“It was funny timing,” Ebzery laughed. “It adds to the drive, and the girls want to go back to back. I’m definitely up for that challenge, and hopefully I can help them out with that.”
However a championship repeat will no doubt be incredibly tough for the Flames. Teams such as the Melbourne Boomers and Adelaide Lightning have stocked up on some of the biggest names in Australian women’s basketball, while the Townsville Fire have yet again put together a strong roster after falling to the Flames in the 2016/17 semi-finals. Those rosters still have to gel though; on the other hand, Ebzery is the only player on the Flames’ squad who wasn’t there for the championship. The effect of that continuity is not lost on the Flames’ combo guard.
“I think it’s massive,” added Ebzery. “I’m lucky enough to have played with the majority of the girls before I left anyway, so there’s a lot of continuity there. I think it’s already showed through in how we’ve come together in preseason and that type of thing.
“But I think it’s a big thing, and a lot of the teams have really new rosters, so I think with such a short season and not wanting to drop games too early, the continuity will really be a factor in that.
“The girls already know each other quite well, and I’m slotting in quite easily because I know a lot of them and have played with a lot of them as well, so it’s been a good transition.”
In a way, it’s tough to even call Ebzery a new signing for the Flames. 2017/18 will be her seventh season with the club, and although some things have changed, there remains an air of familiarity. Having played alongside many of the current Flames roster, and having been coached by current Flames coach Cheryl Chambers at various national levels, from juniors to Opals, whilst it may not quite be the same Flames program that was in place two seasons ago, all the pieces remain for Ebzery.
“It’s a bit funny,” expressed Ebzery, laughing again. “Obviously I missed out on a whole season but it literally does feel like I’m just coming home and everything’s relatively normal. I guess, there are a couple of new faces that I didn’t know, but the majority of the girls I’ve played with before, so I just slotted back in easily which is nice.
“I have done stuff with Cheryl at junior national level back in the day, so I’m relatively familiar with her and she’s pretty laid back, which makes transitioning into a new team really easy. She’s really supportive, so having her as coach makes it really easy, and she’s really helping me just slide into the group really easily.”
Alongside Rohanee Cox, Ebzery was one of the true leaders of the Flames prior to her departure for Russia. Whilst she remains one of the most experienced players in the squad, as well as one of the most credentialed given her Opals experience, Ebzery is not putting any pressure on herself to reprise that role, nor expecting her teammates to see her as a dominant figure in the locker room. At the end of the day, Ebzery recognises that she is still a player joining an already close-knit group and that she will still need to find her niche in the early days. Fortunately, the Flames have another club stalwart leading them.
“I think Snelly [Belinda Snell] will kind of take on that leadership role, and I’ll help out wherever necessary, but it’s been pretty easy slotting back in,” Ebzery outlined. “I just kind of help out where I can, just taking from my experience. I can offer some advice to some of the younger ones, and help Snelly out as well, and bounce ideas off her and go from there.
“I’m just slotting back in and I guess I’ll find my feet in the team and the group when the season starts.”
Coming into a side that is looking to defend their title, Ebzery’s goals for the WNBL season are obvious, but as an established member of the Opals program, the Newcastle product has her eyes on a couple of events slightly further down the line.
“Commonwealth Games and the World Cup next year are obviously the foreseeable goals,” the Rio Olympian further explained. “I love representing my country, it’s definitely something I want to set my sights on. Hopefully I can have a good year in the WNBL, and make some Opals camps early next year and see where it takes me.”
However Ebzery recognises that making the Commonwealth Games side isn’t an automatic ticket to the World Cup, with player availability and the sheer time between the two events potentially combining to see a vastly different squad assembled between April on the Gold Coast and September in Tenerife.
“Because [the Commonwealth Games squad] will be more WNBL based because girls have European commitments, I don’t think it will be a direct relationship with the World Cup side just because of player availability,” Ebzery pondered. “But it’s always good to represent and get some international games experience, so it can only be a positive for anyone trying to make the World Champs team. It’s always good to get international experience, and that helps you in the camps after that, but a team can look pretty different when everyone’s available.”
It’s certainly been a whirlwind 12 months for Katie-Rae Ebzery. With any luck, the next 12 will be just as hectic.