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Cambage returns as Australian Opals face Japan
Australia's biggest young star in women's basketball, Elizabeth Cambage, will make her long-awaited return from injury after being named to the Jayco Australian Opals team that takes on Japan in a three-game series on home soil next week.
The series will serve as an important warm-up for the Opals ahead of the FIBA Oceania Championships against New Zealand, with qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games on the line.
The Opals begin the series against Japan in Dandenong - where Cambage played her junior basketball - on July 27, followed by games in Frankston and Ballarat. Cambage makes a welcome return to the Opals line-up after rupturing her Achilles tendon ten months ago while playing the US in an exhibition game ahead of the 2014 FIBA World Championships.
Cambage has not represented Australia since the injury and will be eager to return to the scintillating form that saw her become the first woman to dunk in an Olympic basketball game at the 2012 London Olympics. Though the towering 203cm center brings size and undoubted star-power to the team, Opals Coach Brendan Joyce is wary of placing undue expectations on the returning 23-year-old right away.
“It’s fantastic to have Liz back,” said Joyce.
“We’ll ease her into it. It’s a bonus to have her available for the series against Japan, but the focus is to have her on court against New Zealand.”
Cambage is joined on the Opals' 16-player roster by fellow WNBA talents Tess Madgen, who is back in Australia after a short-lived stint with the Phoenix Mercury, and Rachel Jarry, who withdrew from the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx this season following a knee injury. The 16-woman roster includes 12 players from the Opals' European tour in June who will all return to face Japan.
The most notable omission from the Opals' squad to face Japan is Captain Penny Taylor, the 2014 FIBA World Championship All-Star Five recipient. Taylor continues to rehabilitate ongoing knee issues while also recovering from her ankle injury. Joyce was also originally hopeful that star veteran Lauren Jackson may have been ready to return from injury, however this has not eventuated.
While their leadership and international experience will be missed as they work to get healthy for next year's Olympics, their absence opens the door for the likes of speedy 21-year-old Dandenong Rangers rising star Aimee Clydesdale.
Clydesdale has seen a rapid rise culminate in Opals selection, after only being thrust into a WNBL starting role this season when injuries depleted the Rangers' depth. Clydesdale, who grew up around the corner from Dandenong Stadium where she'll make her Opals debut, seized the opportunity and played her way onto the Emerging Opals, where she impressed again at the recent World University Games and earned a call up to the senior national side. Not yet a consistent scorer, Clydesdale's trademarks are quickness, hustle and gritty defence, which makes her a useful addition to combat Japan's speed.
“We toured Japan before the World Championships back in June last year. Their explosiveness is going to test us defensively,” admitted Joyce.
“It’s going to be tremendous preparation for the Oceania Championships. Japan may not be the biggest team in the world, but they’re certainly quick."
Also making the side from the recent World University Games team is Tessa Lavey, Stephanie Talbot, Alice Kunek and Sara Blicavs, all who played important roles in placing fifth. While Clydesdale and Lavey's speed will surely help, it is the return of Cambage, who stands 6'8" using the old measure, that could prove Japan's quickness alone may not be enough to slow down the Opals.
The Jayco Australian Opals squad: Suzy Batkovic, Sara Blicavs, Natalie Burton, Elizabeth Cambage, Aimee Clydesdale, Katie-Rae Ebzery, Madeleine Garrick, Laura Hodges, Rachel Jarry, Alice Kunek, Tessa Lavey, Tess Madgen, Elyse Penaluna, Belinda Snell, Stephanie Talbot, and Kelly Wilson.
July 27 , 7:00pm AEST vs Japan @ Dandenong Basketball Stadium
Tickets available online
July 29, 7:00pm AEST vs Japan @ Frankston Basketball Stadium
Tickets available via Frankston Basketball Association
July 31, 7:00pm AEST vs Japan @ Ballarat Minerdome
Tickets available online