Jade reflects on first year in WNBA

Made it: Traralgon's Jade Melbourne has recently completed her debut season in the WNBA for Seattle Storm. Photograph: Jade Melbourne/Instagram





TRARALGON basketball export Jade Melbourne has recently completed the first year of her dream job in the WNBA.

Melbourne was selected by Seattle Storm with pick 33 in the 2022 WNBA draft.

Now back on home shores, Melbourne spoke to Latrobe Valley Express on her experience in the WNBA, what she hopes to achieve in the coming years and her upcoming season with University of Canberra Capitals.

Melbourne debuted for the Storm against the reigning champions – Las Vegas Aces – who went on to win back-to-back championships last month.

That would be the first of 29 appearances that Melbourne would make during the season, playing a total of 307 minutes in her debut season.

Melbourne did what she could in a year filled with learnings and growth, scoring 76 points, collecting 34 rebounds, and providing 35 assists.

She also collected 12 steals and a block in her opening season, with hopes she can continue to grow her game in the coming years in both the WNBA and WNBL.

“It was awesome. Definitely going into I just didn’t know what to expect, at the start I was just going over there to make the team, and then you make the team in 48 hours, you play your first game, so the whole experience was a whirlwind, but I thoroughly enjoyed it,” she said.

“The (Seattle) Storm is a great organisation, the basketball is great – playing against the best players in the world – the league sort of comes with a different hype which is something I still need to get used to.”

It was a whole new world for Melbourne, from the travel to the spotlight, she had to really soak it all in with no prior experience at this level.

“With the fashion, and the spotlight, the media, and all the attention (the WNBA) gets, it’s definitely something I hadn’t experienced before,” she added.

Melbourne was thrown in the deep end and forced to learn the ways of the WNBA.

She had prepared herself as best as she could, but she was always going to learn more once she dipped into the system.

“On the court, (I’m) just continuing to learn and just making sure I’m always 100 per cent locked into anything I’m doing,” she said.

“Everyone in that league is good. You can’t take a possession off otherwise you’ll just get embarrassed on the court, so I learnt those hard lessons early.

“It was the most focussed I’ve been while playing basketball, and I think I used that to my advantage, I learnt a lot on the fly, tried to soak everything up like a sponge, I think it’s only gonna do me a world of good for my basketball career going forward.”

She also came away with learnings away from the court, dealing with travel, looking after her body and learning how to be a professional athlete at the pinnacle of women’s basketball.

“Off the court, just learning to be a professional, I hadn’t played in a schedule like that … there were some road trips where we played five teams in 10 days in five different states.

“A lot of it is on your own, and you’re on the other side of the world so you have to look after yourself … learning to be a professional athlete, I had to grow up pretty quickly over there and become quite independent.

“Going into next year with the Seattle Storm I’m fully prepared now and know exactly what to expect.”

All rookies are granted a three-year contract, but nothing is set in stone. Contracts in the WNBA can almost have no meaning whatsoever.

Melbourne could be traded to another team or cut completely without having any influence.

But so far, it looks as if she will be returning to WNBA courts for the next season, beginning with a preseason camp in April next year.

Melbourne recognises her first game as her most memorable moment, I mean, how could you forget that?

Although the result didn’t go their way, she was doing something she had dreamt of doing for a long time.

“I think we got smashed by 40 (points) in my first game, but just being in that environment, a packed-out crowd, playing against the defending champions, just being a part of that and living out my childhood dream was pretty cool,” Melbourne said.

“Experiencing the level of competition, playing against people that I’ve watched for so many years in a league that I aspired to be in, playing in front of big crowds, travelling to all parts of America, I think they would be the highlights for me.

“Getting to meet some great people along the way that I can call friends forever.”

Starting this young in the WNBA, Melbourne believes it can only make her better in the future, and she has already began to be a leader, which is displayed when she played WNBL for the Capitals.

“It’s just made me more hungry to continue to develop my game, I only kind of scratched the surface of what I want to achieve in the WNBA this season, and getting all of those learnings as a 20, 21-year-old is just going to be invaluable,” she said.

“Getting all of these experiences and putting myself in these situations at such a young age is only going to make me better as a person and a player.

“Next year I just want to be a more consistent player, I think this year being a rookie and being new to the system, I think there was a lot of learning for me to do.

“Next year, finding my role within the team and doing that to the best of my ability (is the aim).”

Melbourne already has some high-level basketball experience playing for the Capitals in the WNBL, playing a part in the leadership group last season.

But she describes on the court is another story, as the WNBA is simply a level above.

“It’s just another step up, the pace of the game is quicker again, the physicality – it’s a lot more physical, stronger athletes, the skill level is up a whole other level.

“I don’t think any advice from any other people could prepare you until you actually do it yourself, so that’s the thing that caught me off-guard, I think naturally my pace kept up with the game but strength is definitely something I need to work on.”

Melbourne returned to the UC Capitals ahead of the latest season which got underway against Adelaide Lightning last Sunday.

“I’m excited for this season, towards the end of last year – I mean we didn’t have the best season ever – our team really kind of figured out our identity and what kind of basketball we wanted to play,” she said.

“Over the free agency period we picked up appropriate recruits to build on that momentum, and add some good pieces, so we are gonna be stronger.”

Melbourne will take her experiences from the WNBA and implement them at WNBL level when needed, feeding that knowledge off from the best of the best.

“I think my leadership is going to go to a whole new level,” she added.

“I think my leadership’s gonna be really important for this group, having all of these experiences and going through adversity and becoming an independent professional athlete, it’ll just be important for me to talk to my teammates … and offer advice when needed.”

“I was a part of the leadership group last year as well so I kind of had that experience under my belt.

“Everyone in my group is super receptive of what I say, and they look to me as a guide.”

Despite fulfilling her lifelong dream of playing WNBA, representing the green and gold doesn’t get any better for her.

Next year, Melbourne will have the chance to do so at the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics.

“That’s the pinnacle for me, representing the green and gold at the highest level,” she said.

“I’m gonna be putting my best foot forward, we’ll have a camp around the February mark, then maybe April and June.

“I’m gonna do everything I can to put my hand up.

“You never know, it’s all about what the team needs at what time, and what’s the trend in basketball, but I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong in the last 18 months to not have my name in contention, but we’ll see what happens when the selections roll around.”

It appears we are only witnessing the start of what looks to be a prosperous career, Melbourne is set to continue her basketball journey as the years go on.