Capital focus: Canberra coach Carrie Graf. Photo: Colleen Petch
Canberra Capitals coach Carrie Graf says the fire in her belly is back after revealing her father’s death and a taxing Australian Opals Olympic campaign left her ‘‘burned out and emotionally drained’’.
And while a harrowing 2012 took its toll, she has rediscovered her passion as Canberra looks to return to the WNBL playoffs for the first time in three years.
Graf stepped down from the Opals post after guiding them to a bronze medal in London, and her father Richard lost a long battle with cancer in November.
She conceded it had a major impact on Canberra’s campaign, the seven-time champions missing the finals for the second straight year.
But Graf is now refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to devote her full focus to a new-look Capitals.
‘‘I was burned out and emotionally drained but I think I’ve got the passion and enthusiasm back, they’re two critical ingredients,’’ Graf said.
‘‘Losing your dad’s not an easy thing, I was away from the team for a few weeks and it would be silly to say it wasn’t a huge emotional hit for me.
‘‘Those things absolutely impact your work life and the way your operate.
‘‘I think it hit the team emotionally too, it makes them think about family and loss.
‘‘They’re great lessons, they’re lessons in life that sometimes things are really hard and it impacts the way you way you perform in whatever you do.
‘‘Coming off the back of the Olympics was tough too, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t and it certainly affected our program.’’
After two seasons in the finals wilderness, the Capitals begin their campaign with pre-season matches against last year’s grand finalists Dandenong and Bendigo at Dandenong this weekend.
It’s an ideal chance for returning Opals stars Natalie Hurst and Abby Bishop to build combinations with a squad which has undergone a radical overhaul.
Canberra’s past two seasons have been crippled by slow starts, but Graf can sense a confident aura already building.
‘‘There’s chemistry amongst this group of players we have seen here in a while,’’ Graf said.
‘‘There’s a vibe about this team we’ve had at varous times in the past, and I think that’s exciting.
‘‘Until you put people together you don’t know how it’s going to work, it’s how they complement each other in terms of personality and as basketball players.’’
A former championship winner with Canberra, Bishop said it was tough watching the side’s recent struggles after stints with Adelaide and in France.
‘‘Watching from afar from France, the Caps is where the heart is and it was disappointing, even though I wasn’t playing, to see them not doing so well,’’ she said.
‘‘I’m really looking forward to helping get them back to where they were back in the day.’’
The pre-season tournament is an opportunity for point guard Hurst to build on her back court combination with Nicole Hunt.
Hunt has been Canberra’s starting point guard the past few seasons, but the pair are expected to alternate between point guard and shooting guard.
‘‘It’s good when you can get off the ball a little bit and reel off a few shots,’’ Hurst said.
‘‘We’ll be quick in the back court, playing two point guards can have its weaknesses but I think it’s going to be a strength for us.’’
Friday: Canberra Capitals v Dandenong Rangers (8pm)
Saturday: Canberra Capitals v Bendigo Spirit (7pm)