Jade Melbourne, the Mystics’ precocious guard, arrives just in time (2024)

MINNEAPOLIS — Brett Melbourne had spent all night putting together a surprise for his three daughters. His oldest, Jade, was 5, and he was banking on her loving the new trampoline for Christmas. Then grandma blew up his plans with her own surprise — a new basketball hoop.

Dad was so annoyed because … I had no interest in [the trampoline],” the Washington Mystics second-year guard said through a grin. “I just went and started shooting hoops. And then that was all I was doing after school. I’d dump my school bag inside, and I’d go and shoot hoops. The rest is history.”

So “Nan” should get a great deal of credit for this week’s news that Melbourne, the youngest player in the WNBA at 21, will represent Australia in Paris for her first Olympic experience. On Saturday night, in her first game since she got the call, she scored four points in the Mystics’ 74-67 loss to the Minnesota Lynx.

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The Paris call came Friday morning when Melbourne was still in bed. The name Sandy Brondello — coach of the New York Liberty and Australian national team — popped up on her phone. It was the call Melbourne had been waiting for since grade school.

“Representing my country is like the pinnacle for me,” Melbourne said. “So it’s a dream come true. When it actually officially gets confirmed, it’s just a whole ’nother feeling. I was just so happy. I FaceTimed my mom and dad — it was 2 in the morning.

“Probably my first major basketball goal. To come to reality and I’ll be heading to Paris in three weeks is pretty cool.”

It has been a busy year for Melbourne. She was traded from the Seattle Storm to the Mystics just days before the end of training camp after the Storm took another guard, Connecticut’s Nika Muhl, in the draft. General Manager Mike Thibault credited assistant GM Maria Giovannetti for staying persistent in talks with Seattle.

Melbourne had gone in for a morning workout on an off day when she was called in to see Storm GM Talisa Rhea, and she knew something was up. By noon, the Mystics had sent a plane ticket.

“I only brought two suitcases with me coming from Australia, so it was actually an easy pack up,” Melbourne said. “It was really cool. Definitely overwhelming. The whole trade thing just happened so quickly, and walking to a different locker room than you were in the day before is so strange.

“But honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I think it’s been the best thing for me.”

The second-year guard has since worked her way into the Mystics’ rotation, averaging 6.1 points while shooting 46 percent from the field entering Saturday and bringing consistent energy off the bench with her quickness and willingness to attack the rim. That style of play has been necessary with the injury to Brittney Sykes (foot sprain), who has played only three games.

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Melbourne is also still on her rookie deal and under contract through 2026, which includes a team option for that final season.

“A chance to get a young player that has a huge upside was just really enticing to everybody,” Thibault said. “Third-round picks don’t make your team very often. For us, it was like we’ve got to take a chance on her. … With all of our injuries, it’s even worked out better for her to get more opportunities.

“She loves being in the gym. And it rubs off on people, too. You can’t have very much of a sad day around her.”

Point guard Julie Vanloo, the oldest rookie in the league at 31, has become close friends with Melbourne and calls her wise beyond her years. There’s a positivity that the two share that made their connection natural despite the age difference.

Vanloo said there’s a “fearlessness” to Melbourne’s game, and the two have been able to help each other grow from their own strengths, adding that “she definitely is a basketball nerd. She has that much passion about the game.”

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They also have a shared love for Chipotle.

“We’re not bougie girls,” Vanloo said with a laugh. “We’re not trying to spend a lot of money on expensive dinners. We’re very basic people.”

Melbourne added, “Cheap meals, save our per diem.”

Against the Lynx (15-6), the Mystics (5-17) rallied from down 14 points in the second half Saturday after a horrific start to the first quarter but went cold offensively in the fourth quarter of the loss. They shot 4 for 18 from the field in the final period after shooting 50 percent in the first three quarters.

Ariel Atkins and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough scored 15 apiece for the Mystics. Myisha Hines-Allen posted 11 points, a season-high 11 rebounds and six assists.

Sykes, whose foot injury kept her out again Saturday, played with Melbourne on the Canberra Capitals in Australia. She remembers being struck when, at just 19, Melbourne hit her with a crossover dribble during their workout that stopped the all-WNBA defender in her tracks.

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Damn, who is this kid?” Sykes said of her initial reaction.That was the first time I probably saw a young player at that age where I’m like, ‘All right, they can go to the league right now.’ …

“Now, it’s so much growth. She’s slowed down maybe like [a bit]. She’s still fast as s---. She still gets to the basket. She shoots. But also you can see that she’s growing into a leadership role.”

Melbourne embraces her basketball nerdiness. She watches as many WNBA games as possible and is constantly looking up highlights online. When back in Australia, she regularly watches WNBL and European games. Melbourne is enamored by the overall fundamentals and basketball IQ displayed in those European leagues, and she pores over as much film as possible.

The parents that bought the trampoline didn’t play, so there’s no family connection to the sport. Grandma, however, set Melbourne up for life.

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“I honestly just love the game,” Melbourne said. “I feel like I’ve never worked a day in my life because the same love I had for the game when I first started is the same love I have for it right now. … I just love consuming basketball. It’s a never-ending problem, basketball. You’re never going to play a perfect game. No one’s ever going to shoot 100 percent from the field. So it’s just trying to figure out ways to get as close to that as possible.”

Jade Melbourne, the Mystics’ precocious guard, arrives just in time (2024)
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