WORDS BY HEIDI HELBIG
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN KRÜGER
Chelsea Brook stands out in a crowd, and not just because she’s 188 centimetres tall.
The 19-year-old professional basketballer embodies maturity, humility and an understated determination, characteristics that have cemented her place in Adelaide Lightning’s side.
“In some ways it hasn’t sunk in. It’s such a humbling thing,” Chelsea says of her team’s success.
“It’s something you dream about, but you never think it’s going to happen.”
While stepping onto the court in the number eight jersey is the realisation of a childhood dream – Chelsea was 10 when she first saw Adelaide Lightning play – her call-up to the Women’s National Basketball League (WBNL) from coach Chris Lucas came as a complete curve ball.
“Three years ago I was 17, a baby,” Chelsea says.
“Chris came out to my Premier League game when I was playing for Norwood but I never really expected to get a contract – I still had three months of Year 12 to go.”
The youngest signed player in the squad, the forward centre found herself swapping her school books and family life in Truro for a new “home away from home” at Titanium Stadium in Adelaide.
In a period of restructure for the club, Chelsea took the opportunity to stake her claim.
“That first year was very different, low-budget,” she says.
“Lightning had been on the decline and they decided to strip everything back and rebuild – six of us were rookies who hadn’t played WNBL before.
“That was almost one of my favourite years; we weren’t winning many games but it was fun. Chris understood that and wanted us to do the best we could while we gained experience.”
But not even Chelsea dreamed the club would change its fortunes so quickly.
The Lightning executed a remarkable winning streak in the 2018-19 season and contested a “nerve-wracking” finals series in February, coming up just short against Canberra Capitals.
While Chelsea acknowledges her club’s success has narrowed her window for court time, she’s taking every opportunity to learn from the best.
“We’re one of the top two teams so every week I’m training against the best in the competition – I mean, Nia Coffey could go MVP (most valuable player).
“Sometimes that’s more important than getting minutes on the court,” Chelsea says.
“How you see us play is how we train. Afterwards we step off the court and everything’s fine, but we definitely go after each other.
“I think three years ago that wasn’t in my nature but that fight has definitely come out in me.”
That same competitive streak showed when Chelsea was selected in a star-studded ‘Emerging Opals’ team representing Australia at the World University Games in 2017.
“I was called up to play in that team against Japan, Canada and USA. I’d never had any international experience whatsoever, so to see how the team runs and be part of it was a valuable lesson,” she says.
“We ended up winning so it was the best first experience you could ask for.”
While competing on the world stage is a long way from the Truro Takers, Chelsea says none of it would have been possible without the support of her parents and sister Renata, who’s done her fair share of airport runs before sunrise.
Chelsea herself has made many sacrifices, juggling an intensive training regime with tertiary study in Business and Legal Studies and part-time work in aged care.
“Especially with the travel and lifestyle, it’s not easy. Sometimes a full day is dedicated to travel and that’s tough, especially on your body and especially after a long season,” she says.
“But we have a responsibility, not just to ourselves, but to the team… if we don’t eat properly and come to training prepared we’re letting ourselves down.”
Having been on the journey with his young protégé, Lucas is full of praise for Chelsea, saying she’s demonstrated that “she just wants to get better”.
“Three years ago she was very young, very naïve about elite level competition, but I saw a lot of potential in her and she has been an integral part of our rebuilding over the past three years,” Lucas says.
“I can only have five players on the floor but this experience is part of her growth and hopefully in another year she’ll get the chance to prove herself.”
For Chelsea, every sacrifice has been worth it, especially the chance to reward loyal fans.
“Three years ago we were lucky to fill a part of the stand so the support we’re seeing is a really big thing for us – the crowd that came out for our last home game was the biggest I’d seen,” Chelsea says.
“That’s what we said we wanted – for more kids to come out and the public to come out – and I think we’ve achieved that.
“It helps that we’ve been successful and people can see we’ve been building towards this, but it also helps that women’s sport is out there now.
“Now we’re on every radio and T.V. station because there’s something to write about.”