Stepping onto a court surrounded by her idols, Canberra Capitals prospect Maddison Rocci still finds herself looking around and thinking “am I really here?”
The 19-year-old point guard has already been dubbed an Opal-in-waiting and she has well and truly found her feet at WNBL level, but that doesn’t mean the excitement has worn off.
Rocci will take the next step in her career against the Dandenong Rangers at Dandenong Stadium on Saturday night.
Rocci moved from Werribee to the AIS last year to ignite her career, and signed her name on the AIS’ wall of honour to close that chapter of her journey in August.
She has since dazzled in her rookie WNBL season, with Kyrie Irving-like handles regularly leaving defenders stranded – one second she’s in front of them, the next she is seemingly miles away.
By no means has it been seamless, but Rocci’s rookie year has been one to savour.
“I look around and I’m like ‘am I really playing?,” Rocci said.
“Obviously my dream is to play for the Opals but I’ve never really thought about it that much, being an Opal-in-waiting, but hearing that is good to hear because it means my game has developed.
“Coming into the WNBL, I was a junior and now I’m playing women’s basketball. It’s a massive jump for me so just getting used to playing older women all the time and how competitive it really is.”
Canberra’s six-year finals drought will live for another year but development has become a focus with six of Canberra’s 12 players still aged 21 or younger.
Rocci shone in her first start against Adelaide last week when she had to fill the void left by captain Nat Hurst, who had been ruled out on the morning of the game with a middle ear infection.
The teenage prodigy admits she wasn’t expecting to “play that many minutes” this season but feels like she is growing with every second she spends on the court.
A gruelling schedule has taken some getting used to – not just for youngsters like Rocci but seasoned veterans as well – however there are benefits for the Melbourne product.
She’s been able to catch up with her parents, sister and three brothers every time the Capitals play in Victoria – which has meant about six visits in five weeks.
“I’ve always enjoyed having my mum and dad both on the sidelines to watch me, and my brothers and sisters have come down to watch. Having them there supporting is always good,” Rocci said.
“Obviously beating [Dandenong] last time gives us more confidence going into the game. The way we’ve come together as a team on and off the court has been really good.
“You could see that all of the hard work we had done at training had been starting to pay off and with the way we are on the court.”
Canberra’s three-match winning run ended in a 99-66 thrashing at the hands of the Townsville Fire on Thursday, but Rocci says a loss to the rampaging Fire has done nothing to dent Canberra’s confidence.
Rocci will link up with the Sunshine Coast in the Queensland Basketball League during the off-season, but first she’s got her heart set on a dream finish to her maiden WNBL season.
WNBL ROUND 12
Saturday: Dandenong Rangers v Canberra Capitals at Dandenong Stadium, 6.30pm.