Alex Bunton in her Capitals debut. Photo: Colleen Petch
IN AGONY, her knee in tatters, a 14-year-old Alex Bunton wrote to Canberra coach Carrie Graf saying she wanted to play for the Capitals.
Last week, the words Bunton penned from a hospital bed five years ago came to life when the 19-year-old made her Capitals debut. Bunton has had surgery on her right knee twice and missed the start of this Women's National Basketball League season after dislocating her left kneecap on tour with the AIS in Japan.
The centre recently rediscovered the email she wrote to Graf all those years ago.
''I'm an emotional person so when I saw it I teared up,'' Bunton said. ''I just looked at it and it was satisfaction - look at me back then and look at me now.
''I'd just come out of surgery and was in pain, but I wouldn't give up. A lot of veterans have gone through it, but because I was so young I didn't know what to do.''
Bunton said she was shocked when Graf brought up the letter over pre-season, describing it as an unforgettable moment.
''Personally I almost forgot about that letter, but when she reminded me about it, it was touching for her to remember not only the basketball experiences I was going through, but also the personal and emotional experiences I was having,'' Bunton said.
''The mental side at 14 was quite hard because none of my friends were going through it, and I wasn't surrounded by athletes who could tell me it's going to be OK.
''Now I've ticked the Capitals goal off. It's hard to believe, at times, making it in such a short period of time with the injuries I've been through.''
Bunton said doubts began to creep in before her professional career even began.
''The surgeon said to me, 'you can keep going, but you just have to look after it and do rehab for the rest of your life','' Bunton said.
''There was a small negative where it might not hold up because my knee was pretty bad, but I worked really hard and wanted to prove them wrong.''
Three years ago, she wrecked the same knee playing in the Pacific schools competition.
''Every time I had an injury, I actually took it as an opportunity to develop something else [of my body],'' Bunton said.
''I'm so much bigger now and more confident in myself, because I know I can handle adversity much better than I could before.''
Suiting up for the Capitals is surreal enough for Bunton, let alone playing in the position alongside Lauren Jackson.
Jackson is battling her own injury dramas, and is yet to play for the Capitals this season. But Jackson has inadvertently played her part in helping Bunton overcome her injury woes.
''I saw her come in and out of the AIS with niggling injuries over the years, and to see her being supported like that, knowing I was in the same environment … it felt OK to just go that step further every day,'' Bunton said.
''Sometimes you see people there [at rehab] and their career's over, and I was thinking 'I can't let that be me'. Knowing I still had a chance [to keep playing], that pushed me. I didn't want to go down without trying everything.''
Graf takes great pride in nurturing local talent.
''Bunton's another story like that, she grew up in Canberra wanting to play for the Capitals,'' Graf said.
''I think it highlights what we represent for athletes who play basketball. They aspire to play for us and that's a great thing.''