Working her way back from a couple of minor knee injuries to be named in the squad ahead of last year’s FIBA Asia Cup, Bunton’s progress was halted when she required a tibial tubercle transfer which kept her off the court for another year.
The surgery saw a small portion of bone moved from the forward's patella to a location on the tibia in order to stop irregular patella movement and decrease cartilage damage.
“It was major surgery, the most painful thing I’ve been through but something told me that this was going to be the last one and that it would all be worth it,” said Bunton.
“I don’t have bad knees, I’ve just been hit and knocked the wrong way a few times and they have not been able to heal so there has always been little things wrong.
“But now I feel amazing. Now I am just an athlete, there’s no injury riding over me and there is nothing holding me back. I can look forward.”
Living in Canberra, Bunton utilised the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence (CoE) for her rehabilitation.
“I was driving every day to the AIS to train. It started off with basic stuff but it got to three times a day doing rehab, physio and gym work.
“I was able to train with the younger girls at the CoE which helped me get some confidence back. Jan Legg has been amazing, I worked with CoE coaches Matt Paton and Kristen Veal who took me for ‘indi’s’ and Paul Goriss (Opals assistant coach) is also here which helped me get prepared for the World Cup.
“It was hard work but it definitely paid off.”
In addition to working with those coaches, Bunton became a part of a ‘knee-hab’ group of players that were conducting their recovery at the AIS.
She joined WNBL players Sara Blicavs, Marianna Tolo and Kelsey Griffin while Kristy Wallace arrived at the AIS recently after suffering an ACL injury in her final game of a stellar college career.
“They made the rehab process so much easier, just being there with them,” said Bunton.
“We weren’t all necessarily going through the same injuries but it was all knee’s so having their encouragement and the experience of Marianna and Kelsey made it a much more relaxed environment.
“You knew it was going to be ok because they had been through it and come out the other side.”
At a selection camp in Canberra last month, Bunton was able to prove herself to head coach Sandy Brondello that she is not only healthy but also a serious asset to the Opals front court.
A star throughout her junior career, Bunton represented the Under-17 Sapphires and Under-19 Gems at two World Cups and played for Australia at the World University Games but she is now set to finally make her debut for the national team.
“It truly felt like I had not been away when I joined the girls at the last camp. I was so excited to be back playing basketball again, being with the team and everyone was very welcoming so without those stress levels, it made it even more enjoyable.”
Set to back up the likes of WNBA and front court duo Liz Cambage and Cayla George coming off the bench, Bunton is willing to fulfil any role that is required of her.
“I’m just there to do whatever I need to. We have Liz who is amazing and is coming off a great season with Dallas in the WNBA so if I can back her up and play my role, it will work.
“But with everything that I’ve been through in the last year and a half, I’m just very proud of myself and so grateful to be playing for Australia again.”
The Chemist Warehouse Australian Opals begin their FIBA Women's World Cup campaign on September 22 with every Opals game broadcast live on FOX Sports Australia.
The Chemist Warehouse Australian Opals Schedule for the FIBA Women’s World Cup (all times AEST):
September 22: Australia vs. Nigeria at 8.30pm
September 23: Australia vs. Argentina at 8.00pm
September 25: Australia vs. Turkey at 8.30pm
September 26: Quarter-Final Qualifications
September 28: Quarter-Finals
September 29: Semi-Finals
September 30: Medal Games