• Sally Brondello (L) and Eziyoda Magbegor (Getty Images, Twitter)Source: Getty Images, Twitter
Saturday is Australia day in the WNBA.
By
Megan Hustwaite

10 Sep 2020 - 4:06 PM  UPDATED 10 Sep 2020 - 4:06 PM

And as the Seattle Storm face Phoenix Mercury - LIVE on SBS VICELAND and SBS On Demand - in a highly anticipated clash between two finals-bound teams, there will be a strong Aussie flavour.

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Australian Opals coach Sandy Brondello is at the helm of the Mercury, who boast Adelaide Lightning’s boom WNBL recruit Alanna Smith. 

Brianna Turner is enjoying a rich vein of form, particularly at the defensive end, and was a revelation for Adelaide in the WNBL last season, winning the club MVP as well as WNBL MVP runner-up.

In this week’s win over Connecticut, she set a new franchise record for rebounds with 21 boards.

Nia Coffey and Sophie Cunningham have also played in the Australian league as imports. Coffey with grand finalist Adelaide in 2018-19 and Cunningham last season with the Melbourne Boomers.

Seattle, with their green and yellow colours, have long been home to plenty of leading female ballers from Down Under.

Most famously, the Storm retired Lauren Jackson’s iconic No.15 singlet at the end of her sublime career.

The likes of Jenna O’Hea, Abby Bishop, Suzy Batkovic, Katrina Hibbert and Alison Lacey have also suited up for Seattle over the years.

This Saturday, Sami Whitcomb and Ezi Magbegor will fly the flag. 

Whitcomb, who was born in the US but became a naturalised Australian in 2018, was part of the Storm’s championship run that year, while Magbegor is the future, impressing in her rookie WNBA season. 

Storm center Mercedes Russell is coming off a season in Australia where she was crowned Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year on the back of a brilliant campaign with runners-up Southside Flyers.

Brondello says she loves coaching and coaching against Aussies, and players with Australian connections, in the WNBA.

“For me, it’s great to see how high standard the WNBL is because we’ve seen the imports that we’ve had do so well, it’s been amazing and they’re playing big roles with their WNBA teams. It’s like an even bigger Australian connection," Brondello told SBS Sport.

“It’s been terrific watching Ezi. Seattle’s a great team for her to be a part of. They’ve really nurtured her too, she’s learned so much and she’s just getting out there doing it. 

“And I’m obviously rapt as the Opals coach to continue to see her development. She’s still got things to learn but she’s had a really good first season and Seattle have been really impressed with her.”

Magbegor is looking forward to seeing some familiar faces when she takes to the court this weekend.

“We played Phoenix earlier on and it was great to see Alanna and Sandy on the other team," Magbegor said.

"It’s exciting they are there with you and it feels like you’ve got a tiny bit of home with you out on the court.

“It’s been really great having Sami here. Coming over (to the WNBA) can be really nerve-wracking, so having that familiar face on your team has really helped and it’s great for it to be Sami.

"She’s such a hard worker and great person to look up to. We room together as well and she’s really looked after me.”

Seattle sit two wins clear at the top of the league, while the Mercury sewed up their spot in the post-season by defeating the Sun, 100-95, in overtime on Thursday with just seven players.

Phoenix came into the season with 10 players before losing Bria Hartley to an ACL injury, while Brittney Griner left the 'wubble' under personal circumstances.

Brondello says she’s so passionate about the game and coaching and has loved the tournament-like season in the Florida bubble.

“I’ve really enjoyed it, I love the challenge," she said.

"We’ve faced a lot of adversity but we’ve got chemistry at the moment, we’re playing hard, we’re playing for each other and that’s all you can ask for in any situation.”