Grieving Graf still focused
Canberra Capitals coach Carrie Graf has a chat with Jessica Bibby. Photo: Colleen Petch
The pain is still fresh from losing her father, but Carrie Graf is as determined as ever to do what she does best - win WNBL championships.
Graf returned to Canberra Capitals training on Thursday for the first time since the death of her father, Richard, who lost his battle with cancer two weeks ago.
The coach had a simple message for her players before the start of a morning training session: ''Go home and make sure you tell your family you love them.''
Graf has been the rock in the Capitals family for almost a decade, leading the club to multiple championships and guiding it through tough times of injuries and off-court tragedies.
But after her father's 26-year battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, it was Graf who needed the support of the Capitals.
It was star recruit Lauren Jackson who sent Graf a message to tell her to forget about the Capitals and her WNBL goals and instead focus on her family.
Luckily for Graf, she listened and just a few days later she was by her father's side when he died.
''If [Jackson] hadn't have sent that message, I might not have been there on time,'' Graf said.
''I'm fortunate that I work in a job I'm passionate about. I said to the team at the start of practice to go home and make sure you tell your family you love them.
''You don't know what's going to happen. What I've just gone through isn't different to anything anyone else goes through in life.
''You have bumps, people die and tough times happen … this group of Capitals understands these life lessons and when we're touched by it, it's a reminder of what we do and why we do it.''
Graf missed three games while in Melbourne to be with her family - the first time in a decade with the Capitals that she has missed any.
The Capitals rallied to topple the ladder-leading Bendigo Spirit the day after Graf's father died and dedicated the win to their coach.
Her mother watched the live statistics, but Graf opted against checking scores and put family first.
Graf's leadership has been the cornerstone of Canberra's success, guiding the club to its first title in 1999-2000, recruiting the world's best player Jackson and winning six championships.
So when Graf needed some support, the players stepped up.
Captain Jess Bibby's brother died during the 2009-10 WNBL finals series.
Graf was a pillar of strength for Bibby then, now the roles have been reversed.
''Everybody realises it's a tough time and all you can do is keep getting through each day,'' Bibby said.
''Everyone will be here for Graffy whenever she needs it. We didn't want her to come back and have us lose three games.
''It's an unfortunate thing, but you have to get up each day and this [basketball] is something we all love to do.''
The Capitals have a bye this weekend before returning to the court to play Logan Thunder at the AIS Arena on November 30.
Graf has returned to Melbourne to spend the rest of the bye week with her family while the players are given a break from training.
''Something positive out of this is it's a good reminder of what life means to you - what's important,'' Graf said.
''I love basketball and I love my family, and having a balance is really important.''