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Capitals announce new partnership with University of Canberra

Capitals coach Carrie Graf, who has been involved in the University of Canberra partnership.

Capitals coach Carrie Graf, who has been involved in the University of Canberra partnership. Photo: Colleen Petch

Canberra Capitals coach Carrie Graf believes the partnership with University of Canberra gives her a major bargaining tool to attract and retain top-line talent as the club looks to restore its reputation as a WNBL heavyweight. 

The university officially announced on Friday it has finalised its deal to take over the Capitals licence from Basketball ACT, with the team to be re-named University of Canberra Capitals. 

While the transfer has been ratified by Basketball ACT and University of Canberra's boards,  it still requires the approval of Basketball Australia and the WNBL Commission, but it is understood to be a fait accompli. 

It gives the Capitals, who have missed the finals for the past three years, a significant advantage, as it can now offer young players packages including accommodation, tuition, food and a basketball salary.

The partnership is the latest move in the university's plans to upgrade its multi-million dollar state-of-the-art sports hub at its Bruce campus.

It is hoped stage two of the 3000-seat facility will be complete in time for the Capitals to move home games there before the 2015-16 season. 

The Capitals' current base, AIS Arena, which can house about 4500 fans, would still be an option for bigger matches like finals or grand finals. 

Graf's long-held vision is for the team to eventually become fully professional, and she rates the partnership as crucial toward achieving that goal. 

"Most critically it's a chance to provide scholarships to student athletes, that's a huge step forward,'' Graf said, who has been a coach-in-residenceat the campus since last February. 

"We can't match some over clubs with monetary offers, but what we can provide is a wonderful chance to be housed and fed here, tuition and a basketball payment.

However, University of Canberra chief executive Joe Roff said it isn't in a position to provide the Capitals with more money to pay players. 

"The tertiary sector has been hit by a lot of things and we don't have money to throw at the program, it has to wash its own face,'' Roff said.  

University of Canberra has aspirations of building the campus into Australia's biggest sport university, and the Capitals deal follows the ACT Brumbies' move there last year. 

"Carrie makes no apologies for wanting to have a fully professional team,'' Roff said. 

"It's been one of her frustrations she doesn't have as much access to players as she would like. 

"Some of the packages we can put together are unique, revolving around accommodation, study and training facilities here.''

Basketball ACT will retain ownership and management of the Capitals Academy SEABL team, plus the Gunners and the Gunners Academy, as well as local representative and social teams. 

The agreement means the team's principle sponsorship arrangements are now null and void, but talks have already been held this week with major backer The Tradies, who have indicated they're keen to remain involved. 

The main priority is to lock down a competitive squad for next season, and the players have been anxious for the university deal to be finalised so they can secure their own futures. 

Adelaide recruit and Australian Opals squad member Stephanie Talbot is the only player to officially sign on the dotted line thus far. 

Opals superstar Lauren Jackson's contract is yet to be re-worked, but she has committed to return to play for Canberra for the next two seasons. 

Basketball ACT will retain ownership and management of the Capitals Academy SEABL team, plus the Gunners and the Gunners Academy, as well as local representative and social teams. 

Relinquishing the Capitals licence allows Basketball ACT boss Tony Fraser to concentrate on grass-roots basketball, including the planned $7 million upgrade of the Belconnen basketball precinct.

"The opportunity now is to really get stuck into everything involved from the grassroots level, right into the community and schools and club programs,'' Fraser said. 

"Basketball is only going to get bigger, we just need to make sure we have the facilities to cater.''

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