By Chris Wilson – on behalf of Basketball ACT

Three boys, aged 8 and under, hold the answer on whether Abbie Ketels plays on with the Canberra Nationals in the Coles Express NBL1 East next season – and Ketels’ teammates may just be winning the young boys over.

A former Australian junior representative, Ketels, 29, says she’s been thrilled to make a long-awaited return to NBL1 level this season and prove that, as a mother of three, she can still compete at an elite level.

With just four games remaining in the regular season, Ketels is now weighing up whether to play-on in 2024, but the final decision is likely to come down to her sons, Noah, 8, Ash, 5, and Lewi, 2.

“At the start of the year, I always had in the back of my mind this would be my last season,” Ketels says. “However, having got back into it, and enjoying it as much as I have, that’s going to be a very hard decision to make if I do decide to finish up. I still feel like I could play on for a few more years, but obviously I’ve got to factor in what my boys and family need right now.”

She’s averaged 6.4 points, nine rebounds and 3.3 assists in 18 games this season, but the biggest point Ketels set out to prove this year is that motherhood and sport can mix.

After being a player-coach of the Canberra Nationals Academy last year, and selected in the All Star Five, she took the next step up again this season into the NBL1.

“I’ve missed so many seasons of basketball having been off having kids, I felt I wanted to get back and see if I could still play,” Ketels says. “Stepping back into this program has been so much fun.

“Having seen other mums do it, I never thought having children would be an excuse not to play. Sport doesn’t need to stop when you have kids, and you don’t need to put off having kids if you’re trying to pursue some sort of sporting goal.

“You don’t have to pick one or the other anymore, you can do both. I hope every club across every sport has come a long way in accepting and accommodating mums returning to sport after having kids. It’s not just crucial to the mum, she’s not the only one who benefits. There’s a positive impact on everyone involved, from the club, to the kids, to the organisation.”

Ketels admits she did have doubts before returning to the Nationals in NBL1 this year. Would she still be good enough? Would her younger teammates accept her family commitments? Would she be able to find the time to do her sport justice?

Ketels also works in the public service four days a week, and she says she’s so thankful to her Nationals teammates for supporting her basketball return.

“It was a big factor when coming back, being part of an environment where they understood and were accepting that I do have kids that need me, and there may be a few disruptions. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without [my teammates]. Everyone’s willing to put their hands up and help out.

“The boys have had to come along and sit on the sidelines, especially in the pre-season, and the girls fully embrace them. They genuinely love being around the team.

“Ash loves Tonsky [Lizzy Tonks], she’s definitely a fan favourite. But all the girls, when they see the boys after training, they’re always willing to talk and play with them. Seeing that makes it so much easier, knowing they’re not only embracing the kids being there, they’re genuinely excited to see them and want to interact with them. The boys love it and I’m very fortunate to be playing in a group that’s so accepting of them.

“I definitely had doubts [returning], I’m competing against athletes who, for some of them, this is their career. They’re dedicating a lot of time every day to their performance and fitness and I just don’t have the same hours.

“That weighed on my mind a lot, and it still does. But at the end of the day, I just had to make the best of whatever I could do. It made a huge difference when I accepted that … there’s other ways I can have an impact on court, and a lot of that comes from experience. So that’s where I’m trying to put my focus now.”

Ketels says the family vote on whether she plays on in 2024 is still hanging in the balance. 

“If Ash gets his way, I’ll keep playing, he absolutely loves it. But my eldest one, Noah, says he misses me when I’m away.

“I’d love to keep playing, but it’s not just about me, it needs to be what’s best for everyone.”

The Canberra Nationals take on Hills Hornets at Belconnen Basketball Stadium this Saturday – 8 July for the annual Coles Express NBL1 East First Nations Round. Featuring a Welcome to Country and Indigenous dance performances, the Canberra Nationals tip-off at 5pm, with the Canberra Gunners at 3pm and the Canberra Gunners Academy at 1pm. Tix available at the door.

(Game Photos – courtesy of Discovery One Photography)