Michele Timms' All-Time Olympic Opals
The three-time Olympian and FIBA Hall of Fame inductee outlines her all-time Australian Opals Olympic team.
Not only is Michele Timms one of the Opals’ best ever representatives on the world stage, she was also a pioneer and a trailblazer for Australian female basketballers to take their talents overseas to European leagues and America’s WNBA.
Inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2016, Timms stepped out for an incredible 264 appearances for the Australian national team, including four World Championship appearances (1986, 1990,1994, 1998) and three Olympic Games campaigns (1988, 1996, 2000). While she brought home a World Championship bronze in 1998, she also made an indelible mark at the Olympics, earning bronze in 1996 before captaining the Opals to silver on home soil at Sydney in 2000.
A player renowned for her competitive nature, playmaking abilities and perimeter shooting, there are few better positioned and credentialed than Timms to understand what it means to represent your country and your sport at the Olympics. While COVID-19 forced the rescheduling of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, we tasked Timms with the challenge of assembling her all-time Olympic Opals twelve.
Michele Timms’ All-Time Olympic Opals
Suzy BATKOVIC (2004, 2008, 2012)
Sandy BRONDELLO (1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004)
Elizabeth CAMBAGE (2012, 2016)
Jenny CHEESEMAN (1984, 1988)
Shelly GORMAN (1988, 1996, 2000)
Kristi HARROWER (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012)
Lauren JACKSON (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012)
Robyn MAHER (1984, 1988, 1996)
Rachael SPORN (1996, 2000, 2004)
Penny TAYLOR (2004, 2008, 2016)
Michele TIMMS (1988, 1996, 2000)
Jenny WHITTLE (1996, 2000)
Tom MAHER - Head coach (1996, 2000)
“You just have to go with the best,” shared Timms in coming up with her all-time Olympic Opals squad. “It was tough selecting the team though. Some players speak for themselves, but such is the depth the Opals have had over the years. It was no easy task and apologies for those great Opals to not make the list.”
Suzy Batkovic (2004, 2008, 2012)
“Suzy is just such a great team player; great on and off the court! She had the flexibility to play inside and outside, and had an ability to come up big in big games. A ‘lefty ‘that everyone had scouted as a lefty, Batkovic was deceivingly unstoppable — playing alongside Jackson, they made the perfect dynamic duo. She carried an attitude and swagger that helped harden the Opals and put fear into international opponents. ‘Bat girl’ only ever chose to play at Olympics, and to many coaches frustrations I’m sure, didn’t make herself available for World Championship quests. For me her 2008 (Beijing) Games were a highlight.”
Sandy Brondello (1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004)
“The best jump shooter Australia has ever had! She gave the Opals flexibility where she could run the 1, 2 or 3. A flat out scorer, with the best jump shot Australia has ever seen (in fact I will go so far as to say first player to get into plyometrics up in North Queensland as a junior to assist her game). Don’t be deceived by her slight frame, Brondello worked so hard on her body to become a physically strong player. She was a big time scorer, ‘miss clutch’ — you knew when you ran a play, it was a high percentage chance when the ball was in her hands, you knew she would score.
“As a point guard, when Brondello shot the ball, I was always running back to safety or eyeing off my defensive assignment to get ready to get up full court to deny — that’s how confident I was in Brondello as a shooter. Because she was such a good shooter, her misses were always reboundable too. Brondello was absolutely known and feared by all European teams because her of her MVP European Championships with Club Wuppertal, and this intimidated and made it harder for opposition European teams to scout the Opals. Not only one of out top Olympians, before Jackson came on the scene, Brondello was our most successful international export in Europe.”
Liz Cambage (2012, 2016)
“Well, what can you say? It's a no-brainer! She has the potential to be the best player in the world. Her performance in the game versus USA in London at the 2012 Olympics was epic — as was her Slam Dunk — the first ever by a female at an Olympics. Modern-day Opals teams have relied heavily on Cambage, who continues to deliver. Her impact to the present day Opals program results in medals — without Cambage, the Opals would struggle to be medal contenders.”
Jenny Cheeseman (1984, 1988)
“Just an absolute leader, a floor general. She had a huge IQ and always played with poise. Cool, calm and collected, she would always make good decisions. She was a defensive pest which I loved, and didn’t care which international team she faced, she backed her ability as a defender and challenged world class guards. She became a great role model for me as the point guard who came after her.”
Shelly Gorman (1988, 1996, 2000)
“One of the best pure scorers Australia has ever produced. Gorman had an appetite to score and a tough mentality to be that player — she wanted the ball and wasn’t scared to make the big play in the clutch. Ferocious competitor, a big 2-man, Gorman could score from the perimeter and then take her opponent down to the block.
“Shelley had an incredible nose for the ball which made her possibly the best offensive rebounding guard Australia has ever had. First Opals player to play in the professional ABL in the USA, Olympics were a specialty of Gorman’s as she loved the big stage — I loved her aggression, physically and mentally. Great in low-clock situations, she could always find a way to score. She helped set the bar for fitness and work ethic for Opals.”
Kristi Harrower (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012)
“Just a genius on the court, she led the Opals through their most successful years as the point guard. Without the captain’s mantel, Harrower led the team, and lets face it, she had a few egos to manage to ensure the Opals dominance throughout the four Olympic Games she played in.
“Harrower’s exceptional three-point shooting and range was difficult to defend because if you closed out long, she would just beat you off the dribble. She saw the floor great and was an excellent feeder. She was another Opal who really made a name for herself in Europe particularly, which added to the aura of a very scary world class Opals line up at Olympics. As I mentioned, throughout Harrower’s four Olympic campaigns, she did an excellent job managing players around her — she knew how to keep everyone happy without detracting from her potent offensive game.
