While not following the script of the 2000 drama Love and Basketball, the narrative of Carlie Smith and Eric McAlister is one also deeply intertwined with romance and hoops.
Carlie, a WNBL player for Adelaide Lightning and two-time Australian 3x3 medallist, and Eric, a basketball professional journeyman from New Jersey, first met in 2018 when the pair were workmates at USC Basketball and played for Rip City in the Queensland Basketball League.
For Eric it was love at first sight. He says he knew the moment he landed from his 28-hour journey from New York as Carlie was tasked with picking him up at Brisbane Airport.
Carlie says people noticed there was a connection early on and the couple began dating midway through the season. By March 2019 they were engaged, Eric dropping to one knee at the beach – a special place for the pair after a first date at the beach turned into talking for hours and a deep personal connection.
They return to Sunshine Coast Rip City in 2021 for the inaugural NBL 1 North season.
Smith joins fellow WNBL player Alex Delaney on the women’s team with coach Jamie Glover having locked in seven of his 10 roster spots. McAlister is the men’s second signing, joining Brisbane Bullets starter Tanner Krebs with more announcements from coach Nathan Arousi expected soon.
With a wedding date on hold due to travel restrictions, Smith’s and McAlister’s focus is firmly on their respective basketball careers.
“We’re really lucky because we both are professional athletes so we really understand each other’s needs,” Smith said. “To be able to train with your partner is a really special thing, even though we get too competitive at time’s it’s always so much fun.”
Smith, a member of the Australian 3x3 Olympic squad, will bring that competitive nature to the Sunshine Coast.
“I was able to get to know Jamie with my first season at Rip and I think his style of coaching is perfect for me to continue growing and developing my game,” the 6’1” (186cm) sharpshooting forward said “I’d love to help the team reach finals and have a successful season with the girls and I want to continue working and improving on my game, which will help me move into my next WNBL season.”
McAlister, a 6’8” (203cm) high-flying power forward, has unfinished business at the Sunshine Coast club.
“The opportunity to play for Nateo again was the big selling point for me. The Sunshine Coast is like my Australian hometown and will always hold a special place to me,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting back with the guys as I really enjoyed playing with them last time around.”
“Last time we made it to the quarter-finals but fell short, so I feel as though there is a sense of unfinished business and I would love to push towards a championship. Individually I’m looking to contribute as much as I can in every facet of the game. We have a lot of really strong pieces and I look forward to doing my best to allow everyone to be the best version of themselves.”
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