Basketball Australia have named a squad of 27 ahead in preparing for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in August this year. Head coach Brendan Joyce will trim the squad to no more than 20 in each of the four planned training camps scheduled to be held between March and July.
Joyce spoke glowingly of Lauren Mansfield and naturalised Australian Kelsey Griffen who have both been selected to their first Opals squad which also contains the majority of the bronze medal winning team from the 2014 FIBA World Championships.
“Mansfield has had an excellent WNBL season and that prompted us to provide an opportunity for her,” shared Joyce.
“It is also Kelsey Griffin’s first inclusion. As a naturalised player she will get to experience her first taste of the Jayco Opals.”
With Griffin and Leilani Mitchell in the squad, Joyce will only be able to select one of them for the final team of 12 for the Olympics due to FIBA naturalisation regulations.
Joyce appears to be covering all bases with the extra-large group of players that he will eventually select the Olympic team of 12 from. In an encouraging sign for the Opals and their medal chances, veterans Penny Taylor, Erin Phillips are joined by Liz Cambage in returning to the fold. However all eyes will be on Cambage and Alice Kunek who are likely to link together for the first time since the racial tension between the two was aired publicly via social media earlier this week that also made national headlines. It will be interesting to see if both are present for the first camp set to be held in Canberra commencing 29 March.
With Taylor and Phillips available, Joyce was obviously excited by their return.
“I’m really pleased to have Penny Taylor and Erin Phillips back for the first two camps," further explained Joyce. "Together they bring a wealth of international experience and leadership to the squad and it will be great to see Erin on the court after her own knee injury.”
Returning from injury is Marianna Tolo, while Rebecca Allen has also managed to work her way into the squad after battling back from a knee injury of her own. Also included in the squad is veteran superstar Lauren Jackson who still holds hopes of being fit in time to add value to the Opals in what would be her final Olympic campaign.
Following the first camp in Canberra at the newly refurbished Centre of Excellence the remaining camps will be held in late April in Gosford, late June in Canberra and early July on the Gold Coast in rounding out the Opals Olympic preparations.
“We will utilise these camps to maintain and continue to develop the team chemistry we had at the 2014 World Championships and transfer that into 2016," explained Joyce.
"We have included bigger squads in the past but this year we wanted to start with a tighter squad to develop cohesion. However, these training camps are not just about the on-court work. We will run through our structures and strategies but also have a couple of seminars to build on our mission, goals, culture and event resilience. There will be a sports psychologist to discuss resilience training and the challenges and distractions that can occur at big events.”
Should Cambage and Kunek both be included in the first camp, that sports psychologist is likely to be extremely busy. If Joyce can deliver the team cohesion he will need, it looks like the Opals may be well placed to challenge for gold in Rio.
Australian Opals Squad
First Name Surname Club 1 Rebecca Allen SEQ Stars 2 Suzy Batkovic Townsville Fire 3 Sara Blicavs Dandenong Rangers 4 Abby Bishop University of Canberra Capitals 5 Natalie Burton Perth Lynx 6 Elizabeth Cambage Shanghai 7 Stephanie Cumming Dandenong Rangers 8 Katie-Rae Ebzery Sydney Uni Flames 9 Cayla George Townsville Fire 10 Madeleine Garrick Melbourne Boomers 11 Kelsey Griffin Bendigo Spirit 12 Laura Hodges Bourges (France) 13 Lauren Jackson University of Canberra Capitals 14 Rachel Jarry SEQ Stars 15 Alice Kunek Melbourne Boomers 16 Tessa Lavey Perth Lynx 17 Tess Madgen Melbourne Boomers 18 Lauren Mansfield SEQ Stars 19 Carley Mijovic Perth Lynx 20 Leilani Mitchell Adelaide Lightning 21 Erin Phillips LA Sparks 22 Elyse Penaluna Melbourne Boomers 23 Belinda Snell Bendigo Spirit 24 Stephanie Talbot University of Canberra Capitals 25 Penny Taylor Phoenix Mercury 26 Marianna Tolo 27 Kelly Wilson Bendigo Spirit