As a focused Launceston Tornadoes step onto the floor towards an elusive SEABL grand final berth on Saturday night, an injured Mikaela Ruef could be the missing piece of the puzzle.
Sidelined for up to 12 months with an ACL knee injury, Ruef will not be left wondering what might have been should the Tornadoes claim only their second title.
The reality of calling on the club for moral support after missing a second successive season – last year for a trial at WNBA side LA Sparks – has since slowly morphed into an assistant coaching role.
“I actually first started talking to [coach] Derrick [Washington] straight after he got the job,” Ruef said.
“Once I got injured he was really good at making sure he called me every day to see how I was doing.
“He did the same injury in high school, so knows what it’s like and he did a good job of keeping me involved.
“Pretty much straight after I got injured, I realised I still wanted to come and help out and do what I could.”
That came in the way of scouting while still in France to cutting up videos and doing more analysis for Washington when Ruef landed in Launceston mid-season.
The role has evolved to being listed on the teamsheet as assistant, joining incumbent Lisa Patterson on the bench.
Ruef admitted giving directions to former teammates including stars Lauren Mansfield and Ally Wilson was not easy at first.
“I wasn’t sure how much I can say; I didn’t want to step on Derrick’s toes,” she said.
“I did play with most of these girls and I wasn’t sure how they’d deal with me in more of a coaching role.
“But even when I played with them, I was always the type of player who gave direction out on the court.
“I think the girls respect my basketball opinion and Derrick’s done a good job as letting me say what I want.”
After feeling “bummed” not to be combining up front with Lauren Nicholson and Ellie Collins for the first time, Ruef rates this squad’s title chances.
“I think the team we have has a really good chance of reaching the grand final and winning it,” Ruef said.
“I think we have the right combination of talent, so if it’s not this year, it’s definitely next year when I come back.”
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