Australia will be set on revenge when the 2019 FIBA Asia Cup for Women tips off on 24 September in Bengaluru, India.
The Opals, who lost a thrilling final to Japan two years ago, will feature in the opening game of the 8-team, Division A event against the Philippines at an Australian-friendly time of 5:45pm AEST following the release of the tournament schedule.
The 2018 FIBA World Cup silver medalists enter the event as the highest ranked team with a world ranking of 3, and along with the Philippines (word rank of 47), are pooled with China (7th) and New Zealand (42nd) in Group B.
A preliminary Opals camp is being held in Phoenix, Arizona as head coach Sandy Brondello attempts to pull together players based across the world. She hopes the time spent together will make a big difference in their FIBA Asia Cup campaign, but also on the journey to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“I’m looking forward to getting together and to keep progressing to where we need to be and continuing to build. Every little bit of time we can spend together is critical – we’ve got a big year coming up.
“For the players who weren’t with us in April it’s about getting them up to speed because it is a selection camp and we’ve got Asia Cup in September. We do have some injuries, which is unfortunate, but we’ve got a great group of girls, some WNBA players who weren’t at the Gold Coast will come and participate in a few of the days.
“We train hard but want to have fun as well. They are great girls, they work so hard and are so coachable.”
Brondello was acutely aware of the challenge facing the national team across the next year. While she has a large selection of capable players at her disposal, her immediate goal was to assess everyone who has the potential to represent Australia on the world stage.
“We’ve got 13 coming to camp and we’ll get up to 15 at one stage. It’s a nice-sized camp, we can play against each other and get a lot accomplished,’’ Brondello said.
“Seeing our girls who haven’t been there before is important, just to get that opportunity to evaluate everyone. We have so much talent and that makes our job really hard when we have to select a final team.
“The team may change a little bit for Asia Cup with WNBA still going, depending on what teams are in the play-offs, so some of those players may be missing but we have so much depth that can cover for them.
“Every time we hop on the court we want to make sure we’re giving a great showing and continuing to improve, not only individually but collectively as a team, within the system we have.”
Some of the players unavailable for the Opals camp in Phoenix include 2019 WNBA All-Star Liz Cambage, while Marianna Tolo and Jenna O’Hea remain out of action due to injury. Yet current WNBA players Bec Allen, Sami Whitcomb and Alanna Smith have all made the time to attend the camp in some shape or form despite their playing commitments, while Abby Bishop was making a return after a two year absence from the program.
“Bec and Sami have shown a commitment. They have three days off but want to be there and that’s the wonderful thing – they don’t want to miss it, they want to be part of the Opals. For me that says a lot and that’s what we want to see, passion.
“Abby’s made a commitment to the Opals with a goal to get to that Olympics and we want our best players available. Abby’s had a great career and I think it’s fantastic she’s staying in Australia and playing for the Townsville Fire. She knows how to score and is an experienced post player. I’m excited to get to see her again, it’s been two years.”
Brondello remained steadfast in her approach to the camp in line with their long-term Olympic aspirations.
“You try and get in as much you can in a short period of time and we’re not only evaluating but making sure we’re continuing our chemistry and growth as a team.”
After their opening game against the Philippines, Australia will take on trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand, before tackling Asian heavyweight China.
September 27 will be the start of the second round with the 7th place classification game between the two bottom teams of each group. The quarter-finals will then be played between the teams in 2nd and 3rd place.
Each top team from both groups will proceed directly to the semi-finals which will be played on September 28.
The championship game to decide the winner of the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup 2019 Division A will then be played on September 29.
Australia were led by tournament MVP Kelsey Griffin in being pipped for gold by Japan when they debuted at the event. They have some unfinished business on their agenda, and their road to Tokyo starts with winning Asian Cup gold.
Australian Opals FIBA Asia Cup Schedule
24-Sep: Opals vs. Philippines at 5:45pm AEST
25-Sep: Opals vs. New Zealand at 5:45pm AEST
26-Sep: Opals vs. China at 8:00pm AEST
27-Sep: Semi-Final Qualifiers