BENDIGO Spirit have started the search for a new import following Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe's decision to sign with French team Nantes Reze.
The Canadian Olympian has been playing in the WNBA with the New York Liberty, but had a short stint in the French national league at the end of the Spirit's 2016-17 WNBL season.
She averaged a team-high 15.88 points and 8.38 rebounds last season for Bendigo's WNBL team.
Spirit coach Simon Pritchard said the announcement was a great opportunity for the star centre.
“Nayo’s game really developed while she was in Bendigo. Anyone who saw her play throughout the year knows how good she became,” he said.
“Unfortunately for Spirit fans, the French deal means she won’t be playing in Bendigo this year.
"While we would have loved to have her back at the Bendigo Stadium this year, the WNBL can’t compete with the European leagues when it comes to opportunities.
“But we were proud to help Nayo set up the opportunity and help her develop her game in Bendigo.
“That’s something we are really focused on. While winning championships is our obvious goal, we pride ourselves on making sure that every player who comes through our doors improves every day.
“Whether it’s local regional Victorian players or international starts like Nayo, if you play at Bendigo, you will improve your game.”
Raincock-Ekunwe scored one point and had seven rebounds and two assists in the Liberty's last game, a 79-57 loss to Spirit teammate Kelsey Griffin's former team the Connecticut Suns
She praised Bendigo and coach Pritchard for helping her become the player she has.
“I will never forget my time at Bendigo, and it taught me a new style of play,” she said.
“Simon added a lot more to my game and that has opened up a lot of doors in America and Europe.
“If anyone is thinking of going to Bendigo I would highly recommend it, both professionally and personally.
I will never forget my time at Bendigo, and it taught me a new style of play.Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe
“You game will improve, your basketball knowledge will improve and your opportunities will improve.”
Raincock-Ekunwe, who represented Canada at the 2016 Rio Olympics, finished eighth in the WNBL's most valuable player award voting behind Townsville star Suzy Batkovic.