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Isolation, embarrassment: Kate Gaze opens up on sudden WNBL exit

Kate Gaze has spent half her life playing in the WNBL and now it's suddenly come to an abrupt halt.

The 32-year-old, who hails from one of Australian basketball's most famous families, is embarking on a new chapter and rediscovering who she is after not landing a contract for the current season.

Having most recently played with the Southside Flyers, Gaze found herself on the free agency list mid-year. Two clubs enquired, one offered what she described as minimum wage while the second came a week out from Round 1.

"I pictured the next few years of my life playing in the WNBL. The free agency period rolled on, you're waiting for some phone calls and they don't come, it was the first time in my whole playing career where I've felt unsure what my life would look like," Gaze told ESPN.

"In this WNBL life you know for six months you'll be playing, it might be for a different team the next season but you'll still be playing, that's your life and that's what you do. Now it's suddenly 'holy s***, what am I going to do now I stop playing and it's not my choice, when I'm not ready and I don't have a plan'.

"I get emotional because who am I? I've always been Kate Gaze, basketball player. This is my life now and it's so unrecognisable.

"I've felt isolated, embarrassed. Your sense of purpose and identity is lost.

"It feels like I've lost all my friends, which is not true a lot of them are playing all over the world and those who have retired are living their lives, but it really is like you're grieving a huge part of your life that ended abruptly.

"It's still so hard to come to terms with."

The basketball bombshell also had physical and mental aspects for the veteran guard with the deadly three-point shot.

"I was training every day, feeling good and looking fit to all of a sudden not playing. I feel like I've got nothing to work towards so the motivation isn't there to get to the gym or do anything then you feel even worse because you put on a little weight," she says.

"We get told our whole life not to attach our worth to being an athlete but it's literally what we do and think about every second of our day. It's what we eat and where we go. Every part of your life revolves around basketball whether you're a development player, No.10 on the team or the superstar.

"When all of a sudden that stops, your purpose changes so much."

As a teenager, Gaze played for the AIS in three WNBL seasons before heading to the US on a college scholarship at Saint Mary's.

She completed a business degree and a masters in sports management and when she returned home to play in Australia throughout the next decade worked casual or part time jobs.

"When I came back here and we were playing for $5000 for a six-month contract and yes, they give us a car and somewhere to live but you need to make some money. Some of my teammates didn't work and relied on family or waiting tables. Working all day on your feet isn't ideal," Gaze says.

"Initially when you're in the WNBL and finding your way the first few years, you can probably get away with not working if you've got support from your family. Once you've become a player who's been in the league a few years, you're not making the big bucks but you're not a first-year player there is some pressure that you're not earning enough, you're getting older and have more responsibilities.

"Some of my best memories and friends I've made have been from playing in the league but at the same time you're not helping yourself establish a life later on."

Two months ago, Gaze moved from Melbourne to Townsville, where she previously won two WNBL titles with the Fire, to be with partner Jeff on his family property at Ayr, just over an hour south of Townsville.

She commutes to town each day to work in her HR role with Townsville City Council and is trying her hand at sideline commentary during Townsville's streamed games on 9 Now.

A matter of weeks ago Gaze felt she wouldn't be able to watch basketball because her exit felt so raw but reporting from courtside has changed her mindset.

On the verge of 200 games, Gaze hasn't given up hope on playing in the league she loves again.

But for now, she is courageously living her new chapter. Riding horses, sporting a brand spanking new Akubra and caring for 10 dogs.

After her interview with ESPN, she sends a text message.

"Just finished bottle feeding a three-day old calf who couldn't' feed from her Mum. Getting her to drink has been hard and takes a while. I'm sweating bullets! Continually asking myself who I am!"

For the majority of her life, Kate Gaze has been Kate Gaze the basketballer and while she can still be that she is discovering she is so much more.