Basketball Australia has announced the Opals team that will travel to Tenerife, Spain in a bid to win a medal at the 2018 FIBA World Cup for women.
The Opals boast a mix of experience with an eye to the future, as they seek to return to the medal dais after missing out on a medal at a major event for the first time since 2010 at the Rio Olympics.
Headlining the Opals is 6'8 centre Liz Cambage who has enjoyed a record-breaking return to the WNBA this season and a bonafide candidate for league MVP honours. She is joined in the front court by rising stars Ezi Magbegor and US College star Alanna Smith who have shone when provided with international opportunities on the world stage, while Alex Bunton breaks into the side after overcoming a horror run of injuries to become the first Canberran to play for the national team in 32 years.
Australia's need for an experienced point guard is likely to have been the reason behind Leilani Mitchell (Phoenix) edging out Kelsey Griffin (Canberra) and Sami Whitcomb (Seattle) for the one and only place allowed for a naturalised player in the team. Griffin in particular could consider herself exceptionally unlucky, having led Australia to silver in their debut at the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup en route to being named tournament MVP.
Current WNBA stars Rebecca Allen (New York), Cayla George (Phoenix) and Steph Talbot (Phoenix) add versatility to the roster, as does former WNBA player and current Melbourne Boomers star Jenna O'Hea.
The back court is bolstered by the return of Katie-Rae Ebzery, Lauren Mansfield and Tess Madgen. Like Bunton, Madgen has had to overcome serious injury to make it back to the top of her game. With Ebzery and Mansfield starring at WNBL level, they will all be required to play their role for the Opals in this important World Cup campaign.
"Our focus will be making sure we are ready to play at our best each and every game," said Brondello in the official release. "If we can focus on the process, the result of winning a medal, which is what we expect of ourselves, will happen."
Penny Taylor led a team minus Lauren Jackson and Liz Cambage in 2014 to earn bronze the last time the event was held, yet in 2016, Australia failed to medal for the first time at an Olympics since 1992.
Ranked number 4 in the world behind the USA, France and Spain, the Opals are joined in Group B alongside Turkey (7th), Argentina (15th) and Nigeria (34th). Turkey loom as the biggest threat to Australia topping their group, and will be desperate to atone for the 30-point hiding they received from the Opals in the 2014 bronze medal game.
Brondello will have the opportunity to take the lead at her first major international event as head coach, and with a talented and versatile roster at her disposal, her ability to utilise Cambage while ensuring team cohesion will likely be her greatest challenge. Get it right, and Australia could well be the only team with any real chance of toppling the dominant Americans.
"Our biggest strengths will be our depth, teamwork, versatility and defence," said Brondello. "We will have line-ups that can score in multiple ways as well as be very strong defensively."
Australia tip-off their campaign against Nigeria on 22 September, before taking on Argentina and Turkey, with every game broadcast live on Fox Sports Australia.
Australian Opals for 2018 FIBA World Cup
Rebecca ALLEN / New York Liberty Alexandra BUNTON / Sydney Uni Flames Elizabeth CAMBAGE / Dallas Wings Katie-Rae EBZERY / Perth Lynx Cayla GEORGE / Dallas Wings Tess MADGEN / Townsville Fire Ezi MAGBEGOR / Melbourne Boomers Lauren MANSFIELD / Perth Lynx Leilani MITCHELL / Phoenix Mercury Jenna O’HEA / Melbourne Boomers Alanna SMITH / Stanford University Stephanie TALBOT / Phoenix Mercury
Opals World Cup Schedule (all times AEST)
22-Sep: vs Nigeria @ 10:30pm 23-Sep: vs Argentina @ 8:00pm 25-Sep: vs Turkey @ 10:30pm 26-Sep: Quarter-Final Qualifications 28-Sep: Quarter-Finals 29-Sep: Semi-Finals 30-Sep: Finals