BENDIGO Spirit star Gabe Richards says she is enjoying 'giving back' to the WNBL club she has been a part of since day one.
The two-time WNBL champion and two-time All-Star has spent 11 of her 13 seasons in the league with Bendigo, returning to the squad in 2019-20 after a one-year break.
While she no longer clocks up the minutes she once did during the Spirit's championship/grand final run from 2012-13 to 2014-15 and beyond, the popular centre has lost none of her effectiveness, as demonstrated by her 11 points, equal team-high eight rebounds and fours assists in the Spirit's upset four-point win over Canberra in Bendigo on Friday night.
Equally crucial to a Spirit team on the improve following two straight victories have been her leadership, basketball smarts and calming influence on a mostly young playing group.
Richards, who joined the Spirit for their inaugural year in 2006-07 after two seasons with the Australian Institute of Sport, has clearly embraced her role as a mentor and is relishing her time back in the Spirit camp after a season off in 2018-19.
"It's very familiar ... it was nice to have a year off last year, but I still thought I had things I could contribute and give back, not only to the team, but the club as well," she said.
"Absolutely it's been a big part of my life - I've been here since the Spirit started.
"It's a different role this year, but it's one that I've probably learnt a lot more in than in previous years, just seeing things from a different perspective.
"Being a mentor and a coach to the young kids on our squad and being able to mentor and guide them has been a new role and I have really enjoyed it."
Richards predicted great things ahead for her teenage team-mate Shyla Heal, who came up big against the Capitals with 24 points and eight rebounds.
"The fact we have had two 18th birthdays on our team this year just goes to show, A, how old I am, but B, how young and how incredible the careers ahead of those young kids are going to be," she said.
"It's really exciting for someone like Shyla to find her groove and play some really important minutes this young (in life).
"It's only going to serve her well in the future."
In the midst of a two-game winning streak and with a chance to draw level with the Perth Lynx on five wins with a victory over their rivals in Western Australia this Sunday, Richards is hellbent on finishing the season - potentially her last in the WNBL - on a positive note.
"Throughout the season we've been close to winning a couple more (games) and have been unlucky not to get across the line," she said.
"On the weekend we found combinations that worked really well and defensively we got stops when we needed them.
"It's always disappointing when the win-loss record doesn't necessarily reflect the talent that is on the floor.
"Even last year the girls had a lot of close losses and that really sucks. It's only a couple of calls here or there, or one or two baskets that's the difference.
"But ultimately that's sport, so it is a little bit disappointing, but we're back on the winner's list and feeling good about ourselves.
"Hopefully we can go across to Perth and make it three in a row and from there get as many wins as possible, cause a few more upsets, and finish things on a really positive note."
Spirit coach Tracy York praised Richards as a 'huge influence on and off the court'.
"She is such a wonderful person and support off the court and has a very good mind for basketball," she said.
"Arguably that was one of her better games on Friday night, after being out with a calf injury the week before.
"It showed her ability to be able to just slot back and play her role."
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