LUCILLE Bailie’s cheeks flushed when she was told of her induction to Basketball Australia’s Hall of Fame.
The initial reaction of Bailie, who WNBL fans over the years might remember as Lucille Hamilton, was a surprise but once it was explained her recognition was WNBL-based the accolade sat nicely.
“In my mind, Hall of Fame is reserved for the best of the best like Michele Timms, Lauren Jackson and Andrew Gaze,’’ the 48-year-old Bailie said. “I didn’t play in an Olympics, I was a benchie for the Opals and went to the World Champs… but hats off to Basketball Australia, my induction is for WNBL and I’m owning that with force.
“It’s a bit cheeseball, but I’m so proud – it’s about you but a lot of it is about other people and recognising them.”
Bailie’s magnificent WNBL career is more than worthy of recognition and celebration. It stemmed across three clubs and 387 games – which stood as a league record until just two years ago – and featured three championships.
It all started in downtown Doncaster East with a lively upbringing as one of seven children. A tall and lanky kid, the lime green uniform of the Doncaster Doncats was a better fit for Bailie than St Peter and Paul school choir.
In 1986, Bailie was a ‘really fringe little rookie’ with the Bulleen Boomers before joining the AIS in Canberra.
“I was this young, skinny kid from Doncaster East always looking across at Sandy Brondello, Nina Cass and Shelley Gorman who were playing WNBL with the AIS,’’ she said.
Bailie captained the AIS in 1988 and etched her way into the history books, winning the first WNBL Rookie of the Year Award.
Then a chat with Michele Timms kicked started it all.
“I’m this wide-eyed kid and cyclone Timmsy bails me up in the corridor at this Opals camp and says ‘why don’t you come and play for the Nunawading Spectres?’,” Baille said. “They’d won two championships in a row, Shelley was playing for them and to be invited by Timmsy, Tom Maher coaching and Robyn Maher on the team…I didn’t know much but I knew I wouldn’t need convincing.”
Bailie enjoyed immediate success with her new powerhouse club.
“It was everything it was cracked up to be on and off court… leaders and leadership a plenty and great leaders drive great culture,’’ she recalled. “In ‘89 we won the triple crown.
“The success that team achieved was the result of an absolute winning culture in every single way and to be exposed to that was phenomenal.”
With experience and success under her belt, Bailie later journeyed south to the Hobart Islanders.
“I got to be a leader, put things I’d learned on display and hopefully have some of the influence I was exposed to,’’ she said.
“The moment we won our first match in 18 months, far out that was insane. Culture and people help build you but so do the tough times. Sport is life in the fast lane, what you learn in sport is reflected in life, life’s just a little bit slower.”
After the death of her father, John, Bailie returned home to Melbourne to be closer to her tight-knit family and play for the new kids on the block… the Dandenong Rangers.
It was a glorious new chapter during the mid to late 1990s.
“The way that community basketball club embraced and owned their WNBL team was phenomenal,’’ she said. “They had to fight to get their licence and when you add amazing partners like the late Eddie Wood and Gerry Ryan from Jayco into that mix you felt like you could conquer the world. We were believed in and supported.
“There was Tracey Browning and the little rookies Jess Bibby and Nat Porter, Alex Palazzolo was the coach. We fought tooth and nail and it was such a treat to be part of a ball club like that, really groovy.”
With a young Penny Taylor and the next wave of Rangers stars coming through under Mark Wright, Bailie called time on her career but before too long she received a call of her own.
“I ran into Carrie Graf one day then a few weeks later sitting at my desk I get a phone call from her. It’s 2000/01, she’s coach of the Caps who just won a championship with Lauren Jackson, Kristin Veal and Shelley, they’d lost Karen Smith their 6 foot 500cm centre and were looking for a new big,’’ she said.
“I was early 30s, coming out of retirement and moving clubs… then fast forward to two more championships and playing alongside the best player in the world.”
Plus, the return gave her a chance to play in the national league alongside her little sister, and an incredible star in her own right, Jacinta (Kennedy).
“Cinno was the cream on top of the cream bun,” Bailie said. “Playing in a competition means as much as the WNBL does, doing that with your little sister, Saint Jacinta, was something else.
“The training, the hard yards, the team punch ons, doing that alongside your little sister – having those experiences with her was just the most powerful thing.
Canberra, the Caps and the entire community quickly came to mean so much to Bailie.
“In a town like Canberra, the impact the Capitals had in the town was amazing and they remain close to the people and the stakeholders,” Bailie said.
This was highlighted in early 2003 when bushfires swept the nation’s capital.
“It coincided with finals, we were in the finals and the city had been smashed. There were fatalities, injuries, homes burned to the ground,’’ Bailie recalls.
“We were playing in a semi and it had to be moved because of the smoke. We won the championship against Sydney a few weeks later, had this cracking rivalry and won by two points.
“As captain, I looked up after the game and people were dripping from the rafters, 5000 packed into the AIS Arena, people who have just lost their homes and they were in the trenches with us, jumping out of their seats smiling.
“Being able to bring a positive experience to a community going through a rough time was pretty special and we were able to thank Canberra, bring them a smile and encourage them to recover and crack on.”
Pictures courtesy of Ian Knight Photography/Basketball Australia