Chris Bunten has added a surprise name to his Newcastle Eagles roster after landing Jorjah Smith just two-and-a-half weeks before this season’s big WBBL tip-off.
On the day that the new fixture list was finally revealed, nobody expected another new face to jet into Tyneside.
But it seems Bunten has been working on a deal to bring Aussie hot shot Smith back to the UK for most of the summer.
And the former Manchester Mystic looks set to make her Eagles debut against Nottingham Wildcats in the WBBL Cup on November 7.
“I’m so excited to be back in the UK playing in the WBBL after having some time away,” said Smith.
“I’m looking forward to getting amongst my team-mates, putting in some hard work and winning games.
“It’s such a blessing to be able to still play basketball in these uncertain times.
“Sometimes we forget how great the game really is and how it can bring people together.”
Bunten has caught fellow WBBL coaches by surprise by building a roster rich in talent and far deeper than previous squads.
But Newcastle’s playcaller had been talking to Smith for several months and kept the door ajar for her Eagles move as the coronavirus pandemic continued to impact upon international travel.
“Jorjah was an early target to be honest but she had a lot going on and wasn’t sure how things would pan out,” said Bunten.
“I’d always hoped I could bring her into the mix but even last month it looked unlikely.
“She comes into an extremely competitive environment but I’m expecting her to make a big impact.”
Smith proved to be a popular figure on and off the court during her season-long stint with the Mystics.
And she added: “Coming back into the WBBL with Newcastle is an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.
“After having some time away, re-evaluating and overcoming some injuries I realised it’s where I want to be.
“The last few months have been hard work on and off court to ensure my body is ready but I know Chris has put together a strong line up.
“We’ll be a tough team to beat.”
The new WBBL fixture list served up a tough opener for new-look Newcastle with Bunten due to take his team to Nottingham on November 7.
The first of three North Group cup games precedes November’s international break.
And Newcastle are back in action on November 22 when they welcome Leicester Riders to the Eagles Community Arena.
Championship action gets underway on December 12 when Smith returns to her former club to face Manchester. Newcastle host fierce rivals Sevenoaks Suns the following day.
“Giving up an Australian summer is going to be difficult,” added Smith.
“I’ve heard it’s freezing up in the north! But there’s no place I’d rather be than playing the game I love in a place like Newcastle.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about the town and the people.”