Big names, intentions show big investment in Ballarat sport | From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

UP CLOSE: One of the biggest names in Australian basketball Elizabeth Cambage, taking a shot in Rio Olympic action, will continue her comeback in the game in Ballarat. Picture: Mark Ralston via AP

UP CLOSE: One of the biggest names in Australian basketball Elizabeth Cambage, taking a shot in Rio Olympic action, will continue her comeback in the game in Ballarat. Picture: Mark Ralston via AP

THIS is an incredible show of faith in our sporting ranks: Melbourne Boomers and Bendigo Spirit bringing their headlines acts to the Minerdome for a friendly.

Liz Cambage is the biggest name in Australian women’s basketball right now, despite taking almost a year’s hiatus from from the game since the Rio Olympics.

The Boomers this week confirmed their boon recruit is expected to play a Women’s National Basketball League pre-season hit-out in Ballarat.

Indoor stadium facilities in Ballarat are no longer an adequate standard to host professional basketball. The Ballarat Sports and Events Centre secured full funding this month to make this soon possible, but the project will take time.

To still host some of the nation’s best players in a pre-season match is a massive achievement.

Spirit will bring American-Australian Kelsey Griffin, a former Connecticut Sun in the United States’ marquee women’s league, to suit up for the match.

Cambage and Griffin’s star power makes this arguably the biggest women’s basketball bout in Ballarat since the Australian Opals played a pre-Olympic qualifying friendly against Japan here in late 2015.

SHOW TIME: Liz Cambage signed her return to the club in April. She will play under former Ballarat Miners head coach Guy Molloy. Picture: The Age

SHOW TIME: Liz Cambage signed her return to the club in April. She will play under former Ballarat Miners head coach Guy Molloy. Picture: The Age

It will be a rare chance for Ballarat fans to watch Cambage in action. The 203-centimetre tall Cambage was missing from the Opals in their last visit, sitting out on a team disciplinary measure for missing camp.

The match continues what has become a tradition for the Boomers and Spirit to test pre-season form at the Minerdome. Each continue to offer active support in Basketball Ballarat programs, particularly Spirit, a club that has made its responsibility to develop the game for regional Victoria with a base in Bendigo.

And National Basketball League club Melbourne United has also shown genuine continued interest in playing friendlies on our floors.

We were so close to losing all three to setting up regional camps elsewhere due to our fading facilities.

A complete BSEC could now put us in the game for in-season WNBL matches – United’s huge crowd-pull might make NBL in-season games a bit of a stretch – and we could have the potential to host more elite friendlies.

For Melbourne Boomers and Bendigo Spirit to bring two of their top acts in the meantime, proves they are serious about investing in sport in this region.

We know this is important for strengthening talent pathways.

We know this is important for inspiring more girls and women to get active.

But this also signals respect for Ballarat sporting fans.

So often, elite sporting clubs rest marquee players or leave them at home from pre-season matches to ensure they are primed for the business season. There is method in this, we can understand why, but as fans there is still a niggling sense of disappointment.

Anything could happen between now and September 22 when the Boomers and Spirit take to our floor – there are no guarantees in sport. At least we know their intentions, and that is a pretty exciting prospect.