Ballarat started to feel like home again the moment Nya Mason looked out her car window at the Minerdome.
This time, her arrival timing offers the American the luxury of some pre-season training time with Ballarat Rush before team launches its South East Australian Basketball League campaign.
It is a stark contrast to her arrival in mid-April last year when Mason was thrown into the Rush line-up for a hectic, match-packed two-week period before she could even spend time learning the Rush offensive plays.
There had been some furious bidding from rival clubs to lure Mason away after she built strong form leading into finals last season, her second year in SEABL (Mason’s debut season was with Albury-Wodonga).
Speaking to Mason yesterday, less than half-an-hour after she arrived from the airport, she was rapt to be back in Ballarat.
“It’s starting to feel like home again. I’m really happy to be here,” Mason said.
“There’s a familiarity I have with Ballarat. We did have such a good run last year and I was well taken care of.
“Australia’s got a great culture and everyone’s really supportive.
Mason and returning captain Kristy Rinaldi will lead a new-look, young Rush outfit this season with Emerging Australian Opals player Steph Cumming, who will join the club from Townsville after this week’s Women’s National Basketball League final.
Rush coach Peter Cunningham said it was fantastic to have Mason back, knowing exactly what she would offer the club.
“We know she fits in, is a well-liked player and great community ambassador,” Cunningham said.
“Combining her with Steph Cumming is a real bonus for us - Steph’s the same sort of player in how she goes about her business.”
Cunningham was impressed with how Mason had fit in amid a turbulent season start last year for Rush, just after a coaching change.
He quipped he was concerned to hear she had been doing some coaching while back in the States because he was not ready to hand over his whiteboard in the huddle just yet.
Mason has been staying sharp in the off-season, playing basketball in the north-west of the US with her hometown team Portland Energy.
She would put that to the test alongside her new, young teammates at training, fighting off jet lag, last night.
“I’m sure they’ve improved a lot since I’ve been away,” Mason said.
“I’m looking forward to it.”
Rush will host Albury-Wodonga for practice matches on Saturday and Sunday in a week’s time to fine-tune its campaign for a season opener in Brisbane on March 29.
The first Rush and Miners home games will be against Nunawading on April 5.