Sports Wizard® basketball ambassador, Natalie Hurst, is enjoying a fine season with the Canberra Capitals.
Recently, she was featured by emerging Canberra sports magazine, PLAY, talking about a number of experiences throughout her career, from winning a WNBL Championship at 16, to playing with the Opals, testing herself in Europe and about life beyond her playing career.
Great stuff, Nat! Check out the story below courtesy of the PLAY Canberra magazine website.
The starting point guard and spiritual leader of The Tradies Canberra Capitals is the true home grown success story as her earliest recollection of the game confirms.
“My very first memory of basketball was at 5 years of age being thrust into an Under 10 team my sister was coaching when she was short of players,” Hurst explains. “I cried the whole game but from then on they couldn’t keep me off the court.”
Nat’s dad Les was a very successful junior coach which is often an indicator of future potential, but in this case it seems that the child was left to form her own ideas.
“My dad and I are so similar that we butt heads a lot, but when I needed him he was there,” she says. “It was all about what I wanted to do and if I wanted he obliged, but he never made me do anything I didn’t want to do.”
It’s fairly well known that Nat’s career with the Capitals started as a 16 year old bench warmer for the Championship winning team in 1999/2000. It’s probably not as well remembered that she played just 53 total minutes and took 4 field goal attempts throughout the entire season.
She is quick to explain that at that stage there was no real future career planning in place for her basketball and that amazingly, after being a part of her third WNBL Championship in the 2002/93 season, she stopped playing entirely.
“It’s not that I wasn’t coping with the basketball,” she says “but things were changing in my life, my friends were doing different things and I thought if I can’t 100% commit to basketball then I won’t play.”
It’s hard to grasp in this age of single minded and almost obsessive focus on elite sporting careers that one of Australia’s potential Rio Olympians took a break from her sport at age 21 for almost two years.
“In hindsight starting so young with the Capitals is something I maybe wouldn’t do again,” she thoughtfully reveals, “even though it was great fun and we had lots of success.”
Thankfully for the sport and the Capitals, Nat eventually resumed playing with Canberra’s pathway team which was then supported by the ACT Academy of Sport in the NSW Waratah League.
Pretty soon Carrie Graf came calling and as Nat so succinctly recalls, said “Let’s do this.”
Slotting straight back into the Capitals team, she was promptly part of the city’s first Championship since her sabbatical and then took a step up the next year in their triumph over arch rivals Sydney University.
Then after quarter-backing the Capitals to their most recent title and her seventh in 2010, Nat decided to move to Europe to test herself against some of the world’s best, playing professionally for French club Aix en Provence and most recently in Hungary for Uni Gyor.
“In a way I wish I went to Hungary before France as the south of Franc is such a beautiful place to live,” she says. “But I loved the basketball in Hungary as I got to play in Euro League, travelling to different countries every week and competing against the top European and American WNBA players.”
Nat clearly identifies that experience she gained in Europe as being a key factor in her ability to take on a leadership role with Canberra this season.
“Over there it’s all about you,” she explains “the coaches don’t make you do individuals, they don’t make you shoot, they just expect you to perform and once get used to that you’re OK.”
Whilst the Capitals had a disrupted preparation for the current WNBL season, Nat sees the mix of young and old players are gradually creating the right chemistry for success.
“We can’t afford not to work hard every day and there is still a lot of learning ahead, but give us another month and we’ll be firing better.”
Beyond a possible return to Europe at some point in the future there sits the Holy Grail of Olympic representation. And with new Australian Head Coach Brendan Joyce having used Nay as the starting point guard in the recent World Championship qualifying series, the early signs look promising.
“It’s a matter of continuing to work on what I know he (Joyce) wants me to do, thus putting myself in the right spot but there are some great point guards out there so it’s always going to be tough,” she said.
Finally when the subject of a possible future beyond her playing days is raised there is barely a moment of hesitation about her answer.
“I’m hoping to be involved in basketball, as I love it and always think I have the best job in the world. I like coaching, have experienced it a tiny bit and think I have the head for it, but time will tell.”
This story originally appeared in the November edition of the PLAY Canberra magazine, titled ‘Nat comes full circle back to Canberra’.