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FOR the first time since 2012, Bendigo Spirit will contemplate a WNBL season without their star Kelsey Griffin.
The four-time club MVP and leader announced her signing with rival club University of Canberra Capitals on Thursday, bringing an end to an association which helped reap two WNBL championships and three grand final appearances.
Griffin’s departure came one day after she was named in a 12-player Opals squad for the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and on the same day the Spirit unveiled former Capitals point guard Abbey Wehrung as their newest recruit.
The 30-year-old, who grew up in Alaska and became an Australian citizen in 2015, has inked a two-year deal with the Capitals under head coach Paul Goriss.
Griffin, who was grand final MVP in the Spirit’s two championship wins in 2012-13 and 2013-14, said her decision to leave the Spirit had been enormously difficult, but was proud of what she had achieved in her six seasons alongside the likes of long-serving Spirit centre Gabe Richards.
"Obviously going to three grand finals and winning two championships was fantastic, and that's why we play the game,” Griffin, a two-time WNBL All-Star, said.
“But, I am satisfied leaving Bendigo in a position where this year they will be a fully professional outfit, in which was always a hope of legacy I would leave.
“Three years ago the idea the Spirit would now be a professional outfit would have been unheard of.
"Bendigo is a great place to live. The community is second to none and I will be forever grateful for the impact the people of Bendigo, and the Spirit, have had on my life.
“Because of these great people, and all the amazing volunteers and my teammates, who are now friends, my decision to go elsewhere has been a difficult one.”
Griffin, who has aspirations of becoming of teacher, said life after basketball had been a factor in her decision to sign with the Capitals.
The 188cm forward played just six games for the Spirit last season (for a career total of 121) after suffering a hip injury, but averaged 18.6 points per game.
She remains confident she still has plenty of good basketball ahead of her.
It will be a potentially hectic year ahead for the former number three overall pick in the 2010 WNBA draft, with the FIBA Women’s World Cup also on the Opals’ radar in September.
Griffin is scheduled to front the media for the first time as a Capitals player at 11.15am on Thursday.
She leaves the club with the greatest of blessings after Spirit leaders heaped praise on their former star for her contribution to both the club and the Bendigo community.
"Kelsey is a legend of this club in every sense of the word, and always will be," fourth-year coach Simon Pritchard said.
"We will certainly miss her contributions both on and off the court.
"She has done a lot to develop this club on and off the court, and there is a generation of players coming through who have benefited from her professionalism, leadership and influence."
Bendigo Stadium Limited chief executive officer Nathan O’Neill said the Spirit have been very privileged to have someone the calibre of Kelsey playing a significant role at the club.
“Kelsey's overall leadership, loyalty, and her utmost commitment to engage with the Bendigo community has been of the highest quality,” he said.
“We wish Kelsey well in 2018 and beyond, and are confident of a possible return to fulfil a role to help grow and develop the game of basketball in our great regional city, the one Kelsey will always call home.
“There will always be a future here when Kelsey is ready to return.”
Griffin first joined the Spirit in 2012 as a replacement import for Kathleen Scheer, who failed to play a game with the team due to injury.
In six seasons she averaged 15.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists, while being crowned the league’s defensive player of the year in 2015.