The past six weeks for Bendigo Spirit star Anneli Maley have been a whirlwind to say the least.
After controversially being left out of the Opals original training squad in early December, Maley's form in the WNBL went to another level, including a career-high 38 points in the Spirit's final match before Christmas.
She was then struck down with COVID-19 and the Spirit's WNBL season was put on hold because of several COVID-19 cases in the squad.
Finally, on Tuesday, Maley admitted she was shocked to be named in the Opals training squad for a camp in Sydney from January 31 to February 4.
It was a fitting reward for a player that has been the shining light for the Spirit through a difficult start to the 2021-22 season.
"COVID hit me pretty hard, but I'm feeling better everyday,'' Maley said.
"I knew I would probably get COVID at some point and I knew it would knock me around a little bit, but I felt confident in how healthy and fit I am.
"My Mum is immunocompromised, so I'm more worried about the people around me than myself.
"The good news is we're back training, but we're still working up to full load. Hopefully, we'll hit full training load tomorrow to get ready for our first game back on Friday."
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Maley, 23, had every reason to feel disappointed when her name wasn't included in the Opals original training squad.
Through the pre-Christmas period she would have been a lock for an All-Star Five position and would have been high in MVP voting.
"I wasn't expecting this (Opals selection) at all,'' Maley said.
"It's a squad of 16 which is really hard to break into . It's full of talented players and every player in that squad is someone that I looked up to when I was a junior.
"The cool thing about going to an Opals camp and pulling on an Opals jersey is that you're not just wearing the jersey that's yours, you're representing every Opals player that has built this program over the years.
"That means a lot to me."
Maley said she didn't use the disappointment of her non-selection in early December as ammunition.
"When I'm playing a WNBL game I'm not thinking about Opals selection or national 3X3 selection,'' Maley said.
"The WNBL is my job and I want to win games for Bendigo. My focus is performing well for the team, so that we can win games."
It's been nearly a month since the Spirit played their last match.
Friday's home game against the Townsville Fire will blow away the cobwebs ahead of a hectic schedule that includes an away game against Canberra on Sunday and a home match with Sydney Uni Flames on Tuesday, January 25.
Individually, the long break couldn't have come at a worse time for Maley, but the power forward won't be using it as an excuse.
"You can always gain momentum back,'' Maley said.
"We'll be playing five games in something like 10 days, which I love, the more games we play the quicker we can get in form.
"I didn't take too much time off, even during COVID I was trying to find ways to get workouts in, so I could get air through my lungs.
"I always work hard, I never take more than a few days off at a time."
At the time of signing, she said she saw the move to Bendigo as an opportunity to take her game to the next level.
So far, so good.
"The facilities are great, I have everything I need,'' Maley said.
"I have the physios on hand, I have the recovery centre right there and I feel as though you're set-up for success.
"I get a lot out of my interactions with Tracy and I like the way she coaches.
"She has such a smart basketball brain and I've tried to soak up everything I can."
Following the Opals camp the final 12 athletes will be chosen for the FIBA Women's World Cup qualifying tournament in Serbia from February 10-13 where Australia has drawn Korea, Serbia and Brazil in their group.
Opals training squad: Sami Whitcomb (Perth Lynx), Shyla Heal (Sydney Uni Flames), Maddy Rocci (Southside Flyers), Rebecca Cole (Southside Flyers), Lauren Nicholson (Townsville Fire), Tess Madgen (Melbourne Boomers), Jade Melbourne (UC Capitals), Steph Talbot (Adelaide Lightning), Sara Blicavs (Southside Flyers), Anneli Maley (Bendigo Spirit), Alanna Smith (Adelaide Lightning), Ezi Magbegor (Melbourne Boomers), Darcee Garbin (Perth Lynx), Abby Bishop (Southside Flyers), Cayla George (Melbourne Boomers), Zitina Aokuso (Townsville Fire).
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