After a successful 2018 FIBA World Cup campaign in which the Australian Opals came away with silver, an extended preliminary squad of 27 has been named in early preparation for the 2019 Asia Cup which tips off in September.
The squad named boasts all the big names in Australian women's basketball, including Liz Cambage who is currently contracted to play in China, through to rising star Alanna Smith who is starring for Stanford in Division I college basketball in the US. Both earned silver at last year's World Cup, and will be rejoined by the entire roster that finished second at that event.
There is a heavy local flavour too, with 22 players competing in the 2018/19 WNBL season. Making their way back include the luckless Leilani Mitchell, Marianna Tolo and Sara Blicavs who all missed possible World Cup inclusion due to injury, while Alex Bunton, Kristy Wallace and Alex Wilson were also included despite currently being injured. European based players included are Sami Whitcomb, Rebecca Allen and Abby Bishop.
One of the Opals' glaring weaknesses at the World Cup was the lack of a genuine world-class point guards to call upon, especially with Mitchell ruled out due to injury. Brondello has included a mix of veteran court generals who are nearing the end of their careers or those who have battled injury, and while a host of combo guards can pinch-hit at this position, to challenge the USA for gold a standout point guard needs to be unearthed. For this reason it is surprising that the likes of Syracuse standout Tiana Mangakahia was not named, especially with Wallace -- who would appear to be the obvious choice when fit as the one to step up-- battling injury once more.
The Opals will link up on the Gold Coast from 12-18 April before undertaking a second camp in Phoenix, Arizona from 20-31 July, after which head coach Sandy Brondello will announce the final team for their Asia Cup campaign in early August.
“These camps will be a great opportunity for the coaching staff to evaluate a larger group of players and target the ones who we believe will have the best chance of making the tournaments later in the year,” said head coach Sandy Brondello in a statement.
“I am most happy to see the injured players like Tolo, Mitchell and Sara Blicavs return to the squad,” said Brondello.
“We faced a lot of adversity in 2018 with all of the injuries we encountered and even though we had a great experience at the World Cup, having these players back will only make us a better team moving forward.”
Brondello has spent the best part of the WNBA off-season courtside at WNBL games, with the silver-medal winning coach explaining that it aided her ability to effectively evaluate the talent playing on home soil.
“I think the overall standard of the WNBL has gotten better. I am seeing more improved skills as individuals and as a team. The competition is fierce and the physicality and speed continues to get better which are all pleasing aspects for me.”
While 2018 was a big year for the Opals, 2019 is the first step towards qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games, tipping off with the FIBA Asia Cup.
“Following the Asia Cup in September, we have the very important qualifiers for our region in November,” said Brondello.
“A top-four finish during that qualifier will see us advance to the Pre-Olympic tournament in February where we will play against the qualifiers from the rest of the world to determine the final 12 spots for Tokyo.
“With so much at stake, every camp and the games we have together will be crucial to continue our development and chemistry as a team so that we are performing at our best when it matters.”
Extended Australian Opals Squad | January 2019
Rebecca ALLEN / Basket90 Gydinia (Poland) Abby BISHOP / PEAC Pecs (Hungary) Stephanie BLICAVS / Adelaide Lightning Sara BLICAVS / Dandenong Rangers Alexandra BUNTON* / Sydney Uni Flames Elizabeth CAMBAGE / Shanxi Xing Rui Flame (China) Rebecca COLE / Dandenong Rangers Katie EBZERY / Perth Lynx Darcee GARBIN / Townsville Fire Cayla GEORGE / Melbourne Boomers Kelsey GRIFFIN / University of Canberra Capitals Tessa LAVEY / Dandenong Rangers Tess MADGEN / Townsville Fire Ezi MAGBEGOR / Melbourne Boomers Lauren MANSFIELD / Perth Lynx Leilani MITCHELL / University of Canberra Capitals Lauren NICHOLSON / Adelaide Lightning Jenna O'HEA / Melbourne Boomers Lauren SCHERF / University of Canberra Capitals Nicole SEEKAMP / Adelaide Lightning Alanna SMITH / Stanford University (NCAA) Stephanie TALBOT / Melbourne Boomers Marianna TOLO / University of Canberra Capitals Tahlia TUPAEA / Sydney Uni Flames Kristy WALLACE* / University of Canberra Capitals Sami WHITCOMB / Lattes Montpellier (France) Alex WILSON* / Sydney Uni Flames * Status – Injured at time of squad announcement