In the space of just 23 games, Shakera Reilly has risen to become one of the most loved and pivotal parts of the OneFortyOne Mount Gambier Pioneers women’s team.
Having shown impressive attributes in her debut season last year, Reilly remained a Pioneer in 2022 and was swiftly named as vice-captain alongside on-court leader Jasmin Howe.
Under the pair’s leadership the team has risen to be the best in the league at present and Reilly said she has thrived since being given the extra burden.
“I love that (head coach) Matt Sutton thought I would suit that position and I like the extra responsibility, so that was awesome” she said.
“But we as a group are all capable enough because we are all great people, which means Jasmin and myself do not really have to step in for anything specific, so they make the role easy.”
The Pioneers would not be sitting with such a strong 9-1 record if it was not for Reilly’s composure as she delivered the magic moment of the 2022 NBL1 South season so far.
A huge crowd had gathered at the Icehouse as Geelong came to town in a top of the table clash and the battle lived up to expectations.
The two NBL1 South heavyweights slugged it out across four quarters and the scoreboard read 72-72 at full time.
Even as the clock ticked down to the dying seconds of extra time, another tie appeared a certainty until the Pioneers made a last-ditch play and Sherrie Calleia found an open Reilly in the corner and the rest is history.
She sunk the clutch three-point buzzer beater to give Mount Gambier an unforgettable win, but for Reilly herself it was a memorable game for even more reasons.
“I do (still get chills thinking about it) but it is more about the timing of it too,” she said.
“I had just lost my grandfather literally a few days before that game, so knowing all that had just happened made the moment even more surreal.
“Even the next day it was all still very blurry and I was like ‘did that happen’.
“The whole play happened so quickly because Sherrie got an open look for a layup, but she did well to find me in the corner.
“I did not even think twice and just shot it, but everything went in slow motion and it seemed to take forever to get to the ring.
“When it did I had no idea what to do and was in shock because it was my first one.”
Reilly herself was surprised to shoot the buzzer beater being a lifelong defender, but it was proof of her improvement offensively.
She has always believed defence is the “strong-point” of her game and is the backbone behind the Pioneers being one of the hardest teams to score against.
However, Reilly has also made giant leaps at the other end of the court with her field goal, free throw and points percentages all up on last year.
Her life as a baller started in Maitland when the then dancer followed a friend to a basketball camp and has been hooked ever since.
Reilly became a regular face in the basketball community and played in the town’s under-age representative teams all the way through until Under 18’s when she moved to the central coast.
Shortly after returning to Maitland, a golden opportunity to become part of the Canberra Capitals’ successful WNBL team arose as a development player.
Reilly jumped at the opportunity and achieved a childhood dream.
“I always played basketball because I loved it, but when I started taking it more seriously it was around Under 14’s when I had an amazing coach in Natalie Porter, who played for Australia,” she said.
“She made me really want to go further and mum and dad drove me to the trial for the position at Canberra and two weeks later I moved there.
“It all happened pretty quickly and it was very professional working with big names like Kelsey Griffin and Kia Nurse was unreal.
“I remember watching WNBL championships on television with my dad ages ago and I would be in tears full of excitement thinking how good that would be.
“I got to experience that myself and was just in shock screaming.”
However, Reilly’s fledging basketball career was stopped in its tracks by COVID-19 and she was forced to return home.
But she believes the long period working on her fitness at home paved the way for the opportunity to join the Pioneers.
“In lockdown I pretty much had the whole year off working hard and getting super fit,” she said.
“As crappy as COVID was, it was kind of nice to be with family and do different things after living and breathing basketball for so long.
“Then I played a tournament in Sydney and a week later Matt offered me to come down to Mount Gambier after watching some games.
“From day one, Matt and the whole Pioneers club have been awesome and understanding.”
Reilly then did her thing as a Pioneer during the COVID-19 impacted 2021 NBL1 South season before moving up to Adelaide where she was unexpectedly offered a training spot with South Australian WNBL outfit the Lightning.
She admitted she had to be “very resilient”, training hard at every session knowing a game was not coming her way, but it put her in a good position to take the 2022 NBL1 South season by storm.
Looking ahead, Reilly still holds ambitions on becoming a full time WNBL player, but in the shorter term is committed to bringing more success to Mount Gambier.
“I am just going to keep working everyday until the opportunity comes up,” she said.
“Having a taste of it with Canberra and the Lighting makes me want to keep wanting it more.
“I think the way Canberra was as a championship team reminds me of what our Pioneers team is here currently.
“We are all best mates on and off the court with a team first culture and we have just got to keep chipping away.”