Veteran basketballer Belinda Snell on Olympic glories and bringing younger players into the game. By Cindy MacDonald.


Shooting star: Belinda Snell, 36, basketballer

I loved watching the Australian Open this year and [mid-30s players] Serena, Venus and, of course, Roger Federer. He’s been my idol; he’s such a tremendous ambassador for tennis and for sport in general. It’s inspiring that they’re still playing, and I’m enjoying still being out on the basketball court, too. It’s keeping me fit and healthy, and keeping me young.

I’ve been playing basketball professionally for about 18 years. Last year I played my 250th WNBL game, so I’m probably up to about 270 or 275 now. I played in Europe for seven seasons as well – first in Italy, then I went to France and played in the EuroLeague, and from there I went to Russia and then to Spain, where I won a EuroLeague title with Salamanca. Then for my last couple of seasons over there I played in Poland, which was an interesting adventure as well. I’m just a little girl from Mirboo North [in Gippsland, Victoria] and I’ve been very lucky that basketball has given me so many opportunities and has taken me all over the world – to so many different countries and cultures – doing what I love.

I also had six seasons in the WNBA – three with Phoenix Mercury, where I was lucky enough to be part of a championship-winning team and share that with another Australian [Penny Taylor], and then two seasons in San Antonio and one in Seattle. The toughest competition is definitely the WNBA. It’s tough mentally, too.

I was very lucky coming through the Australian Institute of Sport with Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor, and with Suzy Batkovic as well. Before that I was competing in state teams – under 16s and under 18s with Vic Country – against them. At that point we were always [on-court] enemies, but when we got to the AIS we formed a great friendship. I still keep in regular contact with Penny and Loz, and Suzy is still dominating the WNBL. I’ve been fortunate enough to share my Olympic moments with those girls, and 2006, of course, was very special for the Opals when we won the World Championships in Brazil.

It’s sad that Lauren and Penny have finished up but that’s sport and that’s what happens. I’m sure I won’t be too far off [retirement] but at the moment I’ve got another year on my contract with Sydney Uni Flames and, really, going back up there has revitalised my basketball. We’ll see how the body holds up. It’s doing well at the minute. I had a knee injury at the beginning of December and was out for six weeks, but I’ve managed to get back and I feel I’m still contributing well to the team. As long as I’m doing that I’ll still be out there. Touch wood, I haven’t had any really serious injuries. I’ve always tried to look after my body in the weights room, and do the extra rehabilitation with little niggles and that kind of thing. I’ve also enjoyed doing Pilates throughout my career and I think that might have helped to prolong it.

It’s nice to get into the top 10 of WNBL goal scorers but I’ve got a lot of amazing basketballers on the list ahead of me. I know I knocked off my coach of many years Karen Dalton a few weeks back. She did mention that I’ve got a long way to go to catch her in the rebounds, though.

The Flames have got Dandenong up in Sydney this weekend. It’s a big match for both of us to try and fill that top position. The Flames have a good mix of youth and experience, and having Leilani [Mitchell] as your point guard always helps. Being captain of the Flames I’m trying to help the younger girls coming through. Tahlia Tupaea and Alex Wilson are having good seasons, and this year I’m assisting coaching with Sydney Uni’s SEABL [South East Australian Basketball League] team in the off-season of the WNBL. So that’s to try to help develop players for the national league. Hopefully I can teach them a thing or two.

It’s great that there are so many opportunities out there now for girls to continue on in various sports. It would be wonderful if women’s basketball could attract a few more sponsors and get back on TV so the young girls don’t forget about it. 

But there are lots of exciting young Opals – like Liz Cambage, Rebecca Allen. And I think there will be quite a few Australians playing in the WNBA this year, which will be wonderful. Hopefully it will help raise the profile of basketball here a bit as well. Liz could be an absolute superstar of women’s basketball and it would be amazing if we could see her back on the court in Australia.

It was an amazing moment when I scored the three-pointer on the buzzer [to level the game against France at the 2012 London Olympics]. I just launched it and when it left my hand I was like, “Oh my God, it’s on track.” I still remember the crowd and all the girls on the team going crazy. I was probably about 18 metres out. It took the game into overtime but unfortunately we still lost, which eventually cost us the chance to play for gold or silver. We got the bronze. So it’s an unforgettable moment, and a disappointing one at the same time.

But I feel just over the moon about going to three Olympics and medalling at all of them. Around Olympics time I always go back to where I grew up to share the experience and show the kids around that area the medals. Hopefully one day someone else out of Mirboo North can make an Olympic Games. That would be fantastic – it’s the pinnacle of sport.

As far as winning Olympic basketball gold? I absolutely believe that it will happen one day – whether it be in the men’s or the women’s – it’s going to happen.


1 . This week’s highlights…

Horseracing: C. F. Orr Stakes Day

Saturday, 1st race 12.30pm (AEDT), Caulfield Racecourse, Melbourne

Athletics: Nitro Athletics

Saturday, 7pm (AEDT), Lakeside Stadium, Albert Park, Melbourne

• Basketball: WNBL – Sydney Uni Flames v Dandenong Rangers

Saturday, 7pm (AEDT), Brydens Stadium, Sydney Uni Sports & Aquatic Centre

Tennis: Fed Cup – Australia v Ukraine

Saturday, 10pm (AEDT); Sunday, 9pm (AEDT), Kharkiv, Ukraine

Soccer: W-League grand final – Perth Glory v Melbourne City

Sunday, 4.30pm (AWST), Nib Stadium, Perth

Cricket: T20 – Southern Stars v New Zealand; Australia v Sri Lanka

Friday, 2.05pm and 7.40pm (AEDT), Melbourne Cricket Ground

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 11, 2017 as "Shooting star".

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Cindy MacDonald is The Saturday Paper’s deputy editor.