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Gems eyeing World Cup qualification in FIBA U18 Asian Championship debut
In the final stage of their quest to qualify for the 2019 FIBA Under 19 Women’s World Cup, Australia’s Gems will this week head to India for the FIBA Under 18 Women’s Asian Championship, with the top four teams qualifying for the main event in Bangkok, Thailand next year.
The Australian team comes into the competition stacked with World Cup experience, boasting five members of the recent Under 17 World Cup bronze medal team who are joined by three members of the gold medal team from the 2016 edition.
Saint Mary’s wing Samantha Simons, Duke guard Miela Goodchild and recent Oregon commit and current Melbourne Boomers WNBL squad member Jazmin Shelley shape to be the leaders of a team that will not only be looking to secure qualification to the World Cup, but also pick up a gold medal at Australia’s first foray into the tournament.
While the Australian side would be favoured to not only qualify for the World Cup but also win the event regardless of the draw, the Gems have received a favourable group for the opening stage of the tournament.
Tournament heavyweights China and Japan have been drawn in the same group alongside potential banana-skin New Zealand and Malaysia in what is by far the tougher of the two groups. Australia on the other hand have drawn Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Indonesia.
Korea are the obvious major challengers in the Gem's group, having won 9 bronze medals and a silver in the last 11 events after winning consecutive golds in 1990 and 1992. Chinese Taipei are also no slouches either, having reached the third-place game in 2016 after winning silver in 2014. Yet it is worth noting that all of these results came in the era prior to Australia and New Zealand entering the tournament. Indonesia on the other hand, had to win a sudden death playoff against India in 2016 just to earn their Division A status for this tournament and will not be expected to spring many surprises.
Taking a look at the main challengers, Korea come into the tournament with a number of players with Under 17 World Championship experience from 2016. However, their undoubted main threat is Park Jihyun, who was a member of their recent World Cup squad. Although Park played minimal minutes for the senior team, the rising star was the main weapon for Korea at last year’s Under 19 World Cup. She averaged 15.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game whilst also dishing out 3.3 assists per contest in a team that otherwise struggled in finishing 15th, with their only win coming in their final classification game against Egypt.
On the other side of the draw, China’s side also features a player that played in the World Cup, with top-age guard Li Yuan leading her side with 4.6 assists per game alongside 3.3 points as China finished in a respectable sixth position. The Chinese also roll out a number of players from the Under 17 World Cup side that finished in 11th, including guard Zheng Ming and 195cm centre Liu Yutong, who tallied 14.4 points and 6.3 rebounds in that tournament.
Japan’s squad is light on for tournament experience, but heavy on top-age players, which may seem slightly surprising given that they finished in 7th at the recent Under 17 World Cup, better than all Asian nations bar Australia. One player to look out for is 5’10 wing Ririka Okuyama, who returns to the national team for the first time since tallying 9.3 points and 7.7 assists at the 2016 Under 17 World Cup. Maya McArthur is the only player from this year’s Under 17 team who made the cut for this squad, and will be looking to build on a solid if unspectacular World Cup earlier in the year.
Finally, it would be remiss not to mention the Australians’ trans-Tasman neighbours, with New Zealand also looking to make an impact in their first venture into this tournament. The junior Tall Ferns feature three players from their Under 17 World Cup side that finished 12th earlier this year, but there is one major standout; that being Charlisse Leger-Walker.
A member of the Tall Ferns’ Commonwealth Games squad, Leger-Walker also finished in the top 10 for scoring, rebounds, and assists in the recent Under 17 World Cup, an outstanding effort particularly given the team’s eventual low finish. Regardless of New Zealand’s placing in this tournament, Leger-Walker will undoubtedly be one of the players to watch, and her performance will go a long way to determining whether New Zealand qualify for next year’s Under 19 World Cup.
Gems’ FIBA Asia Under 18 Championship Schedule (all times AEST)
October 28: va Indonesia @ 4:30pm October 29: vs Chinese Taipei @ 4:30pm October 30: vs Korea @ 4:30pm November 1: Classification Games and Semi-Final Qualifiers November 2: Semi-Finals November 3: Final
Isobel ANSTEY | Victoria Isabelle BOURNE | ACT Emma CLARKE | Western Australia Agnes EMMA-NNOPU | Victoria Miela GOODCHILD | Queensland Ashlee HANNAN | Queensland Kobe KING-HAWEA | Victoria Ula MOTUGA | Queensland Isabel PALMER | New South Wales Lily SCANLON | Victoria Jazmin SHELLEY | Victoria Samantha SIMONS | South Australia
Head Coach: Dee BUTLER Assistant Coaches: David HERBERT, Claudia BRASSARD