WNBL: Cleary doing things her way

She's one of the leading forwards in WNBL1, but in the beginning, Lindsey Cleary wasn't a massive fan of playing basketball.

A naturally sporty person growing up in Kirkland, Washington, a suburb east of Seattle, the Reading Rockets star was somewhat rebellious when it came to basketball.

And for good reason - well for her anyway.

"When I started playing, my mum was my coach, and I remember we always had a big bag of basketballs, and I would go to practice, and I remember that at the beginning, I wasn't actually a huge fan of going to basketball," said Cleary.

"It might have had something to do with the fact that my mum was actually my coach, and no kid at that age likes being told what to do by their parent.

"Also, because I was really tall, the other people in my school would come up to me and ask if I played basketball, so I was a little bit rebellious and was like, no, I don't.

"So I wasn't huge on basketball to start, and I didn't want to play in the beginning."

Role models

Coming from a sporty background, where her mum Janet was a track and field sensation along with rowing at Gonzaga, it was a path that came naturally to her and was only a matter of time before Cleary embraced basketball.

"I started playing outside of school when I was a little bit older with a really good group of girls and coaches, who were more than parents stepping into coaching, so that was a really fun opportunity for me," said Cleary.

"To find another role model and find a coach who would help me with specific skills, which inspired me to challenge myself and be the competitive person I am; I really enjoyed that and learning different sides to the game."

By the time a determined Cleary went to high school at Holy Names Academy, she wanted to play on the varsity team and craved the highest level of competition.

However, without a girls' team to train with in the summer, Cleary would train with the boys, and as she got used to high school life, where she played at both junior and varsity levels, playing in the top tier wasn't necessarily as advantageous.

"I learned that it's not always about making the team that has the highest reputation because the playing time I got playing junior varsity was actually more beneficial than the fact that I was on varsity," she explained.

"So I learned more about understanding the growth that needs to happen, not just the status when it comes to playing basketball. 

"I met a lot of people and made many friends through basketball; it was just a lot of people that I wanted to play with."

West coast, warm weather

It served her well. Upon graduation in 2016, Cleary was varsity captain, named MVP, and voted into Second Team All-Metro in WIAA Division 3A.

With her level of maturity, overall playing ability, and academic prowess, Cleary had the tools to head to a Division 1 school to follow her dreams.

But through her time at high school, she clung on to the fact that simply being somewhere elite merely for the sake of it doesn't work.

You can get top-class education anywhere, as well as high-level sporting competition. It was all about the right fit.

That place was Claremont McKenna in California.

"I had some opportunities to look at higher divisions, but I wanted to find a school that suited me," Cleary said.

"The team, the people I thought I would enjoy playing with, coaching staff whom I could communicate with, so I went to Division 3 school in Southern California, which was a location that I really wanted to be. West coast, warm weather, that was awesome."

Cleary was prominent in her three years at Claremont, averaging 7.4 points on 48.5 percent shooting as a junior alongside her studies, where she majored in computer science.

In 2019, Cleary worked for Microsoft and even spent time teaching students through 'Girls Who Code', a non-profit organisation that aims to support and increase the number of women in computer science.

Then the time came for Lindsey to spread her wings and head to the United Kingdom, where she spent two years at Nottingham Trent, finishing her degree and playing WNBL before the move to Reading, where she has remained.

No questions were asked of her parents, Janet and Kevin. They trusted, supported and gave her their blessing.

"It was an exciting experience to go study abroad, but apart from a trip to Ireland, I had never left the United States," she said.

"My family were really supportive; they trusted me to take care of myself, and that I'll make myself at home regardless, but coming here, I had a lot of support from my new team-mates, my coaches; I had a great support system."

The pieces fit

With her degree now in the bag, Cleary has her dream job working for Microsoft, the very company she worked for in 2019, and working remotely. The pieces have fallen precisely where she wanted them to.

On the court, she is averaging 16.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 2.3 steals a game this season for the Rockets – all team highs.

Successful in her career, and on the court, Cleary has had quite the journey from being that defiant 10-year-old who didn't want to play basketball. And in the end, she pays homage to her parents for nurturing her interests and keeping her confidence high. 

"I appreciate my parents a lot."

"My mum was never the type of parent who you would get in the car after a game and tell you what you did wrong.

"After every game, she always said 'good job' or did something to keep my confidence high. In their eyes, I've always played great."



Words - John Hobbs

All image credits - Luke Simcock