Dannii Devenny says student-athletes in the United States are very fortunate.
“I think that’s the best thing about going to college and playing sports is you get a degree out of it,” Devenny says. “Back home, you can’t get a sporting scholarship.”
Devenny is a junior on the Montana Tech women’s basketball team. “Back home” is Perth, Australia.
“So many Australians want to do that because nobody wants to pay for school,” she says. “Americans have it so good over here.”
The Orediggers also have it pretty good with Devenny, who has emerged as a team leader as the Frontier Conference season approaches.
“She’s just one of those players who makes everybody better,” Tech coach Kerie DePell says of the 6-foot junior guard/forward. “She doesn’t score a lot of points, but without her on the court, were definitely a lesser team.”
Devenny ranks third on the team with 10.1 points per game. She averaged 8 points as a freshman and 9.4 as a sophomore.
That, however, is a stat that doesn’t concern Devenny. She’d rather focus on her passion, leadership, 5.3 rebounds and team-leading 2.9 assists per game.
“I think that’s what I take pride in most is my strength on the basketball court and my communication,” Devenny says. “And assists. I love assists. Assists are like my favorite stat ever. I’m not the best at assists, but they’re my favorite.”
DePell marvels at Devenny’s ability to distribute the basketball, though she wishes she’d shoot it more.
“She’s a great passer. She’s in the top two or three on the team in court vision and getting the ball to the right person,” DePell says. “She’s so unselfish. Sometimes we need her to be more selfish.”
Devenny said she just never really cared about scoring points.
“To be honest, I don’t know how I get court time sometimes,” she says. “I’m not the biggest scorer. I just work hard on the court, I think.”
Devenny is making the most of her second opportunity with the Orediggers.
After playing for Montana Tec in the 2009-10 season and helping the Orediggers advance to the NAIA national tournament, Devenny left the team to go back home.
She says injured knees and a bout with homesickness led her to return to Australia.
“I think I missed it when I went home,” Devenny says. “I didn’t necessarily want to take time off. I had to because my knees were so bad, my sister just had her first baby and I missed the whole birth and stuff. There was just a lot of things.”
It’s hard to blame Devenny for being homesick. It’s not like she could go home for the holidays or spring break. Summer is the only time she make the trip, which includes a flight from Los Angeles to Sydney that lasts 17 to 20 hours.
“My freshman year I was just a wreck,” Devenny says. “I was crying for like the first two weeks I was here. It has been so much easier since I came back.”
Devenny received treatment for her knees, and they started to improve. Then she started playing basketball gain.
“They started feeling good,” Devenny says of knees she still ices after games and practices. “I was on top of my game, so I got in touch with coach and asked if I could come back.”
DePell didn’t hesitate to welcome Devenny and her physical and vocal play back to the team.
“I think I’m just the loud one,” Devenny says with a laugh.
That’s not how her head coach sees it.
“She’s definitely our loudest player. Everybody knows when she’s in the room,” DePell says. “That makes her a great leader. People are drawn to that. The other girls naturally look up to her.
“That’s pretty much what I ask her to do,” DePell adds of Devenny’s loudness on the court. “She’s physically tough and she’s becoming mentally tough, too. She’s peaking at the right time and she’s ready to take over the team.”
That’s a big step for a player who was spinning her feet when first arriving in the Mining City. That’s because she had literally never seen snow before.
“It doesn’t snow in Perth, at all,” she says of her hometown, which is in western Australia. “That was the hardest thing. My freshman year I slipped that many times because I didn’t know how to walk in the snow or on the ice. I didn’t know what to look out for. I would just walk like you’d walk everywhere else, and I’d be on the ground. One time I slipped underneath a parked car.”
What Devenny knew about the United States basically came from Hollywood.
“That’s how I learned the majority of my stuff about America. I felt like I did. I probably didn’t, but I felt like I did,” she says. “I learned about s’mores off The Sandlot kids. I love that movie. My favorite TV show (Charmed) is in San Francisco. I’m in love with San Francisco now.”
What Devenny’s new classmates and teammates knew — or at least what they thought they knew — about her also came from TV and the movies, mainly Crocodile Dundee or Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter.
She still gets people coming up to her and saying things like “g’day, mate,” even though her Australian accent isn’t nearly as strong as famous men from the “Land Down Under.”
“All the time,” she says people talking like Dundee or Irwin. “I’ve been here for three years and we I still get it. I don’t feel like we talk like that. We’re just like normal people.”
Devenny says she lost some of her Australian sound while in Butte. At least that’s what her friends told her when she went home.
“They make fun of my accent because I lose a little bit of my Australian accent,” she says. “I pronounce my Rs better, like you guys.”
Devenny hasn’t lost any of her Australian on the basketball court.
She says that loud and rough style is how she learned how to play in leagues back home, where she often played against seasoned veterans.
Instead of college basketball, players in Australia usually play in leagues within the states of the countries. Devenny played in a league in Western Australia after graduating from high school in 2007. She plans to play there again after she graduates from Montana Tech.
“It’s exactly the same intensity-wise and competition wise,” Devenny says, comparing the Australian league to NAIA basketball. “The only difference is some of the women you play against are fully-grown women. They have so much experience because they played some 30-odd years.”
DePell played in Australia after college. The coach’s experience there actually led to Devenny playing for Tech.
DePell took her Orediggers to Australia to play during the 2008-09 season, and the team played Devenny’s state team.
“They beat our state team, too. I was bummed,” Devenny says.
Devenny must have made an impression on DePell, though, because that performance led to the coach offering a scholarship.
Devenny plans to turn that scholarship will turn into a degree in occupation safety and health. Thanks to the Tech career fair, she has a summer internship lined up in Perth
“It’s really good money back home, and there’s a lot of jobs for it back home,” Devenny says of the OSH profession.
Devenny is taking 23 credits this semester because she’s trying to make up for lost time because she started in liberal studies. She says she didn’t know much about Tech when she signed to play basketball, and she really didn’t have a clue what to study there.
That Montana Tech is one of the toughest schools academically would have been a good tidbit to know, too, she says.
“Coach didn’t tell me that when she recruited me. I might have thought about it a little more,” Devenny says with a laugh. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into.”
Devenny says she had an opportunity to play at a school in Louisiana, but a full scholarship wasn’t on the table.
Montana Tech, she says, was the right choice. Among other things, it gave her the opportunity to see firsthand just how good student-athletes have it in the United States.
“I like Butte a lot,” Devenny says. “I think I like it because it’s so different from what I’m used to. I like the Mountains. I like the snow. I love the people here.
“It was lucky,” she says. “I kind of fell into this.”