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Canberra Capitals guard Abigail Wehrung uses lucky No.13 to honour her dad

To some it's the unlucky number, but to Abigail Wehrung 13 is her inspiration.

The number on her Canberra Capitals singlet is a reminder of the reason why she started playing basketball and the man she wishes was still alive to watch her live her dream.

"I remember the day dad died. I was nine years old and I don't think we knew how to deal with it, but me and my brothers went out the back and played basketball," an emotional Wehrung said.

"Now before every game, he pops into my mind. I still feel like he's always there and that's nice. He played basketball and I think he'd just be smiling if he could see me play now."

The Capitals guard opened up about her father Duane's death 12 years ago on the eve of her team's fight to stay in the WNBL finals race.

Wehrung, 21, has come of age this season as a key cog in the Capitals' hopes of making the finals for the first time since 2011.

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Wehrung arrived at the Capitals three years ago as a talented teenager and was tipped to be a future star.

But only a few know of her private journey of heartache, motivation and how her father's death taught her resilience.

Duane Wehrung was in the US Navy and served as a Russian linguist in the Cold War before moving to Australia to start a family in country Victoria.

Abigail Wehrung grew up knowing her dad loved basketball after he played while at college in the US, but he died before he got a chance to watch his daughter play.

Duane had cancer on his tonsils and despite having them removed and being cleared by doctors, the cancer returned and spread through his body.

Wehrung was nine at the time of his death and didn't quite grasp the enormity of his passing until she moved away from the family hobby farm to start a basketball scholarship at the AIS.

"I have a locket that I wear everyday to remind me of dad and then in basketball, when I can't wear my necklace, I wear his number," Wehrung said.

"It's funny because I was such a nervous little kid and I never actually played basketball when he was alive. I was too scared of people watching me on the court.

"When he passed away, I thought maybe I should do it. Then I started and fell in love with it. It's kind of like I was meant to play.

"It does hurt a little bit that he never actually got to see me play. Mum and dad used to always tell us how much they loved us and each other, whether it was saying goodnight or just on the phone.

"That has stuck with me my whole life and especially after losing dad. So one lesson I've taken out of this is just to never take anything for granted and make sure people know how much I love them."

Wehrung is enjoying a career-best season on the court, averaging more points, minutes and rebounds per game than she has since she emerged as an 18-year-old.

The Capitals recruited Wehrung on a three-year contract and put faith in her development despite most players in the league being offered one-year deals.

Her on-court challenge is to help the Capitals rise into the play-offs for the first time in six years and they need to win their remaining three games of the regular season to clinch a finals spot.

The Capitals play the Bendigo Spirit at Tuggeranong in a must-win match that has been rescheduled for 12pm on Sunday because of Canberra's expected extreme heat.

"Abbey's come along leaps and bounds this year," said Capitals coach Paul Goriss.

"I'm so happy for her. She's always been touted as a future star since her junior days, now time and experience is playing a part.

"It's an opportunity to step up and show what she's got. Realistically she's the most improved player in the league this year. She's got that belief in herself."

Wehrung desperately wants to play WNBL finals for the first time in her career, but she says losing her father has given her perspective.

"It does give you lessons. When people say you're stronger than you know, it's true," Wehrung said.

"My mum [Kerryn] is an absolute trooper. She raised me and my two brothers and looked after the 20 acres we've got as well as working and driving us around for basketball.

"You go through these things in life but they make you so much stronger. It's only been the last few years I've realised that."

WNBL ROUND 18

Sunday: Canberra Capitals v Bendigo Spirit at Tuggeranong Stadium, 12pm. Tickets available at the door.