Get to know the new faces of the Jayco Australian Opals in the first of our series. Here, 20-year-old Stephanie Talbot takes centre stage.
By Grant Richardson
Although she is the youngest member of the Opals squad for their tour of Europe, Stephanie Talbot is not short of basketball experience.
With a couple of WNBL seasons under her belt, Talbot has also played in the SEABL and at the Under-19 World Championships while developing her skill-set with scholarships at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Centre of Excellence (CoE). All this culminated in a selection at pick 33 in the 2014 WNBA draft but Talbot is not rushing overseas.
“I’m still undecided. Obviously I want to go over eventually but it depends on what’s going on with Opals and my personal development. Choosing the right time is still a decision I have to make,” Talbot says.
From humble beginnings in the Northern Territory, the 20-year-old approximates she has been hitting the basketball court for the past 12 to 13 years.
Interest was sparked in Talbot once she began playing in Under-12 tournaments and an AIS scholarship was quickly offered.
“I had to travel to Adelaide to play in those junior nationals and I guess people saw me there.
“[At the AIS] you learn a lot about yourself, your skills and your development. I also learned about work ethic and the things you need to survive life in basketball.”
Talbot’s affiliation with Adelaide helped her to merit a spot in the Lightning side for the 2011/12 WNBL season. She played just nine matches in limited minutes but impressed enough to return for 2012/13 which proved to be her breakout season.
“My first proper year was under Bucks (Peter Buckle) and we had a lot of injuries so I was thrown in as a starter,” she says.
“It was challenging filling in that role and playing bigger minutes than you’re expecting but it was a lot of fun at the same time.”
Facing that challenge head-on, Talbot earned Rookie of the Year with an average of six points, five rebounds and three assists as the Lightning reached the semi-final.
She has continued to improve in the past two seasons, with a move to the Canberra Capitals in 2014/15 sparking a sharp increase in her numbers. With five double-doubles, Talbot averaged 13.3 points, eight rebounds and three assists while finishing the year with 28 points and 12 boards against eventual runners-up, Bendigo Spirit.
Talbot has embraced her move to Canberra.
“I signed a two-year deal with the choice to opt-out following my first year. But after enjoying it last season and taking a step up in my game, I wanted to stick around and have another season and hopefully improve my game even more.”
Playing with Canberra also gave the shooting forward a chance to hone her talents in the SEABL for the Canberra Capitals Academy. In her first season with the CoE, she averaged an impressive 14 points and eight rebounds but she has blown away the competition so far in 2015.
At the time of publication, Talbot leads the Capitals Academy in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game while sitting eighth in the league for scoring. The only downside to her game is that she also leads the competition in turnovers.
Speaking to the Canberra Times, her WNBL coach Carrie Graf addressed that issue.
“You want to use the maximum your body can give you, but also have a calmness about [your] offensive game. [Talbot] is finding ways to battle through errors, and that’s the sign of a great young talent.”
After shooting just 29% from the three-point line in her WNBL career, Talbot focused on that part of her game and has hit 12-27 (44%) for the Capitals Academy in 2015.
“I’ve definitely been working on my three-point shot with Graffy throughout the season and it is starting to come along nicely and getting more consistent,” she explains.
While a debutant at the Australian senior level, Talbot has already discovered the heights of international competition. In 2013 she represented Australia at the Under-19 World Championships.
“I loved that experience,” she recalls. “We had a really good team and we all bonded really well. Playing on the international stage is always challenging but it was fun.”
An average of 13.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists for the tournament was helped along by a triple-double of 16, 12 and 12 against Japan in the group stage.
She then recorded 22 points, nine rebounds and three assists to help Australia win bronze against Spain. Finishing second overall for assists in the competition, Talbot earned a spot in the All-Tournament Team.
Talbot was excited for the European tour but also aware of the requirements that the Opals demand.
“I have heard being with the Opals is pretty challenging in terms of having to play international games, training every day and then backing up those performances. It will definitely be exciting though.”
Two matches into the tour, Talbot has found her feet quickly. In their second meeting with Serbia, the forward collected 15 points and a game-high 14 rebounds while she guarded captain Milica Dabović with “tremendous defence” as described by coach Brendan Joyce.
Beyond the European tour, Talbot aims to next join the Opals in a two-game Oceania Championship series against New Zealand with the winner advancing to Rio 2016.
“It’s definitely a goal of mine to first make qualifiers and then push for the Olympic team but I’ve got a lot of work to do,” Talbot admits. “There’s a lot of good players in my position that I will have to compete with.”