Opals star Sami Whitcomb eyes Olympic debut as she enters new chapter of life and career

Sami Whitcomb is embarking on a new chapter of her life and career.

For the first time in her WNBL career she isn't playing in Perth, after joining reigning champs Townsville in the off-season, at 35 she is embarking on her first quest for Olympic selection, and in the coming weeks will become a mother of two when partner Kate gives birth to their second son.

"Life is good, it really is, I pinch myself all the time," Whitcomb told ESPN ahead of Wednesday's game of the round against Adelaide.

"As much as I can, as hard as it is to not look ahead and not imagine going to the Olympics or what the next 12 months holds, I'm really trying to be where my feet are and as present as I can with this group in Townsville and give everything to do that and hope it will really set me up for the coming months.

"Life is very, very fulfilling and I'm very, very lucky."

It's been a scenic journey to this destination for Whitcomb who was born in California and after her European team went bust in 2013 came to Western Australia to play State League for the Rockingham Flames.

She failed to make the WNBL roster for the struggling West Coast Waves but earned a spot when the licence was taken over by NBL sibling Perth Wildcats in 2015-16. Her meteoric rise attracted attention from the WNBA.

"It was just such a fork in the road moment of my life. It's so funny because at the time it was such a big disappointment which led me to Australia to play in the first place, it wasn't on the cards or part of the plan which so much of my story hasn't been," Whitcomb said.

"We have so many moments in our lives which are like that and those really special ones where you had no idea they were going to change your life. I had to get lucky finding opportunities, I had to work really hard and still wait a number of years for WNBL to come up, but it was a really defining moment for me because I fell in love with the country, I fell in love with a person and I fell in love with the basketball here too and all of that was really unexpected for me.

"There are sliding doors moments but you've still got to step through and go on the path but I do feel like I was always supposed to come here, supposed to be here."

Midway through her second WNBL season, Whitcomb was returning to Perth from a game in Adelaide when her agent rang. Seattle Storm was offering a training contract.

"WNBA was always still such a goal of mine, but it really wasn't on my radar at that point because I had no communication with WNBA teams, I'd figured I'd have to use the WNBL for a couple more seasons to really get noticed, attention or an opportunity and that was another 'I can't believe it, yay' moment," she said.

Whitcomb debuted in the WNBA at age 29 and would win championships in 2018 and 2020.


It's happening so much more now because of players like Emma Cannon, Rebekah Gardner and maybe me a little bit too. There are more players who have become WNBA rookies later in their career.

"You can't underestimate the value of playing overseas for that long, that experience I think is invaluable and so many more players will get those opportunities if they're willing to go, it's not even the hard yards overseas - you get to play for a living and experience the world, it's such a special experience. I know people just want to play in the WNBA but it's a really great pathway to get to the league, there are more pathways than ever before."

Whitcomb's pathway to representing Australia was also unconventional.

Under FIBA rules, one naturalised player can be selected for a national team so the guard was behind two-time Olympian and dual citizen Leilani Mitchell, capitalising on opportunities when Mitchell was injured or unavailable.

Since becoming an Australian citizen in 2018, Whitcomb has won medals with the Opals at two World Cups (2018 silver, 2022 bronze) and is striving for selection for next year's Paris Olympics.

"I would love to compete at an Olympics for Australia.," Whitcomb says.

"It's been a long-time goal and it's crazy it's something that's feasible for me. It's an incredibly motivating factor and I make no qualms about that, it's the last big thing I feel like I'm chasing.

"I've come to Townsville to win here for sure, I've come to Townsville to be great here but a big part of picking where to play this season was what's going to hopefully set me up to be playing really well come selection time.

"It's my main focus right now, with a lot of other goals along the way, but it's a big one and not everyone gets an opportunity to compete to try to do it, so I feel very fortunate I'm in the position that I'm in."

This year has been about new challenges and environments. After a stint with New York, Whitcomb returned to Seattle and after playing all of her six WNBL seasons with Perth crossed to Townsville.

Playing for reigning coach of the year Shannon Seebohm and playing off the ball were enticing as was the prospect of a maiden WNBL title, one of the few achievements which has eluded Whitcomb.

"I know I'm at the end of my career. I'm not even sad about that I think I'm so lucky I've had the career I've had and played for as long as I have. I want to be really honest with myself about it because I want to give everything I have in my final years and get everything I can out of them too," she said.

"For me the biggest part of that was going somewhere and being a little bit uncomfortable, somewhere I was coached differently and in a different system, I was really ready for that.

"Our family is in a different space so I was able to do it. All of the other years were really hard coming back from WNBA because we are in a city over there where we don't have a lot of support so to then not be in Perth where we've got family, support and that's home, it felt really selfish because I was pulling Kate and (three-year-old son) Nash away all the other times.

"I'm sure lots of people will probably look at me being here and I know people love to look at stats and probably think it hasn't been what I wanted it to be but it's really been everything I wanted it to be and more so far, I'm really happy."