Georgia Pineau couldn’t keep a straight face.
With the lights shining down and camera pointed at her, Pineau kept laughing mid-shot, unable to pose seriously for the photographer. It was a strange situation for Pineau, having someone with a large camera tell her to look one way while holding the ball up or pretending to shoot. She’s certainly done many different things with the ball in her hands as a player, but never used one as a prop. In the end, the photographer only captured about three good shots.
“Basketball has never been the type of thing where you go stand in the spotlight,” Pineau said. “Basketball has always just been the sport.”
All of this new attention is just one of the many new experiences and challenges facing Pineau and Taylor Ortlepp, Boston College women’s basketball’s pair of Australian freshmen, since they move some 10,000 miles to join head coach Erik Johnson’s team.
So far, the pair has taken everything in stride, with plenty of laughter along the way. Sitting in a basketball office in Conte Forum, Pineau munches on a bag of Pirate’s Booty, looking at Ortlepp and laughing before answering many of the questions about adjusting to life on the other side of the planet.
Pineau, a 6-foot-1 forward from Victoria, is looking to bring versatility to the team with more power inside.
“Taylor has the ability to make an immediate impact on our back court,” Johnson said after Ortlepp signed in April. “She is very valuable as a scoring point guard who can also set up her teammates for scoring opportunities. Taylor is an intense defender and also an excellent leader on and off the floor.”
Ortlepp, a 5-foot-9 point guard from Adelaide, hopes to step into a leadership role as one of the floor generals for Johnson’s squad.
“Georgia is a versatile forward who plays tough and physical around the basket,” Johnson said last November, when he first announced the class of 2016. “[She] is a relentless worker whose competitiveness has made her into a proven winner.”
Together, they’re bringing new energy as part of a group of five freshmen adding to Johnson’s program that is still growing.
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Though their homes are separated by an eight-hour drive, the basketball community in Australia is relatively small. Ortlepp and Pineau have known each other for years, playing in the same leagues and tournaments. They had played against each other on a number of occasions, mostly in tournaments while competing for their states—and in 2014, they were both part of the U17 Australian women’s national team in that year’s FIBA World Championships.
During that year, the team traveled around China for three weeks before heading to the tournament’s host country, the Czech Republic. While in China, Ortlepp and Pineau were roommates and first began to develop a friendship.
While basketball was always the sport to play back home, the U17 tournament was the duo’s first look at a whole new level of the game. In particular, the Aussies were amazed by the home crowd while playing the Czechs in Prague.
“Going in there, seeing the atmosphere, it was so unreal,” Ortlepp said.
That was one of their first looks at a different type of basketball culture. With basketball somewhat overshadowed by Australian rules football and rugby union, crowd size had always been small for their various teams in Australia. While most will look at the 20-person crowd at BC’s Fan Day as somewhat underwhelming, that size crowd would have been welcomed at many of the games for Ortlepp and Pineau back home.
That game was the only one that the team lost in the tournament, after sweeping the group stage and beating Mali in the Round of 16 before falling to the hosts in the quarters. Ortlepp and Pineau began to see a global game with much bigger lights, perhaps none bigger than the vaunted ACC.
Pineau, who averaged 8.3 points per game, and other players got exposure and recognition from coaches around the world during the month-long, high-profile tournament. Five months after the tournament, Johnson began seriously recruiting Pineau through an Australian connection of his.
Many thought Pineau would chose St. Mary’s College of California, where her brother Dane plays. The Gaels are known for having a strong Australian presence on both the men’s and women’s programs, with recent alumni including NBA players Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova. Ultimately, the opportunity to play in one of the most competitive conferences in the nation and attend a strong academic program at BC was too much to pass up.
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Ortlepp’s journey is a much different one, one that only started in February of this year. She can thank Pineau for helping to get her to BC. While watching film on Pineau from the U17 Tournament, Johnson and his staff texted Pineau about another player they had noticed, a point guard named Ortlepp. When asked what she thought about Ortlepp, Pineau enthusiastically responded, heaping praise on her former roommate about how great she is and how much she loves her. Ortlepp had one other official visit from Virginia and interest from some mid-majors on the West Coast, but BC was the pretty obvious choice at that point.
The two Aussies are the latest in a recent string of international recruits for Johnson. With the addition of the Aussies, BC now has five international players, second in the conference behind Georgia Tech’s six, while the majority of teams have two or three.
The elite programs of the conference like Louisville, Notre Dame, and Duke can draw from the top of the American talent pool, where the world’s best women’s basketball players reside. As a result, they don’t need to go outside the United States to attract talent. Like BC men’s soccer, which fields a team mostly of international players, Johnson is broadening his recruiting scope to stay competitive, and so far it is paying off. Marti Mosetti from Italy has become the starting point guard and led the team in assists last year; Ella Awobajo from Nigeria has become a valuable guard in the rotation; and Mariella Fasoula from Greece was named to the ACC All-Freshman team last year.
Ortlepp and Pineau are also part of a strong group of Australian players joining the college scene this season. Oregon’s Morgan Yaeger is the only Aussie in ESPN’s list of top 100 recruits, and Ortlepp and Pineau will get the chance to play against compatriot Alex Sharp at Wake Forest. BC will also host St. Mary’s, which features three Australians, on Nov. 20.
With an influx of international players comes a wide range of different styles. In Australia, that technique revolves around sound and gritty defense. Ortlepp and Pineau have always played with a focus on locking down on D first, and then transitioning success there into offense. For Ortlepp, that means getting the early break and pushing the ball down the court in transition. For Pineau, the bulk of her work comes on the boards. Upon arriving in Chestnut Hill, the pair has found that the American style here has been focused much more on offense, especially in the ACC. While the pair can most certainly develop a sharp offensive game, their strength comes in the fundamentals of the tenacious defending for Ortlepp and hard work on the boards for Pineau.
With the season starting on Friday, Ortlepp and Pineau have been busy with preseason and now full-time practices, spending five to six hours in Conte Forum and Power Gym, which has helped with the transition.
“The days have been so busy that you don’t really have time to miss every aspect of home,” Ortlepp said.
While they don’t have a language barrier to overcome, the jump from Australia to the U.S. is a big one. And though they are not roommates—both live with volleyball players in separate dorms—coming over to college together has been a major help.
“If Tay wasn’t here I would be missing home a lot more,” Pineau said. “It helps having another Australian to reconcile with.”
The biggest challenge has been the inability to return home easily. While a lot of the players can make the drive to nearby towns in Massachusetts and Connecticut or the manageable trip to New York and New Jersey, Ortlepp and Pineau face a day’s worth of flying. With a solid group of five players from overseas, the foreign players can lean on each other as they adapt to college life in America, far from home.
For now, the Aussie duo can focus on basketball, which is all they have been doing thus far. While the beauty of New England in autumn can be seen on campus, a lot remains before the pair get fully acclimated to the region. Both Ortlepp and Pineau fell into laughter about how they have to get out more. Before they get out, though, the duo is looking forward to their first taste of college ball.
“I’m excited to see the big hype around the ACC players,” Ortlepp said.
In practice, coaches will often refer to conference play as the benchmark, often telling players that they wouldn’t be able to do such and such a play against players in the ACC.
Whether it’s growing their offensive game or simply having all this attention during a photoshoot, the easygoing Aussies are ready to step out from down under and into the spotlight of the best conference in the world.
Featured Image by Kelsey McGee / Heights Editor