Amy Atwell, ‘Hawaii’s three-point queen’, has come home

December 15, 2022 | WNBL news

By Daniel Herborn | The Pick and Roll

“Hawaii’s not a bad place to live,” Atwell tells The Pick and Roll. “Definitely no complaints. I love the beach, which was a five-minute drive from wherever I was. Plus, the people were so nice and welcoming that it was an unreal experience to live over there.”

The Perth Lynx rookie spent six productive years at the University of Hawaii’s idyllic, sun-dappled Honolulu campus. Her stay was extended after she missed her entire first season through injury, and then the NCAA changed its eligibility rules to allow athletes to play four full seasons after the disruption of COVID-19.

Dubbed ‘Hawaii’s three-point queen’ by commentators, Atwell racked up on-court accolades and achievements: her Rainbow Wahine won the Big West Conference tournament in 2022 with Atwell named Conference Player of Year. She led her team into the NCAA tournament in her final campaign and finished first all-time in three-pointers made for the program.

But she says it was off the court where her college time was truly formative. Her first year in the program wasn’t just ruined by an anterior cruciate ligament injury; it was marked by a wrenching homesickness that often left her crying in her room.

“Being so far from family and friends made me grow and become good at adapting to change on my own,” she reflects. “The mental side of my game (developed) having to face such adversity. I built up some mental resilience.”

This growing mental toughness saw her improve steadily each season and eventually be named team captain. After her college days wrapped up, she was selected at number 27 in the 2022 WNBA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks and made the team’s opening night roster. While the team waived her four games into the season, Atwell showed some flashes that her shooting could translate to this level, most notably hitting a perfect six from six from beyond the arc in a pre-season game.

“I want to get back there, and that’s one of my most immediate goals,” Atwell says. “The WNBA is always in the back of my mind.”

For now, though, the 24-year-old is completely focused on the Perth Lynx, where she has made a bright start to her WNBL career, averaging 12.7 points per game and connecting on 11 of 36 three-pointers (30.6%).

After making last year’s grand final series with a squad featuring WNBA stars Jackie Young and Marina Mabrey, and Opal, Darcee Garbin, the Lynx have a more youthful side this time around, and Atwell says it will take some time for them to realise their potential.

“We’re still working out some stuff. From last year’s starters, we’ve got Sami (Whitcomb) and ‘Scherfy’ (Lauren Scherf), and the rest of us haven’t played together before. There’s definitely some chemistry and learning to play with each other (to develop), but that will only come with game experience.”

Inexperienced as they may be, there are signs the new Lynx group, also featuring another young gun returning from college in Chloe Bibby, are building to something, and Atwell has been an early standout. She connected on five of eight three-pointers to help seal a win over the Flames, including a late corner three over a Keely Froling closeout to ice the win. In a comprehensive victory over the struggling Capitals, Atwell put together a dream shooting performance, going 10 of 13 from the field on her way to a game-high 21 points.

On that night, she opened her account with a fast-break lay-up, before connecting on a top-of-the-arc three, then making a pair of reverse lay-ups before swooping on a loose pass to go coast-to-coast for another bucket.

At one point, she had five from six and backcourt partner Sami Whitcomb had a perfect six from six; the pair had the team’s entire 23-point tally. The domination prompted legendary coach Carrie Graf to dub the blitzkrieg opening “the Atwell and Whitcomb show” in commentary.

“That’s every shooter’s dream – to see your first few go in and then roll from there,” Atwell says of that golden run. “To get hot like that is a great feeling and what every player wants. It doesn’t happen every game, so when it does happen, you want to take advantage of it and really enjoy the game.”

While she scorched the opposition with her off-ball movement and finishing that game and she’s refined her driving and ball-handling in recent times, her three-point shooting remains her strong suit. Across her time at the University of Hawaii, she shot 38%. With a high, quick release, she’s a constant outside threat.

She also has a real shooter’s mentality and doesn’t get gun-shy if the shots aren’t falling. “Missing a few does creep into your mind, but the best shooters in the world are almost unconscious, so if another good shot comes up, you’re still going to shoot it,” she explains. “You have to have confidence that the next one’s going in.”

Her strength as a shooter plays well in the Lynx system. “That’s (Coach Ryan Petrik’s) number one thing – shoot threes, get out in transition, shoot the ball early if you’ve got an open shot. I’m loving his playing style.”

She’s also loving being back in Western Australia, where she grew up and attended Penrhos College. She’s back frequenting her beloved local beaches and is revelling in having school friends, junior teammates and family (including grandfather Mal Atwell, a legendary WANFL player) attend games.

Her step up to professional basketball has had its challenges; Atwell says the toll the game takes on your body at this level was the “biggest shock” when she joined the Sparks training camp. “The speed and physicality are a step up from college, and I’m still adjusting to it, but I’m starting to find my feet.”

The thought that Atwell is still adjusting to life as a pro is a promising one for the Lynx and an ominous sign for opposition teams. Having grown significantly both on and off the court during her Hawaiian years, this sweet-shooting guard is happy, healthy and home, and is only just getting started.