Kleeman signs up with the Lady Bandits

NEWCASTLE Hunters guard Sophie Kleeman hopes a successful South East Australian Basketball League campaign for the Albury- Wodonga Lady Bandits provides a stepping stone to a contract with a Women’s National Basketball League club.

The 23-year-old playmaker, who spent the past four years at NCAA Division I college Troy University in Alabama, could not knock back an offer to play in the SEABL, Australia’s second-tier competition behind the WNBL.

‘‘Hopefully a strong season in the SEABL might promote some interest from WNBL clubs but my main focus is to help the Lady Bandits have a successful 2014 season,’’ Kleeman said.

The 175-centimetre dynamo said Albury coach James Ballinger contacted her last year while she was at Troy completing a degree, majoring in criminal justice with a minor in print journalism, to discuss joining the club.

A former coach of New Zealand’s Junior Tall Ferns, Ballinger is in his second season in charge of the Lady Bandits and hopes for an improvement on last year when they finished sixth in the seven-team South Division with a 3-23 win-loss record.

‘‘I think they had a few injuries last season but if everyone stays healthy, we should have a fairly strong team. They’ve got some strong ‘bigs’ but they’re a bit short on guards, so I’ve been told I’ll be playing point and starting,’’ she said.

Kleeman said she already knew Lady Bandits team-mates Maddy Plunkett and Lauren Angel from their time together in the NSW Country junior representative program.

Though injuries and a change of coaches restricted Kleeman’s playing opportunities in her junior and senior years at Troy, she reflected on her college career as a positive experience.

‘‘I learnt so much going over there, I matured a lot and really grew as a person,” she said.

Kleeman will head to Albury next week while the Lady Bandits’ SEABL season-opener against Launceston is on March 22.

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