September 11, 2017 | Sydney Flames news

By Lachy France

Following a successful inaugural SEABL campaign in which the team reached the conference preliminary final, three Sydney Uni Sparks players have been named as Brydens Sydney Uni Flames development players for the 2017/18. Kimberley Hodge, Emily Mattthews, and Maddie O’Hehir will be given the chance to continue their development throughout the WNBL season by training with the defending champions, under the tutelage of 2016/17 Coach of the Year Cheryl Chambers.

Kimberley Hodge is a Manly junior who, as the SEABL season progressed, emerged as a vital cog in the Sparks side, earning a place in the starting lineup on numerous occasions as the team reached an unexpected conference preliminary final berth in their inaugural season. Fourth in the team for rebounds with 5.6 per game, Hodge’s tenacity at both ends has shone through, but not at the expense of an increasingly refined skillset which allowed the forward to average 7.4 points per game in 22 appearances.

“Being a member of the inaugural Sparks team this year has been nothing short of amazing. The opportunity to play basketball at this level with a talented group of players has been both a challenging and rewarding experience,” Hodge revealed.

“With Karen Dalton’s help, the program taught me how to be more physical in the game, improve my shooting and also greatly increased my basketball knowledge.”

Despite her outstanding season for the Sparks, Hodge was still caught unawares when she received the call-up to be part of the development squad.

“I was super-surprised to be selected as a Flames Development player. Earlier this year I could hardly believe I was playing SEABL and now to be a Flames development player is just really exciting and I’m very grateful to have been given this opportunity,” the Manly junior explained. 

“Being able to train with the Flames and all the experienced players like Belinda Snell and Katie-Rae Ebzery is such an honour so I hope to learn from their experience. I also look forward to being coached by Cheryl and improving both my ball handling and shooting throughout the season.” 

Hailing from Bathurst, Emily Matthews is the only New South Wales player from west of the mountains to be involved with the Sparks. A starter in numerous games this season, Matthews’ season was unfortunately ended prematurely by injury, but not before the wing was able to tally 4.1 points per game in 21 appearances. Like Hodge, Matthews is incredibly grateful for her experience to this point.

“Being a part of the Sparks program has been simply a great experience. Being able to play with and against players currently playing in the WNBL and in Australian teams has been such a great opportunity. Training and playing with such experienced players has helped me become and stronger, smarter and more confident player,” Matthews explained.

“I am really blessed to have been given this opportunity coming from the country and I can’t wait to further my knowledge of basketball.”

“Being selected as a Flames development player has to be one of my best achievements yet. To all the people that have given me this opportunity, words don’t begin to describe how thankful I am,” Matthews enthused gratefully. “With this opportunity right in front of me, I will utilise the knowledge of great coaches and players to develop my skill level further and I can not wait to get into it. I am really excited to see where this opportunity will take me.”

Fully aware of the opportunity she has been given, Matthews will now turn her focus to doing everything in her power to extract as much as she can from the chance she has over the summer to learn from some of Australia’s top players and coaches.

“I really want to get as much feedback from the coaches and players as I can to assist in the future of my basketball career. This opportunity will hopefully open up some doors to lead me on the pathways to be discovered by other coaches out there and hopefully one day lead to Australian teams. But for now I just want to keep working on the little things so my hopes and dreams can become a reality.” 

A product of the Norths club, Maddie O’Hehir is the oldest of the three development players, turning 20 later this year. Starting in a number of games this season, the swingman was one of the more accurate shooters in the Sparks’ side this year, hitting her shots at 40% from the field on her way to 7.2 points per game in 22 appearances. Prior to joining the Sparks, O’Hehir was a constant fixture in New South Wales teams, but with her time in state representative programs at its end, O’Hehir was more or less at a crossroads with regards to her basketball development pathway.

“After finishing junior reps and the Under 20s state program I didn’t really feel there were many avenues to further improve my basketball other than college,” O’Hehir explained. “So when the opportunity arose to play SEABL with the Sparks program and also be able to study at Sydney University I was very excited.”

“The Sparks program has allowed me to play with and against some very talented players that have pushed me to improve both physically and mentally. From the on court training’s to strength and conditioning and the coaches, the entirety of the program has helped me transition to a faster and more physical style of play.”

“I feel very privileged to be selected as a Flames development player. After the incredible Championship win this year, I am eager to train with such talent.” 

I really just hope to continue to improve my basketball skills. After speaking to Karen and Cheryl I am aware of aspects of my game that I need to work on. I believe that being a part of the Flames program and learning from the experienced players will assist me going forward,” the Norths junior explained. “I am thankful for all the avenues basketball has presented to me, allowing me to develop both as a player and a person.” 

With a season of SEABL play under their belts and an entire WNBL campaign throughout which to learn from some of Australia’s finest basketball talent, the development of the trio will certainly be something for Flames fans to keep an eye on, not only in the 2018 SEABL season, but going forward in the long-term.