Lauren Jackson: "2020 is going to be an incredible year for women's basketball"
The 40th season of the WNBL has crossed over the halfway point, and you could assign any number of adjectives to it so far. Thrilling. Competitive. Captivating. Inspirational.
Such words also run synonymous with a woman who has proven instrumental in the success of this campaign, Basketball Australia’s head of women, Lauren Jackson.
Since commencing the role in July, Jackson has been closely involved with the WNBL, while also working diligently to support young women at every level of the sport. She’s spearheaded the Women in Basketball Strategy, and remained at the forefront of the discussions about equality and safety for women.
And it should come as no surprise that, despite all of the work she’s put in so far, she’s really just getting started.
“With my history with the sport, being able to get into Basketball Australia and have the opportunities around the league is incredible,” Jackson told the Pick and Roll. “It’s given me a fairly good understanding of where the league’s at, and where we need to go to grow and be successful.
“Women’s sport at the moment is definitely on a bit of a high. Other sports have really come on — AFLW, cricket, soccer — the market for women’s sport is a lot more competitive than it has been in the past.
“I think that’s definitely one of the challenges [for the WNBL], but with that comes a lot of opportunities and it’s a really exciting time for us in terms of where we can go from here, and what we have in front of us.”
After nine weeks of play, the Southside Flyers are sitting atop the WNBL standings with an astounding 12-1 record. Their lone defeat came at the hands of the reigning champion University of Canberra Capitals, currently 8-3 and second on the ladder.
As teams vie for playoff positioning in the final weeks of the season, it’s difficult to pinpoint who will come out on top.
“The season itself has been incredible, I think the talent level of the athletes we have playing in our league is getting better each year,” Jackson continued. “We’ve got WNBA stars over here, and we’ve got some European stars playing in the league.
“I think Canberra are going to be a team to be reckoned with again. Southside Flyers, Deakin Melbourne Boomers, and Adelaide Lightning — they’re all vying for the top four positions.
“Saying that, too, I think Sydney are going to rock the boat. They’re starting to come into stride a little bit and play good team basketball. Pretty sure you’re going to see Townsville and Bendigo as well knock a few teams off in the last few rounds, it’s going to make it very interesting.
“Like I said, the level and the ability of the teams and the players that we have in the league this year is absolutely phenomenal. It’s truly a globally elite sporting competition.”
Jackson also shared her thoughts on the women’s national team as they prepare for a critical qualifying tournament in February to stamp their ticket to the 2020 Olympic Games.
“The Opals have got an incredible opportunity coming up with the Olympics,” she said. “You can’t look past Lizzie [Cambage] as the best player in the world right now; hopefully there’s a healthy team getting into the Olympics.
“With that comes a great opportunity for a medal. That’s what they’ll be eyeing off, no doubt, and so they should be.”
As Jackson prepares to close out her first year in her new role, she reflected on the lessons she has learned, and what lies ahead.
“Every single day, I’m learning something new,” she explained. “Different challenges and opportunities, things that come out of left field, like ‘wow, I didn’t even realise that was something that I would have to deal with’.
“I had to take the opportunity, because it was just too good to be true. For me personally, that was something I was aspiring to, to get into administration and try and lead the women’s game in the country.
“I guess I’ve smartened up, and am maybe more aware of the commercial value of our sport, where we can go from here, and what opportunities there will be for us moving forward. It’s such a great learning experience for me.
“We’re really at a crossroads, and we’re trying to take the bull by the horns. 2020 is going to be an incredible year for women’s basketball.”
If 2019 has been any indication, there’s no doubt that she’ll be absolutely correct on that front.
Thank you for loving Aussie hoops! From Kein, Damian and #TeamPnR