FRESH from an exciting first WNBL season, Bendigo's Piper Dunlop has embraced the chance to enhance her development by stepping off the court and onto the coaching sidelines.
The 17-year-old was an eager assistant to her Bendigo Braves NBL1 coach Mark Alabakov during last week's Bendigo Junior Classic.
Alabakov, who is also the lead-assistant to Bendigo Spirit WNBL coach Tracy York, stepped in to coach the under-18 girls at the three-day tournament, leading a squad stockpiled with bottom-age players to a semi-final appearance.
A chance for the experienced national-level coach to give back to the sport at grassroots level, provided some relief for the under-18 girls' usual coach Joe Hurst to cast an eye over the spectrum of participating Braves teams in his role as the organisation's director of coaching and athletic development.
Alabakov said he was only too happy to lend his support wherever needed.
He said a highlight of the experience was the opportunity to build on the impressive gains made by Dunlop during her whirlwind debut season in the WNBL in 2020 by putting her into an assistant coaching role.
"She was in that (Braves) under-18s group a year ago and just having someone there of her stature, who has been there and been able to progress, was great for the group," Alabakov said.
"Everybody would have followed her journey through the 2020 WNBL season and I thought that would be quite powerful for them to hear about it, as well as give me another chance to mentor her."
Less of a test and more of a challenge, Alabakov said the Australian junior representative had come through the experience with flying colours.
"She was fantastic, really relatable to the athletes, and to be honest she has a real coach's eye," he said.
"For such a young athlete, so early in her career, she was able to offer some real resourceful advice.
"She's pretty mentally sharp with what she sees and her ability to communicate that to young athletes, who in reality are only a year or two younger, was good. I thought she was outstanding for us."
Dunlop, who will complete her Year 12 this year at Catherine McAuley College in Bendigo, appeared in 13 games during her debut season in the WNBL, which was played in its entirety in a north Queensland hub
She averaged 2.4 points per game and 1.4 rebounds, highlighted by a season-high seven points against Melbourne Boomers on December 5.
Alabakov said Dunlop had every reason to be proud with her first season returns, in what should inevitably prove to be a launching pad to sustained success in the national league.
"She's been terrific (in the WNBL program), you could vividly see the maturation or evolution of Piper as a person in the hub - she went in a girl and came out a young woman," he said.
"There couldn't be a truer statement. She carried herself brilliantly. She stands a bit taller and she's a bit more confident as a result.
"Some of the girls took it upon themselves to teach her some life skills while on the road - simple things - not that she didn't have them, but having people like Jennie Rintala and Amelia Todhunter, who are well-travelled, pass things on is a bonus."
Alabakov and Dunlop will again team up during the 2021 NBL1 season.
She's pretty mentally sharp with what she sees and her ability to communicate that to young athletes, who in reality are only a year or two younger, was good.Mark Alabakov
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.