Mixed bag for Sapphires in lead up to World Championships

First it was the All-NBL team in China, then the U17 Men had their shot at touring. The Australian junior women also flew the flag in Beijing as they prepared for the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championships in Zaragoza, Spain commencing on 22 June.

With less than a month before the tournament gets underway, Australia is beginning to ramp up its preparation. The Sapphires experienced mixed results in their opening warm-up tournament, taking three wins from six games.

The Four Nations Invitational Tournament featured the Sapphires, the Chinese and Lithuanian U19 teams, and a Basketball USA All-Stars team made up of some of the best women's college players in America.

Sapphires on tour in China | Credit: Basketball Australia

The Aussies started off slowly, going down to a stacked USA All-Stars team that featured WNBA prospects such as Talia Walton, Kaylon Williams, and Shelby Cheslek. A 72-52 scoreline was not flattering for the Aussies, but due to the quick turnaround they had little time to get caught up in the loss.

Later in the tournament the Sapphires exacted their revenge, upsetting USA 78-68. Samantha Simons was impressive for the winning side finishing with 17 points. The Australians shot at an unbelievable rate, going 56% from the field in the outstanding victory.

Their second game of the tournament was against the U19 Chinese women's team. This was a much closer affair, however the Sapphires went down in a tight one 71-70. Considering the age difference, this was an impressive effort from the U17 Australians. Star player Ezi Magbegor was outstanding, finishing with 12 points and 4 blocks.

Magbegor is likely to be one of Australia's main weapons when they head to Zaragoza. The Victorian last year featured in both the FIBA Oceania U16 Championships and the FIBA U19 World Championships in which Australia earned bronze.

The Chinese team, who were the eventual champions of the tournament, were again too strong for the Sapphires in their second match-up, claiming a narrow 3 point win.

The third side that the Sapphires faced was the U19 Lithuanian team. In their first game against the Lithuanians, they took their first win of the tournament, 74-61. Again Magbegor (11 points and 4 rebounds) was impressive, while the likes of Jasmine Simmons (11 points and 6 rebounds), and Jazmin Shelley (11 points, 3 assists and 4 steals) performed well. The latter was the only Australian to knock down a triple, going 3/5 from beyond the arc. The second game against the Lithuanians was a much closer affair, however the Aussies did enough to take a sweep against the European side, claiming a 1 point win.

The Sapphires will take a lot from the tournament. Despite struggling early, the Aussies showed talent and resilience by not letting a poor early result affect the rest of their performances.

Australia will be looking to improve on their last campaign after finishing 5th in the 2014 U17 FIBA World Championships. Coach Shannon Seebohm will be aiming for his side to medal, which surprisingly would be a a first for the Sapphires at this event.

Playing in Group B at the FIBA U17 World Championships, the Sapphires are pooled with China, France and Mexico. The full schedule and team info for all competing countries can be found on the FIBA website here.

The Sapphires can be viewed here, while the U17 men's side is listed here.