A legend of the WBBL after a very successful stint with the Nottingham Wildcats previously, eyebrows were certainly raised when Ashley Arlen returned to the league with her former team’s fierce rivals, the Leicester Riders, this past summer.
“It was definitely a fun decision for me to make to come back to the WBBL, and to come to Leicester of all teams – given their rivalry with Nottingham – was really interesting and exciting for me.”
The former WBBL Cup Final MVP hasn’t missed a beat on her return, averaging 15 points and nine rebounds a game in a league that has seen its level of talent continue to flourish in her absence.
Now a veteran on a young roster with a lot of experience, 31-year-old Arlen is a great mentor and leader for a squad the vast majority of whom are aged 25 or under.
“We do have a young roster, but there is great balance here with a lot of experience in the group. Fiona (O’Dwyer) and I go back years, playing against each other in the Cup Final years ago when she was with Northumbria and I was with Nottingham, so I’ve enjoyed being with her.
“We’ve got young players here who have had experience at a really high level, and I think being a leader is a responsibility for all of us as we go through our careers to give back and share knowledge, so I’ve enjoyed that and hopefully I’ve helped the younger players in some way.”
Arlen has played in many WBBL finals in her time, winning the Cup with Nottingham – and Finals MVP to boot – in the 2017/18 season, but what is most exciting to the WBBL veteran is the prospect of this being the first final since Arlen became a mother four years ago.
“It’ll be really exciting for my daughter to see the atmosphere in Birmingham and she’s going to love the energy of it all. She’s been around basketball all her life so I’m sure she’ll enjoy this.
“London are going to be a real challenge, but if we were able to lift that Cup with my daughter there it would be so special. The Lions have so much depth, so it is going to be a tough task, but it will be a great match-up.
“Being a mum hasn’t changed my perspective on the game too much, to be honest. It has probably made me a bit more patient or changed the way I react to certain things, but otherwise I’m still the same player.”