WHILE the uncertainty of whether she will still have a future in the WNBL or might need to look overseas is hardly ideal, for Mikayla Pirini right now all her focus is on trying to help lead the Perth Redbacks as far as possible in the Women’s SBL for 2018.
Pirini was born in New Zealand but grew up in Perth and came through the rich basketball factory at Willetton where she would begin her journey at senior level and got a look in with the West Coast Waves initially in the WNBL.
She spent two seasons as a development player at the Waves before making the move to the Adelaide Lightning for the 2015/16 campaign and also playing in Melbourne’s Big V competition for two seasons for the Diamond Valley Eagles.
But this past WNBL season saw the now 22-year-old combo guard make a return to the Perth Lynx in the WNBL and when she decided she wanted to remain in Perth beyond that, it was on to deciding where to resume her SBL journey.
With WNBL teammate Kayla Standish signing on at the Redbacks and with Charles Nix doing a good pitch and where he saw the club heading with him as coach, Pirini was only too happy to sign on and has never looked back.
She has been one of three key new arrivals at the Redbacks this season alongside Standish and Makailah Dyer with the result being a rapid rise up the table with them finishing the regular season in second position ahead of the quarter-final battle with the Stirling Senators.
Game 1 will take place this Friday night at Belmont Oasis and while Pirini’s focus is firmly on helping the Redbacks go as far as possible during this playoff campaign, she can’t help but wonder about where her future lies.
First choice for Pirini would be to remain at the Lynx for another season and she is still hopeful of that happening, but really that’s out of her control and she’s trying to not let the uncertainty distract her too much.
“It was amazing to play with the Lynx. It’s such a professional organisation and it’s improved so much since I was lucky enough to be part of the West Coast Waves as a junior. It’s grown in leaps and
bounds, and the program has built up really strongly and they are doing everything very well,” Pirini said.
“I’m hopeful of returning, but at this stage I don’t know. We’ll just have to see what happens. It would be really nice if I can stay home for a while, I’m also trying to chip away at a degree while I’m home.
“It would be really great to stick around but things happen and that’s out of my control in a lot of ways. You just have to adapt to what happens and that’s part of the lifestyle as a basketball player.
“I’m lucky enough to have an agent now, Vlad, who is great and he’s on board with me helping me out.
“That definitely takes a lot of the pressure off me as a player worrying about my future but it still does play on your mind. My main focus is on trying to get the job done here first and then whatever happens, happens. You just take it as it comes.”
Having returned to Perth to spend the past WNBL season at the Lynx, Pirini wanted to remain in Perth for the SBL season too. Once she had decided that, it came down to what SBL team she’d play with and everything just fell into place for the Redbacks to be the ideal fit.
Continuing to play alongside Standish and under Nix as coach were two definite factors that have only been enhanced as 2018 has rolled on too.
“I had a couple of different offers over east that I considered as well and one in the QBL that I was considering, but after moving back home something I definitely wanted to do was stay here and play in the SBL,” Pirini said.
“There were then a few clubs I was looking at, but I had a few friends here at the Redbacks from school and that sit with me nicely. Then after meeting with Nixy, it all fell into place.
“I played with Kayla before in Adelaide as well so I’ve been lucky enough to have her previously as a mate and teammate too so that’s been good for both of us coming here to the Redbacks after being at the Lynx together. She definitely made it a lot easier to make the move and hopefully I did for her too.
“I think he’s (Nix) picked it up really quickly. From what I’ve heard from the other coaches, he’s definitely had to rein it in a little bit to coach us but I think he’s done a great job with all of us girls. He’s very firm when he needs to be and gets the message across well. I’m loving playing under him.”
A big selling point for the Redbacks to Pirini was the chance for her to come to a club and make a real difference in terms of turning the culture around, and creating success for a Women’s program that has been craving it for some time in the SBL.
Then upon arrival and seeing the efforts someone like Jess Jakens has put in for so long only made Pirini even more motivated to try to do what she could to bring success to the Redbacks.
“I’m really enjoying my first time at the club this year. I think that the main aim of this season was to begin to build a different culture here at the club and the girls have really invested their time and put a lot of work in to make that happen. It’s been really great so far,” she said.
“JJ, in my eyes, is the face of the Redbacks program and it would be really great to reward her for all the hard work she’s put in. I’m sure she’s had plenty of offers to leave throughout her career but for he to stick around and do the hard yards is amazing, it really is.”
The Redbacks are now gearing up for their quarter-final series against the Senators and for Pirini, she’s excited about what the next five weeks could entail for the group even if the coach will make sure nobody gets ahead of themselves.
“This is the most exciting time of the year and at finals time, anything can happen. We’ve put ourselves in a great position to now hopefully do well in the final series,” Pirini said.
“With Nixy, our focus is on just taking it one game at a time and that’s a big focus for him. But at the same time we definitely put in place goals throughout the season and finishing within the top two was one of those. So we managed to tick that off and hopefully now capitalise on the position we’re in during the finals.
“It would mean everything if we could go all the way this year. This club hasn’t had a championship, with the women, for quite a while so that’s obviously our main goal.
“We are really looking forward to trying to achieve that but I’m just really proud of the efforts everyone has put in so far. To make the change from the last couple of years to where we are now has been such a great thing to be part of.”
Pirini has had a good season with the Redbacks as a guard sharing those duties with Dyer for the most part in running the team’s offence.
She is averaging 12.7 points, 4.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds, and while she sees improvement in her game still, she’s enjoyed the season and the growth in the SBL.
That’s even more the case with the depth of Lynx teammates of hers in the league including Standish, Nat Burton, Alex Ciabattoni, Georgia Denehey, Isabelle Miotti, Toni Farnworth and Ali Schwagmeyer.
“There’s always things that you look at and think you can get better at, but for me personally I’ve been trying to do whatever I can do get the team ahead and in front,” Pirini said.
“I’m happy with some of the things I’ve been doing and am confident in some of my abilities, but have lots of stuff to improve on too.
“The league has definitely changed a lot. Growing up, I played with Melissa Marsh when she was at the back end of her WNBL career and I can remember learning a lot off older players like her, and the calibre of players we had down at Willetton.
“There has definitely been a shift in the league since then and I think there’s a lot more youth being pushed through the programs, which is great for our state as a whole.”