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The Road to Rio: Opals headed to Europe
Australian Opals head coach Brendan Joyce's vision of building a 'pyramid of depth' continues to build momentum ahead of a pivotal tour to Europe ahead of the 2015 FIBA Oceania Olympic qualifiers against New Zealand in August.
Following an intensive training camp held in Terrigal, New South Wales, a team of 12 players were selected to make the trip overseas for a series of exhibition games against a number of top European teams preparing for Eurobasket 2015 that serve as their Olympic qualifiers. With a tantalising blend of experience and youth, Joyce has continued to show faith in the next generation of Opals stars with the inclusion of Sara Blicavs, Madeleine Garrick, Alice Kunek and Stephanie Talbot who look set to debut for their country at senior level.
"As far as I am concerned, the training camp delivered an outstanding result," shared Joyce.
"We have some amazing players, and it is pleasing to see so many younger players step up and earn a place in the team. With so many players regularly not being available due to commitments in the WNBA, we have been building a pyramid of depth that will help us now, but also well into the future."
While a new generation of Opals will be looking to try to solidify their place in the team long-term with Rio in mind, they will be provided with plenty of support and guidance from a host of established stars. Suzy Batkovic and Belinda Snell are Opals veterans, while Kelly Wilson and the inclusion of 2015 French league champion Laura Hodges are valuable and highly experienced additions. With 2014 FIBA World Championship representatives Natalie Burton and Tessa Lavey also part of the team, the Opals head to Europe to build on the chemistry and cohesion that Joyce has been carefully nurturing over the past 18 months.
"We will be aiming to continue playing an aggressive style of basketball," Joyce added.
"It is a great opportunity for the younger players to play against some very good European teams, including 2014 (FIBA World Championship) silver medalists Spain."
“What we’re trying to do is to build on our style of play which was successful at the World Championships; to build on the Opals’ culture that we’ve established in the last two years and continue to improve not only as a team but also each individual so that we can challenge for a gold medal at the Olympic Games.”
As part of their tour of Europe from 20 May to 6 June, the Opals will also be taking on the likes of Serbia, Italy and a number of other teams depending outcomes on some of the tournaments that they will be participating in. Joyce was also expecting that the team that will take on New Zealand in August was likely to feature a good portion of the team heading to Europe.
"Most of the team on the tour (of Europe) will likely make up the team that takes on New Zealand," added Joyce.
"However we are still hopeful that some of our WNBA players may receive a release from their teams, and there is also the chance that Lizzy (Cambage) and Lauren (Jackson) will be fit to play."
The series against New Zealand and the all important first game at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on 15 August is the primary objective (Ticketek). Europe is the next step in Joyce's plan and all eyes will be on his team as they continue on their road to Rio.
The Jayco Opals squad for 2015 European Tour: Suzy Batkovic, Sara Blicavs, Natalie Burton, Katie Rae Ebzery, Madeleine Garrick, Laura Hodges, Alice Kunek, Tessa Lavey, Elyse Penaluna, Belinda Snell, Stephanie Talbot, Kelly Wilson.