On February 3, time was up for the WNBL’s South East Queensland Stars.
Citing poor crowds and sponsorship revenue, SEQ Basketball Pty Ltd chairman Jarrod Sierocki confirmed that the club – not yet through its first season – was placed in liquidation.
Operations were to cease immediately, making the Stars the latest franchise on the scrapheap of Australian basketball, despite the fact they sat fifth on the ladder with the finals less than a month away.
“I was literally in shock. I was absolutely devastated,” then-assistant coach Megan Thompson told The New Daily.
“The players got together that evening and it was very emotional. Everyone was stunned.”
Just as players and staff were coming to terms with the news, along came another shock – but this one was positive.
The Logan City Council’s rescue mission, with the help of sponsors and Basketball Australia, had been successful, with enough money found to end the season.
So, just one day after being liquidated, the Stars were back in existence, with the WNBL announcing their position on the table, and potential finals activity, had not been compromised.
Coach Shane Heal, a four-time Olympian, was a casualty, though, with a new sponsor objecting to his involvement, paving the way for the 41-year-old Thompson – a former WNBL player with Perth and Brisbane – to step up.
And there was no time for Thompson to get settled in her new role ahead of a ‘Doomsday Double’ road trip against Adelaide and Perth.
“It was such a whirlwind. We were told on a Thursday evening [that the club was back], and that we were getting on a 6.30 flight to Adelaide the next morning,” she said.
“I sent a message to Shane and said ‘I hope to do you proud’. He wished me well. It was all very rushed and to be honest, we’ve been running ever since.”
The Stars managed to beat both Adelaide and Perth, becoming the first team to achieve the tough away double in this WNBL season.
But the challenges did not end there and since the liquidation backflip, players have not been paid regularly — or on time.
That Thompson, the coach of a professional basketball team, describes herself as a ‘volunteer’ is telling.
“There’s a lot of paperwork and stuff to be done but I am of the understanding that they [players] have been compensated [with] something,” Thompson said.
“I know they did get a little bit. They [players] would have had every right to walk, but it’s more than money here.
“We talk about character-building all the time as coaches. The girls started this season wanting to win a championship and as true professional athletes do, they are being really staunch about it.
“I’ve only ever received one instalment [of money]. I am currently a volunteer. But so be it — I’ll find another way to make money somewhere else down the track.
“It would be nice to be compensated… but it’s [about] more than money.”
The attitude of the Stars players and staff is incredibly admirable and refreshing in today’s sporting environment.
They’re playing because they want to win. Off-court issues and a serious injury crisis, that sees them with just eight fit players, has not stopped them.
In fact, the Stars are in the best form they’ve been all season.
They followed that Adelaide-Perth double with wins from two of their last three matches to claim the fourth and final spot in the WNBL post-season.
Their run was fully expected to end at Dandenong in Saturday’s elimination final.
But, despite having just three players on the bench – perennial finalists Dandenong had seven – the Stars, who led for less than a minute, claimed an 86-82 win.
Captain and Opals star Rachel Jarry, playing out of position at point guard due to the club’s injury worries, led the way with 25 points, while import Ify Ibekwe added 21 off the bench.
“With everything we’ve been through in the last month, it’s really great to get that spot [in the preliminary final],” Thompson said.
“Our attitude is like, whatever you throw at us, we’re ready to bounce back and fight.
“That’s what makes us dangerous. There’s a level of calm, positivity and confidence in the group.”
Next up for South East Queensland is a visit to reigning champions Townsville in Sunday’s preliminary final, with the Perth Lynx to face the winner in a three-game grand final series.