"Not on YouTube anymore": Jade Melbourne on the WNBA, WNBL, and Opals ambitions

There were no ruby slippers or Toto in sight, but Jade Melbourne had her very own Wizard of Oz moment when she realised she wasn't in Canberra anymore.

Hailing from Traralgon in country Victoria via the Centre of Excellence and the WNBL's UC Capitals, the basketball young gun was adjusting to life on the other side of the planet in the league she dreamt of making, the WNBA.

Now and then, in fleeting moments, reality set in. It was bright, vibrant and like something out of a movie.

"I remember my first game it was a practice match and there was a huge crowd, the biggest I've ever played in front of. I get subbed in for the second quarter and I was like 'how sick are these seats?! Oh I'm not just sitting courtside at the WNBA,' and then next minute you're guarding Diana Taurasi," Melbourne told ESPN.

"It was one possession where she came down and I was like 'Oh my god.' Sometimes when you're on the court with players you've watched and idolised, there's legends of the game out there and it's a little pinch me moment, something I'll never forget.

"I've spent a lot of time over the last 18 months trying to work on my passing so watching Courtney Vandersloot is something I've done a lot of so then being able to line up on her in my third WNBA game was like 'Oh you're not on YouTube anymore, I'm guarding you'."

And then there was the grocery store.

"All I wanted sometimes was a box of Shapes or a packet of Red Rock Deli Honey Soy Chips or a packet of Tim Tams. That was probably the weirdest thing for me. I'm a very big homebody and I love Australia and everything about it so going to a grocery store and not being able to see my usual snacks probably made me the most homesick," Melbourne laughed.

Having bypassed the college system, Melbourne, at 21, was the youngest player in the WNBA this year.

After being selected with pick 33 in the 2022 draft, she headed to Seattle Storm, like many Australians have done before her, with three WNBL seasons playing against older, seasoned bodies and experience representing Australia at senior level under her belt.

And like the diligent, enthusiastic student of the game she is, Melbourne soaked up every learning.

"My rookie WNBA season was awesome, a lot of learnings and take aways and the whole season just flew by so quickly," Melbourne said.

"It was a really great experience and I think it's just going to do me a world of good for my basketball career going forward. I enjoyed all the on-court moments, playing at the highest level and being challenged constantly at practice and in games. I'm super grateful for the opportunity and to be part of such a special franchise in Seattle and on the pathway quite a few Australians have gone through. To be member of the WNBA was really special.

"Nothing prepares you for a WNBA season until you actually do it yourself. Being in that environment and trying to absorb everything like a sponge was the most important thing for me. I went into the season super open-minded and just making sure I was there to learn and enjoy the experience.

"Obviously, I couldn't translate a lot of what I was learning immediately into my game, but I think it gave me a lot of confidence coming into Caps preseason and hopefully now translating some of that learning into WNBL."

Melbourne's Caps won just two games last WNBL season but her decision to ink a new two-year contract repaid the faith the club showed in the young guard as a teen in 2020.

Now co-captain, she hopes her teammates and team will be the beneficiaries of her natural improvement and WNBA taste.

Canberra will look to register its first win of the season on Wednesday night against Sydney Flames in ESPN's game of the week.

"I think the evolution of my game will probably go to another level. There's a lot of things I was doing in the WNBL I probably wouldn't get away with in the WNBA because of the pace and physicality of the game. Now, it's making sure I hold myself to that standard and continue to bring that energy and what I've learned into the WNBL and to help my Canberra teammates," Melbourne said.

"I think I'm a more confident player. I play with a lot of confidence already but just continuing to be that confident person my teammates can constantly trust and refer to. It's something I have a lot of pride in being that leader for my group and making sure I can instil confidence in them."

Long touted as a future Opal, Melbourne is in contention for the Australian team that will travel to Brazil in February for the Olympic Qualifiers, when a ticket to Paris 2024 will be on the line.

"Playing for Australia is the pinnacle for me, representing the green and gold, there is no higher honour. What the Opals program is about is everything I stand for," Melbourne told ESPN.

"I'm just going to continue to be myself, help my teammates, continue to just try and be the best player I can be and do everything I can to put myself in the best position to be up for selection.

"It would be a very exciting opportunity to be part of but I don't want to force anything, I'm not going to try and be anyone I'm not and whatever happens happens, but they are two events I'd love to be a part of and put my name up for."

If her meteoric rise continues, Canberra, Brazil, Seattle and Paris might be over the rainbow for Melbourne in 2024.