Elite-level basketball will return to WA next month after Basketball WA confirmed on Friday a July 24 tip-off for its West Coast Classic competition.

The West Coast Classic, a 10-week tournament that will feature only amateur domestic players, will fill the void following the cancellation of the 2020 State Basketball League season and will include all 12 women’s SBL clubs and all 14 men’s clubs.

In preparation for the tournament, the Flames women’s team returned to training on June 8 following a near three-month layoff and coach Keegan Crawford said while most of the assembled 2020 roster wanted to return to action the tournament would see a “very drop-in drop-out” team set-up, which would lead to some of the club’s younger players seeing more time on the court.

“As weird as it sounds, for us it’s very much going to be a drop-in drop-out type season. Some girls have jobs that will take them away from Perth for a little bit, others have things going on in their lives other than work, but they all still want to be involved,” he said.

Despite the expected stop-start nature of some players’ availability, Crawford insisted the team was focused on winning whenever they stepped on the court.

“Not going into a game or a competition with a competitive mindset is not what we’re about, however we’re really going to give some of the kids like Lily (Fitzgerald), Chloe (Napolitano) and Tiana (Palmer-Wilson) some opportunities to see who can perform and potentially take a bigger role on in 2021.

“That said, Chris Boag and Chelsea Petrik aren’t going to step on the court and tolerate anything that isn’t up to standard, so while it’s a really great opportunity to get minutes into girls that are going to be a big part of our club moving forward whenever we step onto the court we want to win.”

The club has also welcomed back Darcee Garbin, who returned to WA from Queensland to be with family during the Covid-19 lockdown, albeit in a non-playing capacity, however Alex Ciabattoni will not return to Rockingham in 2020.

“Darcee is joining us as an assistant coach. She’s trying to heal her body for her next national league season and hopefully in preparation for the Olympics, but she really loves the club and is close to most of the girls so she put her hand up to be an assistant coach,” Crawford said.

Three-time SBL and two-time WNBL champion Darcee Garbin will serve as an assistant coach for the Flames women when the West Coast Classic starts on July 24. Picture: Stuart Horton

“We still have Shelby Meola as an assistant but it was tough for Robin Vogel to make a commitment from Busselton so it’s great Darcee can help us out.

“Chibba (Ciabattoni) isn’t going to be involved because she went back to Adelaide and it’s a tough ask for her to come back but Chelsea Roberts is a maybe (to return). It’s a condensed league and it’s going to be different, so while we want to be competitive we’re also looking at it as an avenue for the girls who want to be able to play for their mental and their physical health to get back on the court and then build back up the chemistry and camaraderie as a group and go from there.”

The Flames men’s team is yet to reconvene but coach Ryan Petrik said they would “probably get their first training session in next week”.

SBL general manager Adam Bowler said all the clubs had embraced the West Coast Classic concept and the opportunity to get back on the court following the relaxing of the strongest Covid-19 restrictions, and the competition would allow the community to reconnect with basketball.

“Basketball WA appreciates the co-operation from our clubs to navigate the financial and logistical difficulties to support the return of basketball,” he said. ” This support has ensured our regional clubs who have competed in the SBL for over 30 years can continue to be involved.

“The West Coast Classic will offer development opportunities for our athletes, coaches and officials while supporting their mental and physical health during this uncertain time. It is important we provide our basketball community the chance to reconnect and we know basketball plays an important role in this.”

The competition will tip-off on Friday July 24, with all teams to play each another once in a home and away fixture. The top 4 teams will then compete in semi-finals and grand finals between Friday September 25 and Sunday September 27.

Information regarding fixtures and venues will be announced at a later date.