THE decision caused plenty of sleepless nights but Amber Land now couldn’t be happier with joining the Joondalup Wolves this Women’s SBL season after celebrating her 150th game back on her old home floor, she’s setting her sights on that elusive championship.
Coming off her college career at Eastern Michigan University having grown up in North Dakota, and while she has spent time playing professionally in Europe, Land has built a home for herself now in Perth and for the last six years that was playing at the Warwick Senators.
She was the heart and soul of that team of her entire 141-game run as well. No matter how competitive the team was, you could rely on Land putting up one hell of a fight inside and as a result she ended up averaging 14.3 points and 10.9 rebounds.
But with a new coach taking over at the Senators for 2019, Land was looking to make a move and playing for Charles Nix and joining him with his move to the Lady Wolfpack soon became the obvious choice for her.
Not only was it relatively close to Warwick, everything about Nix as a coach made Land wand to be part of it and you can’t argue with the results so far with the Wolves sitting on top of the table at 8-1 and having won their past five matches.
Last Saturday proved quite the occasion for Land too. It was her first game back at Warwick Stadium as an opposition player and it also just happened to be her 150th appearance in the SBL as only fate would have it.
ROUND 8 SPOTLIGHT | LADY WOLFPACK DOMINATE SECOND HALF OVER SENATORS
The Wolves were down nine at half-time but delivered a terrific second half to beat the Senators 87-74 with Land producing 21 points and 10 rebounds for her second straight double-double.
Land admits to it being a strange feeling but when she eventually looks back on her playing career, it will certainly be an occasion she always remembers.
“You couldn’t have scripted it better, it was a really special game for me. I’m so glad that we came away with the win, a great team win in the end,” Land said.
“It was strange but it felt a little like coming home as well. I spent six years at this club and there are a lot of fantastic memories, and I have a lot of friends here. It was really cool and really weird all at the same time to come back here.
“I feel like there’s a lot of love here for me still and I have a lot of love for this club, but at the end of the day it’s still a basketball game and I was an opposition player. I think when a ref comments to you in the middle of the game that it’s weird seeing you not in blue, then it hits home how strange it is.
“There is that element and there’s little things like the ref at half-time to start the third quarter focused this way, and out of habit I thought we were on defence until it clicked in we had the ball.
“Those little things were weird, Glenn Ellis was on the mic and I played for him for three years as well so I have a great relationship with him and the club still.
“It was definitely weird but at the end of the day it’s just another game of basketball, and it’s about us getting wins on the board so when the ball goes up you just play and it doesn’t matter the colour of your jersey.”
Saturday night’s return to Warwick did feel like a homecoming for Land and while Joondalup is now her home, she’ll never have anything but fond memories of her six years and 141 games at the Senators.
“Joondalup is home now. When I was in college after growing up in the state of North Dakota, I played all my college games in Michigan and my senior year I got a game back against the University of North Dakota, ironically where Sam Roscoe played,” she said.
“It felt a lot like that coming back to Warwick. You come to a really familiar place where all your friends and family are, and you know they have your back whether you win or lose. This felt a lot like that.
“Basketball is a game where you make moves based on what’s good for you and I made a move to Joondalup, and it’s been a great move for me. But that doesn’t change that the Senators were a great club for me for the six years that I was here.”
While Land delivered six outstanding years at the Senators, they were never quite a championship contender and that was another big factor in why she chose to join the Wolves.
That desire to be part of a successful team is driving on Land more than ever at this point in her career and she’s making no secret of the hunger to win a championship at her new club.
“Every season by the first game you are chasing the championship, why else would you play and nothing has changed. We are chasing the championship and we’ve been really upfront about it, and it’s in all of our team goals,” Land said.
“For me it’s always about the game and it’s so much fun to play, and winning makes it more fun. You always want the ultimate win and that’s what we are going after this year, and the reality is that win or lose playing the game is always fun. It’s just more fun if you win.”
As for the decision to leave the Senators for the Lady Wolfpack, while it was a tough call to make with both clubs having new coaches for 2019 with Dion Dagostino taking over at Warwick and Nix now in charge for Joondalup, it soon became a relatively obvious choice.
“You don’t make a decision like that and remember the reasons why, and spend a lot of time reflecting on it and making sure it’s the right decision,” she said.
“We played against Nixy’s Redbacks team in finals last year and he let me know he’d like to talk to me about playing for him, wherever he ended up coaching.
“I sat down with him and said I was staying at the Senators, but then I sat down with Dion and he just wasn’t a coach that I felt like I could respect and play well for that. That was because of the system and style he wanted to play. I didn’t feel like I would fit well into that so I spoke to Nixy again.
“I had a lot of respect for him after the first couple of conversations I had with him and it ended up being a really easy decision, as much as it broke my heart.
“Joondalup is a great club for me and the Senators were great for me when I was here. It wasn’t an easy decision to make and it involved a lot of tears and sleepless nights, but I am where I am now and chasing the championship just like before.”
Now aged 33, Land knows that time is ticking on her career and while she is still at the peak of her powers on the court evidenced by putting up 11.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists so far with the Wolves, she knew she wasn’t ready to accept the role that was waiting her with the Senators.
“I’m getting to a stage now as a veteran player, which I’ll call myself, where Dion was talking a lot about youth and a lot about the style that he wanted to play, and I didn’t see myself as a veteran player slotting in happily into that sort of system,” she said.
“But Nixy’s versatile enough as a coach and he coaches individuals as much as he coaches the team. As a veteran player, there’s things you look for and I felt like I really could communicate two-ways with him. That’s something that I really look for in a coach and he took that well.”
When Land first arrived to play with the Senators back in 2013 for the first time she had a grand vision that she might like Australia so much that it could become a long-term destination for her, but she really had no idea what to expect.
But now six years later, she likes the place so much she wants to get her citizenship and while it’s tough with her family still on the other side of the world, there’s every chance it remains her home even post-basketball as well.
“It’s a great lifestyle here and it’s an easy lifestyle. The weather is great and I grew up in North Dakota where it’s freakin cold in the winter,” Land said.
“I love the beach, I love the weather and the people are really laid back so it’s such an inviting place. And the people have made me feel welcome and that’s really a credit to Senators as much as Wolves. To have a club that’s welcomed me and felt like family to me made it easier to stay once I got here.
“It does feel like home now for me in some ways, but home’s also where your family is and my family is all back in the States so there will always be a piece of my heart back there.
“I’m planning to stay here long-term, that’s the plans, but you never can quite predict where life takes you. But the plan is to stay here and my citizenship application is in the works so hopefully this time next year I’ll officially be an Australian.”