• Lara McSpadden has signed with the Brydens Sydney Uni Flames (Instagram / @sydneyuniflames)Source: Instagram / @sydneyuniflames
At age 17, Lara McSpadden will make her WNBL debut this season and hopes to follow in the footsteps of another Newcastle export who has earned a reputation as one of the all-time greats in the national competition.
Megan Hustwaite

17 Aug 2016 - 9:21 AM  UPDATED 17 Aug 2016 - 9:23 AM

McSpadden was still a few months away from being born when Australian basketball champion Suzy Batkovic played in her first WNBL championship in 1999.

Batkovic was a fresh-faced 18-year-old and part of an AIS team of teenagers, which featured Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor, who beat a seasoned Perth Breakers to snared the Institute’s one and only title.

Batkovic would go on to play in three Olympic Games and win two silver medals and one bronze, carve out a successful international career in Europe and the WNBA. She'd then return home and be a force in the WNBL winning four league MVPs, between 2012 and 2016, and back-to-back championships at the Townsville Fire.

This WNBL season, McSpadden, a 193cm centre, will make her national league debut for the Sydney Uni Flames and play against Batkovic.

“Suzy is from Newcastle too so it’ll be great to play against her. I’m so excited to see how it goes,’’ she said.

”It’ll be good to see how I match up against her and see what I need to do to become like her because Suzy is the best in the WNBL.”

McSpadden is currently on a scholarship at Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence in Canberra where she is completing year 12.

She will join the Flames after exams and plans to study teaching through the Flames partnership with the University of Sydney.

“The partnership allows you to study and play at the same time which is a really great fit,’’ she said.

“I’m really excited for this new chapter in my life - a new opportunity to get better, meet new people and play with a great team and for a great coach.

“It’ll be great to get the exposure playing against the older women because if you don’t compete against the best then you won’t get better and become the best.

“The challenge of playing against older players will be really good for my development.”

Flames coach Cheryl Chambers says McSpadden is a perfect fit for the roster and culture she is building at the club.

“It’s fantastic to have Lara join our group as she has enormous potential with exciting athleticism,’’ she said.

“She epitomises what the Flames are aspiring for in our players and that’s NSW-based elite athletes who are concurrently studying.

“I’m really looking forward to working with her.”

It’s been a breakout year of sorts for McSpadden who turned 17 in April.

In 2014 she trialled for a 2015 spot at the Centre of Excellence but didn’t win selection. The feeling of disappointment stuck with McSpadden, drove her to work even harder and this year she was offered one of just 11 spots.

“When I didn’t get selected that made me more motivated to come down this year and train hard,’’ she said.

“The lifestyle is great - go to school and get better at basketball. I’ve met new people and made new friends and the coaches are great, everything about moving down here was appealing.

“They are training us to be future Opals so we have to be better at all aspects of our game. They do focus on your strengths and how they can utilise that, but to be an Opal you have to be good at everything so that’s what I’m working on at the moment here in Canberra.”

In July, McSpadden was part of the World Championship winning Sapphires team in Spain.

The victory over Italy in the final saw the Sapphires join the 2006 Opals and 1993 under-19 Gems as Australia’s world championship winning women’s teams.

McSpadden took to the court in five of the Sapphires’ six games and scored six points in the 98-38 opening-round victory over Mexico.

She described winning a gold medal as “the greatest thing.”

“I still can’t believe it’s happened. Nothing can describe it, it’s just so awesome to be part of a group that’s won and is the best in the world,’’ she said.

“What do you do after that? There’s nothing that can really top it.

“It’s definitely inspired me to play for the Opals, I already wanted to but the Sapphires has made that stronger.

“I just want to experience that feeling again.”

McSpadden is mature beyond her years and tackles her basketball how she tackles life, with a positive mindset and proactive approach.

It can be traced back to 2007 when, at eight years old, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

“I’ve had diabetes for more than half my life now,’’ she said.

“My approach is that if I don’t do what I have to do then I’m going to feel the consequences when I’m older and that’s always what I’m thinking about with basketball - I’ve got to put my health first and make sure my body’s in check so when I’m older I’m not suffering from not treating myself right when I was younger.”

Although there’s been plenty of testing times, McSpadden has never let the disease stand in the way of her sporting dreams.

“It is hard, sometimes it really gets hard, especially with the added pressure of sport it wears you out. I feel like I just need to keep being strong and fighting through,’’ she said.

“There’s medical advances happening all the time and a cure will happen, hopefully soon for the younger generations.

“You just have to be extra careful because everything affects it. With sport and the energy that you need you need to be really on top of your diabetes and know your patterns - when you’re going to go low and when you have to eat before games and when you have to take extra Insulin.

“You have to be really careful with what you do and compensate your needs with the added pressure of playing sport.”

She has drawn inspiration from other athletes who manage their type 1 diabetes while still having successful, fulfilling sporting careers.

“It’s really inspiring to see Brett Stewart, who plays NRL for the Manly Sea Eagles, and other people show that anyone with diabetes can achieve and conquer having it, it shouldn’t hold you back,’’ she said.

“You can overcome it and achieve things while having it, you just need to have the right mindset and attitude towards it.” 

For all the latest #WomenInSport articles, videos and updates at SBS Zela like us on Facebook and Twitter