Written by Megan Hustwaite.
On Wednesday night, Kelly Wilson makes WNBL history as the first player to reach 400 games.
The 37-year-old point guard, who began with the AIS in 2002, has represented Sydney Flames, Townsville Fire, Bendigo Spirit and the UC Capitals and won a quartet of championships.
She broke former Ranger and Capitals’ Jess Bibby’s all-time games record of 394 in 2019-20 while playing for the Spirit and has returned to the league with the Caps this season after having her first child, a son Ted, last year.
Megan Hustwaite spoke to a range of people who have been part of Wilson’s 400 game journey.
Bob Wilson – Father
“We’re really proud of Kelly and what’s she achieved. Did we see the passion in her as a kid? Hell yes! She watched Annie Le Fleur and all the WNBL players on the TV and basically said ‘that’s what I want to do.’
We did over 500,000 km in an old Ford Falcon we called ‘The Beast’ and Kelly would sit in the back and do her homework in the car on the way to basketball in Melbourne. She was always very focused, academically too.
Friday nights were interesting nights getting out of school and down to Melbourne or over to Traralgon or Bendigo. Then it was home with a pizza on the way and netball the next morning.
Kelly has the attitude and the work ethic. She’s got a little bit of muscle and a bit of mongrel and we said all a long ‘you need a bit of muscle and a bit of mongrel’ and she’s had a bit of luck too in terms of injuries.”
Karen Dalton – Wilson’s coach at Sydney Flames
“Kelly was a good little player, from country Victoria and she had a lot of potential coming out of the AIS. I really liked her. Cheryl Chambers and I had her in the junior national team.
It’s an unbelievable feat to get to 400 games. I played 375 and the only way I would have got there was in a wheelchair.”
Gabe Richards – Vic Country junior and Bendigo Spirit championship team mate
“It’s absolutely no surprise that the first player to 400 games is Kelly Wilson.
She is the energiser bunny and one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met and she just loves basketball so when you combine all those things together it’s not surprising.
It’s an incredible, incredible achievement.
We’ve been best friends since we were 12 years old, we’re the same age so we were in all the state teams together. It’s really handy as a post player having a point guard like Kelly, so I guess it was destiny we were meant to grow up and play basketball together and that’s what we did.
Certainly, my proudest achievements and most enjoyable times on the basketball court have been with Kelly.”
Kelsey Griffin – Bendigo Spirit and UC Capitals championship team mate
“When I came out to Australia, I thought a 10-year career would be pretty remarkable – Kelly has doubled that essentially. 19 years of playing, winning, leading, mentoring, learning, with no expectation. That’s the remarkable thing about Kelly, she gives and does so much but expects very little in return and cares immensely.
She’s definitely the most underrated player I’ve ever played with and I think there’s no coincidence that I’m a much better player on court when Kelly Wilson’s on my team.
Kelly doesn’t play for or seek recognition, that’s not why she plays. It’s just so rare and so special and I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to play with her as long as I have.
I’m really proud and happy for her. I don’t know if this record will be touched for a long time, I don’t think there’s anyone with that Kelly Wilson ‘IT factor’ just floating around. It would take another pretty special human being that comes along that can do anything remarkable like this.”
Belinda Snell – Former Sydney Flames and Bendigo Spirit team mate
“It’s an incredible achievement and she’s done so well to keep her body in shape and stay out on the floor for so many games. Kelly is the ultimate professional and one of the greats of the game.
She’s one of the hardest working players I’ve played with. All that hard work and sacrifice by her parents driving her down to Melbourne for competition on Friday nights and travelling all around Victoria. She’s definitely put in all the hard work and deserves all the credit she gets. 400 games is an incredible effort and as a fellow south Gippslander I’m very proud of her and hope she enjoys the game.”
Bernie Harrower – Bendigo Spirit championship coach
“Kelly is one of my all-time favourite players and the sort of player you don’t have to coach, you give her a few tips and away she goes.
I’ve always had a saying over the years with my groups ‘miss out because you’re not good enough, never miss out because you didn’t work hard enough’ and Kelly works so hard you’ve got to try and pull her back a bit.
She’s the ultimate professional but never played basketball professionally, she always worked for a living and fitted her basketball in around that.
I rate her game, particularly her third quarter, in the semi-final in 2012-13 against Dandenong as one of the best. They were playing a zone against us, we ran the same play time and time again and she just lined up on the wing and knocked down threes.
We went from 12 down at half time, on a 19-0 run and she’d had about 5 three-pointers in that, to a 7-point-lead at three-quarter time. We ended up winning that game and won the Grand Final two weeks later.”
Micaela Cocks – Townsville Fire championship team mate
“Kelly embodies everything it means to be a true professional – always ready to train, does all the extras and knows how to win. She’s smart and has this calm demeanour when playing with her which I always liked, especially in big games when you have anxious nerves vibrating through you.
Kelly is one of the toughest team mates and by tough, I mean playing out a game on a broken ankle. After the game she had to be wheeled out of the stadium and had not even asked for a sub.
A huge congratulations for reaching 400 games and with such winning class.”