a while. It will be nice to see a lot of people who have been involved in my career over the years and from a very young age."
Ebzery made her WNBL debut for the Australian Institute of Sport aged 15 and has racked up more than 300 games at the top level.
"Katie's living in Sydney and it would've been very easy for her to play a handful of games for a Sydney association but she chose to play for Newcastle and to play alongside her sister, which is great," Newcastle Basketball general manager Neil Goffet .
"It presents a fantastic opportunity for basketball fans in Newcastle and surrounding areas to watch one of our greatest ever players before she leaves for the Olympics.
"She's been bouncing around the country a lot over the last 12 months between Canberra, Gold Coast, Newcastle, Perth, Townsville and Sydney and now she will play five games with us before leaving for Japan."
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