Khao Watts’ Diamond opportunity

2015 ANZ ChampionshipRound 4Swifts v FeverFour years ago the New Zealand-based ANZ Championship side Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic surprised many when they took a punt on the unknown Khao Watts and offered her a contract.

Watts was plucked by the Magic from the South Australian State League and within 12 months became a crucial player in its historic 2012 premiership team

Watts is continuing to turn heads after this week being named in the Australian Diamonds squad, from which the Netball World Cup 2015 SYDNEY team will be chosen from at the end of the ANZ Championship season in late June.

The 26-year-old’s selection is a reward for her strong start to the 2015 ANZ Championship for West Coast Fever, who sit on top of the Australian Conference ladder heading into the second half of the season.

She is one of five Fever players named in the squad of 18, alongside Caitlin Bassett, Natalie Medhurst, April Letton and captain Ashleigh Brazill.

A sixth Fever player, Shae Brown, is one of the invitees who will join the Diamonds at a three-day training camp in Canberra from May 5-7.

Watts said her selection in the Diamonds squad was “a dream come true” and that she was stunned to get the call up.

“Every young Australian netballer has the ambition to one day make the Diamonds squad and every Australian playing in the ANZ Championship had that ambition,” Watts, who grew up in South Australian country town of Millicent, said.

“I’m just over the moon and really excited for the opportunity.”

Australian coach Lisa Alexander said ex-Diamond Peta Scholz and former Magic coach Noeline Taurua deserve some of the credit for discovering Watts and giving her an opportunity.

It was Scholz, along with Rebecca Sanders, who recommended that Taurua give Watts a trial after watching her dominate at state league level.

“She was a significant part of that Magic premiership (in 2012) and it’s a credit to her that she’s taken another step up,” Alexander said.

Watts returned to Australia and joined the Fever after two years with the Magic and said the opportunity to play every week with the world’s best shooting combination of Caitlin Bassett and Natalie Medhurst had significantly improved her game.

Brazill is back in the Diamonds squad for the first time since 2012, when a knee injury forced her out of the Constellation Cup and Quad Series.

Her next two seasons at ANZ Championship level were also impacted by ankle and wrist injuries, but Brazill is focused on what lies ahead rather than looking back.

“I think back then (2012) I was young so the injury kind of threw me down a little bit. But then coming back the next year and having another two more injuries on top of that was probably even harder to get back from,” Brazill said.

West Coast Fever v Melbourne Vixens, ANZ Netball Championships, HBF Arena Perth. 6th April 2015“But now that’s in the back of mind. I’ve totally forgotten about those injuries and, being captain this year, my focus hasn’t been Diamonds – it’s been on Fever and getting us to where we want to be.”

Brazill and Watts are among the four uncapped players named in the squad – Queensland Firebirds midcourter Gabi Simpson and Melbourne Vixens shooter Karyn Bailey are the others.

“Khao has this amazing story where she hadn’t been picked up for an ANZ Championship team and moved to New Zealand and now she’s with us and I don’t think we’re ever going to let her go,” Brazill declared.

“To be honest, I was more excited for her than I was. Just to see her face when she got told that she was in the squad was unbelievable.”

Bassett, who’s played 46 Tests for the Diamonds, said she was delighted for Brazill, Watts and Letton to be called into this year’s squad.

“Ash Brazill is so exciting,” Bassett said. “She’s so explosive. She can jump up to take balls and this season she’s been working so hard in shutting down wing attacks for us and that’s probably been the reason why we’ve been getting so many defensive turnovers.

“Khao is one of those players that I always think is the epitome of the saying that ‘hard work creates luck’. She just works so hard day in day out and any feedback you give her she takes on board and she just wants to be the best player that she can be.”

Click here to read the squad announcement.