New Bendigo Spirit import Rachel Banham ready to lead

RACHEL Banham is only getting started.

The Bendigo Spirit’s newest import made a great first impression by hitting the game winner in her first pre-season game for her new team last Friday night.

Banham, who is coming off her second season with the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, scored 22 points in 26 minutes against Melbourne Boomers in a fine Spirit debut in Ballarat.

As the Spirit edge closer to their October 7 season opener against Canberra Capitals, Banham is only just getting warmed up.

“It was just good to get out there (against Melbourne), move around and get used to paying with the girls,” she said.

“I actually hit the game winner, so it was pretty exciting. It was a cool way to come in and get started.”

Renowned for her scoring ability, Banham averaged 21.5 points per game and 3.6 assists per game in a stellar college career at the University of Minnesota.

But the 24-year-old hoped it was her leadership that could help the Spirit end a two season absence from the WNBL finals.

“My scoring ability, that’s kind of what I have been known for – and my shooting,” she said.

“But something I really want to bring is to be able to knock down shots, and just be a big leader when I need to be and get everyone else involved.

“My senior year (at Minnesota) was a pretty good year, so I hope to bring that same kind of mentality here to help us win and hopefully get a championship.”

Her influence on and off the court has not  gone unnoticed with Banham this week named as one of two vice-captains in a three-player leadership group, behind skipper Kelsey Griffin.

Spirit coach Simon Pritchard said Banham was a player who made others better and expected her to impress supporters.

“Rachel is a really skilful athlete – in terms of any reactions we are working on, she seems to have more time than any other player,” he said.

“Her footwork is very precise and her fundamentals are really sound. She brings great passing skills.

“One of the areas of concern last year was our passing skills, so she is going to improve that, no doubt.

“Already Kelsey and Nadeen (Payne) are noticing how good the ball is coming into them, Gabe (Richards) is going to find the same thing.

“Not only can she score, she is going to bring others into the game and that is the sign of a great player, someone who makes other players better.”