Like a lot of college athletes, Jaz Shelley has been playing sports for most of her life. It’s easy to say she was born into athletics; both of her parents were basketball players and her two brothers also played college ball in the States.
Born and raised in Victoria, Australia, Shelley lept feet first into soccer, basketball and netball, the latter of which she described as basketball without dribbling. Netball is a unique sport that has the distinction of being one of only a handful that has been explicitly created for women. Shelley admits that netball had a grip on her, and there were times when she didn’t know which direction she would move in as a player.
Eventually, her inevitable path became clear: basketball was the way. Youth basketball in Australia is like the system in Europe: young athletes have the opportunity to begin their journey with club teams that are tied to professional teams in their region. For example, Shelley was named captain of her state team when she was only 15 years old, and she had moved to Canberra to train full-time by the following year.
If you ask some, the European and Australian model provides more equal opportunities for boys and girls alike. As international basketball trainer and philanthropist Tremaine Dalton explains, “The system offers more equality naturally. Boys and girls have the same resources from the beginning — in the States, you can come across AAU teams that don’t have girl’s programs at all, which limits the opportunity for women’s skill training and player development.”
There are other ways the European and Australian system can benefit a player like Shelley. Dalton, who spearheads We Play Too, his own program that develops women’s basketball players into socially-engaged icons on and off the court, works with athletes in Australia, Europe, and the U.S., and sees these benefits time and time again. He adds, “Women and girls have to really persevere in the States or miss out on opportunities to play and coach entirely. Girls and women should have the same opportunities as men to develop as athletes.”
Shelley thrived every time she had the opportunity to in Australia. After joining the Melbourne Boomers in 2018, she was named the Rookie of the Year and the Junior Female Athlete of the Year in one fell swoop. From there, she had a choice to make: did she want to stay in Australia, or did she want to see what U.S. college ball was all about?
On the advice of her brother, Shelley entered the recruitment process and ultimately began playing at the University of Oregon, where she played alongside Sabrina Ionescu. Her time at Oregon was successful and she stayed with the program until May 2022 when she elected to enter the transfer portal, thus setting her on a path toward her current home at the University of Nebraska.
By nearly every measurement, the move to Nebraska was a good one. Shelley explained in an October 2022 press call that the team has an unparalleled energy. She explained, “Chemistry has never been an issue for our team which is something really special. We have to try and build relationships early on in the season, but we don’t have to do that this year. We have some incredible people that come in here and want to be a part of it straight away.”