“Kristi is another whose game smarts was through the roof. Her coaches never needed to waste timeouts down the stretch because ‘Shrimpy’ always knew what had to be done. She could do it all and really stepped it up under pressure at the Olympics. She could do it all — score and harass players full court, as well as being a great help defender, while also being a good rebounder.”
Lauren Jackson (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012)
“She had it all! There is nothing else to say that hasn't already been said about LJ. Its all in the history books for women’s basketball… THE GREATEST OPAL TO HAVE EVER PULLED ON THE SINGLET/BODYSUIT!
“She did whatever she could do to rip the game apart and do whatever was required to win. Defensively flexible, offensively inside-out, and a mental toughness that made her the best ever. Who could ever forget 2000 when LJ took on Lisa Lesley?”
Robyn Maher (1984, 1988, 1996)
“Some of you younger readers might be surprised when I say Maher was one of the greatest scorer’s we have had. A lot of people think of Robyn Maher as a defensive stopper, and rightly so, but in ’84 and ’88 especially, she was an offensive force to be reckoned with.
“She could shoot the three, used her brute strength to take contact and get to the rack and post up smaller defenders. Maher developed her reputation as the toughest defender in the world by shutting down the likes of Brazil’s Hortência Macari, who in her heyday, was arguably the best offensive player in the world. Whenever the Opals took the floor, Maher had the toughest assignment. Her flexibility to defend a point guard or a big — who could forget her battle against 2.03m China’s Zheng Haixia — was invaluable to team Opals success. I’ve mentioned quite a few Opal players who had high IQ’s, however Maher had by far the best IQ of any player in an Opals uniform I’ve ever played with. Number one all-time for IQ.”
Rachel Sporn (1996, 2000, 2004)
“She was just all versatility. Sporn was such an athletic 4-5 player that could run the floor like a gazelle, keeping teams honest and piling on quick points for the Opals. She could defend all positions and was just so athletic. Her ability to use her length on point guards was a weapon that enabled the Opals to throw different looks that was ahead of its time, and in fact if she played these days, this ability would be deadly in switching on-ball screens.
“She was pivotal to the Opals success from ’96 to 2004. She was the smiling assassin, whose light frame was like rubber — she could take a bump and score. One of our first really athletic, long, agile athletic big’s to play for Australia. She offensively changed the game for Opals as that big target on the inside and her ability to get to the X quicker than other big’s.”
Penny Taylor (2004, 2008, 2016)
“One of my biggest regrets was not being able to play a lot during Taylor’s career. She played a little bit in Lauren's shadow in regards to headlines, but on the court she was a force. She could shoot the three, pull up J, get to the rack, and was a great passer — it was no surprise Taylor won MVP of our only GOLD medal World Championship in 2006!
“Her ability to score, play the defense, and get into passing lanes quicker than anyone else I’ve seen was what set Taylor apart. Never intimidated, Taylor had an edge and toughness about her wrapped in this Nicole Kidman-type exterior.”
Jenny Whittle (1996, 2000)
“Probably one that many people may not remember is Jenny Whittle. 5-man, 1.98m Whittle was ahead of her time. There weren’t many players of her height that could shoot the three back in the mid-90’s. These days you need to be able to do that, but Whittle was definitely unique with her skill set for that period of basketball and enabled the Opals to create havoc on teams whose big man just sat in the key to clog it up.
“She was the Opal’s secret weapon on the trail and in on-ball situations who would nail the big three. When I think about the evolution of the game, Whittle provided the Opals with a skill set that few big players on the world scene had during the early to mid 90’s. Obviously her height gave us an advantage inside too that we hadn’t had before on the boards. But even more important was Whittle’s ability to adjust opposition shots which gave us perimeter players an opportunity to be more risque in defense on our man. We knew she had our back and they would need to shoot over the ‘long arm of the law’ if they got past us. She used her length superbly, and with a high IQ which rarely saw her foul out, but boy she could really shoot the rock like no other big player!”
Tom Maher: head coach (1996, 2000)
“To me Tom’s value and stature in the game is like Lauren Jackson — his record speaks for itself. Before he took the helm in 1994, we missed out totally on the 1992 Olympics, and then took the Opals to the podium with bronze at World’s and then the next Olympics. He had a big part in LJ's development, Gorman's development, and my development. As far as coaching credentials go, there is no one that is greater to coach the Opals, let alone the Olympics, and it's a shame he was never able to coach a gold medal winning team.
“He put the Opals on the world map and created a style of game both offensive and defensive that resulted in podium finishes, but just as importantly, resulted in gaining respect for Australia as a basketball nation. In my eyes, he set the team up for ongoing success, and created a culture which became known as the Opals.”
“Trish Fallon (1996, 2000, 2004) is really unlucky to miss out on this team. She had the athletic body perfectly suited to the game. I feel bad for leaving her out, but I just couldn’t leave out anyone else! She, like Michele Brogan, were poetry in motion as players. She made things look easy. Julie Nykiel (1984, 1988) is also another to just miss out.Unfortunately for her, she comes up against Jackson and Cambage. Then there is also Belinda Snell (2004, 2008, 2012); what a competitor - who can forget what she did in London?
“Good players are going to miss out. They were all definitely on the short list, and definitely deserve a special mention. Who do I leave out to put them in? It’s tough picking an all-time Olympic Opals team!”