Sandy Brondello Loved Playing for Australia

By Mirin Fader - @mirinfader

As Tuesday’s practice winds down, Sandy Brondello pulls up a chair and sits down on the sidelines as chatter breaks out about how well Candace Parker played for Team USA in the 2012 Olympics in London earlier that morning.

The forward scored 12 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in the U.S. 91-48 quarterfinal rout of Canada.

Brondello isn’t surprised. The second-year Sparks Assistant Coach then hears that the undefeated U.S. will face Australia in this Thursday’s semifinal game. She smiles, even less surprised because she anticipated the matchup.

In Brondello’s eighteen year career as a player for the Australian National Team, Team USA has always stood in the way of an Olympic gold medal for her country. After representing Australia in the 1988 Olympics, she earned a bronze medal with the Opals in the 1996 (Atlanta) Olympics, and a silver medal in both the 2000 (Sydney) and 2004 (Athens) games while the U.S. won three consecutive gold medals.

“The U.S. team has always been, and always will be, our biggest competitors,” Brondello said. “We had a fierce rivalry, but a mutual respect for each other. Obviously medals were what we came for, and we knew we had to be at our absolute best to beat them, but we came up short.”

Brondello knew Team USA well not just from international competition, but from her five year WNBA career beginning with the Detroit Shock in 1998, a year after the league’s inaugural season. After her second year with the Shock, Brondello played for the Miami Sol from 2001-02 and the Seattle Storm in 2003. She averaged a career 11 points per game and ranks fourth in WNBA history with a 41 percent career three-point percentage. Brondello also played in the league’s first all-star game in 1999.

While the 5’7’’ guard spent many years of her life playing overseas in the States, Brondello felt a tremendous sense of pride competing for her home country, where her love for basketball was born.

“Playing for Australia was the highlight of my career. I set out to be an Olympian from a young age,” she said. “I was from a very small town called Queensland, growing up on a sugar cane farm. I started to play basketball when I was nine, and when I was 14, I said to myself: ‘I want to play for Australia.’ ”

“People in my community thought I was out of my brains, that it wasn’t possible for someone to make it from such a small town,” she said. “But I was determined and stubborn, and wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Making the Australian National Team before she turned 18 was a big accomplishment because like the U.S., there wasn’t a professional league for women at the time.

So when the 1996 U.S. Olympic gold medal team convincingly demonstrated to the world that women’s basketball could succeed in a professional market, international players like Brondello were able to benefit from the exposure and eventually join the league.

“We faced Team USA in the 1996 semi-finals, and all I remember was 34,000 people screaming in the Atlanta Dome,” Brondello said. “That’s how much interest that team brought. Although we lost that game, I appreciated then and still do how much they promoted the sport and proved their dominance for women everywhere.”

Although the Aussies would again fall to the U.S. for a silver medal four years later in Sydney, Brondello felt those games to be the most special of her Olympic career.

“Sydney meant the most to me because it was in my home country. My family could be in the stands watching me play for the whole tournament,” she said. “I’ve lived away from home for so long playing in the States, and having both of my parents there was the best feeling in the world.”

After the 2004 Olympics, Brondello hung up her basketball shoes and picked up a whistle, as coaching seemed the natural path for an ex-athlete.

Brondello served as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Silver Stars from 2005-09, helping the team earn its first Western Conference title and trip to the WNBA Finals in 2008. She was promoted to head coach in 2010 and reached the Western Conference semifinals, before coming to the Sparks in 2011.

Basketball has continued to color her life, as she awaits Thursday’s game no longer an eager and competitive player, but as a wiser, more experienced coach.

“I continue to watch my team play all the time,” she said. “I love playing and coaching basketball all around the world. I couldn’t imagine my life being any other way.”

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