THERE isn’t an abundance of pure scorers and shooters in the Women’s SBL which is why Courtney Bayliss remains such a weapon, but as she approaches her 200th game in the league all she’s focused on is helping the South West Slammers back to playoff action.
While the Slammers co-captain is still only 25 years of age, it feels like Bayliss has been around a long time and that’s because she made her SBL debut back as a 14-year-old at the Lakeside Lightning having moved up to Perth from Bunbury.
Bayliss continued in the SBL at the Lightning even during her five years away at college. Bayliss first played at the University of Mobile in Alabama for two years before transferring to Our Lady of the Lake University in Texas for her last two years, which is where she truly thrived and enjoyed her experience.
She enjoyed her time there so much she remained for an extra year to be assistant coach on the basketball program before returning home and heading back down to Bunbury and joining the Slammers ahead of the 2016 SBL season.
Bayliss already had 127 games under her belt in the league at Lakeside but this was a different player that returned to the Slammers at the conclusion of her time at college.
In the three years and now nine games since, Bayliss has played another 72 games in the SBL averaging 15.7 points and 8.4 rebounds a game to become one of the true stars in the competition.
She will now reach her 200-game milestone this Saturday night when the Slammers host the Warwick Senators at Eaton Recreation Centre.
While rightfully proud of the milestone she is reaching, what Bayliss desperately wants is to help the Slammers back to the playoffs in 2019.
There were a couple of tough development years when she first arrived, but last year they only narrowly missed making it and now even though they’ve lost three straight, they sit seventh at 4-5 and appear on track to be part of the finals for the first time since 2015.
“We were unlucky last year and we only missed out on playoffs by percentage, but this year even though we have lost the last three games we have still been feeling like we’ve been playing pretty good,” Bayliss said.
“There’s just been a few minutes where we’ve turned off mentally or haven’t had the consistency to keep going so we weren’t too disappointed with how we played. Obviously we were disappointed to lose but we feel like we’ve been giving it a good crack and I do feel like we’re playing some good basketball.
“This start has been our best one for a while too and that has set us up so we’re not chasing our tails so much towards the end of the season. I am looking forward to that second half of the season now and we’ll start to play teams twice, and see if we can make up for some of those losses by beating those teams the second time around.
“We are really hopeful and we are expecting to make finals this year and then from there, anything can happen. You never know what the draw might be and sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you don’t.
“Especially us older players like myself and Kate, and the two imports are really pushing and putting that mentality on the girls that this isn’t just another season, we are trying to make it to finals and see how far we can go.”
What makes Bayliss such an impressive player in the SBL is that she is one of only a handful of pure scorers in the league.
While there have been Sami Whitcomb, Ali Schwagmeyer and Deanna Black who have been the standouts in that role in recent times, there isn’t a whole lot of women that play that way.
There’s not too many currently in the league outside of Bayliss, Stacey Barr and a handful of others who play with that aggressive mindset to back themselves in to make plays themselves, to create their own shots and to continue shooting no matter the situation.
Bayliss can be an unstoppable force when her shots are falling but whether they are or not, she’ll always back herself in to continue shooting and that’s on the back of confidence instilled in her over the last two years she spent in college.
“Before I went off to college, I would shoot the ball but I wasn’t really looked at as the primary scorer. But then going to college and in my junior and senior years, my coach instilled the mentality in my head that shooters just have to shoot,” Bayliss said.
“No matter how good or bad you are shooting, you have to keep shooting the ball and eventually they will fall for you. His mindset on that and having the faith in me was huge. I could go 0/10 and he would tell me to keep shooting even if I said I didn’t want to.
“He would tell me that if I didn’t shoot he would sub me off and he just wanted me to keep taking my shots because he had faith I’d end up making them.
“So having that faith from him and then coming back here where I’ve pretty much had the responsibility of having to score for us to be a chance, I know I’ve had to be putting points on the board. It just has come naturally and continued flowing on for the last few years.”
Now approaching her 200-game milestone this Saturday night at home to the Senators, it’s something that Bayliss is deservedly proud of considering it was a career that started way back in 2008 as a 14-year-old.
“I feel like it has been a while and I’ve been in the league for 10 years now since I started, but I feel like it is a great milestone to achieve at a young age especially because I have gone and done the whole college thing in between,” she said.
“Being able to reach 200 games in my mid-20s is pretty cool and it’s something I don’t take lightly. I know how important these milestone games are no matter what sport you’re in and no matter what stage of your career. It’s a privilege to reach it.”
Getting to play the milestone on her home floor on Saturday night is something Bayliss is pleased with as well, especially after coach Nathan Grover initially told her it would be reached on an away fixture.
“When I first found out I was close to 200, Nathan thought it was going to be last week against Redbacks and I was a bit disappointed that it was going to be away but then he worked out he must have miscalculated and it was going to be this weekend, I thought that was perfect,” Bayliss said.
“Now I can have my family and everyone there, and do it in front of the home crowd which should make it a little bit more special as well. Hopefully we can get the win.”
A big part of the Bayliss basketball story is her time spent at college. While the first two years at Mobile might not have been everything she hoped, the next two years in Texas as player and then another as an assistant coach was a different story.
Being on the other side of world from ages 18 to 23 sure meant that Bayliss’ experienced a lot of new things in her life and while it had its challenges, she’s happily do it all again.
“I would do it all again in a heartbeat given the opportunity. Especially my last three years in Texas were the best times,” Bayliss said.
“I was in the NIAA so it was a smaller conference but we still played pretty decent level basketball so getting the two conference championships in my junior and senior year were amazing.
“Then I think the even more rewarding experience was when I stayed the extra year and started coaching, and being an assistant there. That was rewarding especially to see things from that different perspective.
“You see things as an athlete for four years, but by doing that you get the respect for the other side of it as well a whole lot more when you’re in that position. It was one of the best times of my life.
“I left when I was 18 and came back when I was 23, but it feels like you have to learn to stand on your own two feet and you don’t have your mum and dad there on call like at home. You grow up pretty quickly.”
Being at college for that time meant that Bayliss grew up quicker than she otherwise might have had she stayed home. That meant that even though she was only 23 when she returned, she already felt like a veteran on the Slammers team she was joining.
“Because you live and breathe basketball at college you develop even faster. You’re around it 24/7 so you have to learn to love it and respect it, and to grow with the game, that’s the main thing over there,” she said.
“Even though I was still only 23 when I came back for good at the Slammers, I did feel like with such a young group I felt like one of the oldest players on the team all of a sudden.
“So in that situation you rely on your experience from college to guard the others and be more of a leader, and act like a veteran of the game. Now in saying that, I have been in the league for 10 years so maybe I am getting to that point of being a veteran.”
Reaching a milestone like 200 games provides a chance of reflection on the journey to get to that point and for Bayliss, she’s proud to get to the mark while still being relatively young and having so much of her career remaining.
“When you think about it, you think about all the time and effort you put in over a long time but then at the same time you think it’s gone like a blink of an eye as well,” Bayliss said.
“Everything has happened so fast from when I made my debut at 14, I didn’t expect or imagine that I would go off to do college and achieve everything that I have.
“It puts everything into perspective and it feels good as well to get some reward for the hard work that I’ve put in to reach this milestone and hopefully continue on to a few more.”