Australia’s Gems have followed the Boomers in being handed a tricky World Cup assignment. They drew the United States, Hungary, and South Korea in the group stage for the FIBA Under 19 Women’s World Cup, which will be held in Thailand from July 20-28.
All four teams are currently in the top 15 in the world girls’ rankings, with only the group featuring China, Mali, Belgium, and Argentina looking remotely as competitive.
Australia and the USA do have recent history at the youth level, with a Sapphires team featuring Jazmin Shelley, who is likely to feature in this tournament, defeating the US in the semi-finals on their way to the 2016 Under 17 World Cup gold medal. A US side brimming with high-major college players, including UConn pair Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams, dominated the Americas Under 18 Championship recently, defeating Canada 84-60 in the final.
Whilst the United States will come into the tournament as favourites, particularly as their Under 17 team dominated last year’s World Cup in that age bracket, the remaining teams have also given Australia trouble in recent years, only for the Australians to come away relatively unscathed on both occasions.
Hungary were the Sapphires’ opponents in the bronze medal match in last year’s Under 17 World Cup. After three quarters of that game it looked as though Hungary would secure the medal - until a fourth quarter explosion led by Shyla Heal secured the Sapphires a 57-51 victory to secure the final step on the podium. Many players from that Hungarian side backed up to play in the EuroBasket Under 18 championship that served as the qualifier for this World Cup, and it would not be unlikely to see many of the same players face off again at the Under 19 level in July. Australia and Hungary also have recent history at the Under 19 level, with Australia winning their group stage battle in 2017 on their way to a sixth-place finish.
The Gems and South Korea also have recent history, particularly in relation to qualifying for the World Cup itself. The Korean side upset the Gems in the group stage of the 2018 FIBA Under 18 Asian Championship which doubled as the qualifiers for the World Cup, before the Australians turned out a vastly improved performance in the bronze medal game to get revenge with a 75-57 victory. However, missing the gold medal game with a semi-final loss to Japan negatively affected the Gems’ seeding for the draw, eventually allowing them to fall into this tough group.
Although the Gems finished 3rd in the Asian tournament, much of this cohort formed part of the Under 17 World Cup team that defeated Hungary to secure bronze in 2017, giving the eventual squad plenty of potential tournament experience, whilst several players have other high level experience either at home, college, or on the FIBA stage. Furthermore, playing in this group may also prove to battle-harden the Gems side prior to the knockout stages as the team looks to improve on 2017’s sixth-place finish and return to the podium for the first time since 2015’s bronze medal.
An extended Gems squad will come together for an initial camp between May 5-7 in Canberra, whilst a further camp closer to the tournament will decide the eventual make-up of the squad for the week-long event.