Sapphires named to defend World Cup gold

The 12 players tasked with attempting to defend Australia’s 2016 Under 17 FIBA World Championship title have been decided, with the Sapphires squad for the 2018 Under 17 FIBA World Cup for women to be held in Minsk, Belarus in July named today.

Nine members of the squad – Georgia Amoore, Agnes Emma-Nnopu, Alexandra Fowler, Ashlee Hannan, Shyla Heal, Eliza Hollingsworth, Jade Melbourne, Isabel Palmer, and Gemma Potter – featured in the Australian Under 16 team that secured the FIBA Asia Under 16 Championship in 2017 after sneaking by Japan 61-60 in the championship game. Those players have been joined by three new additions to the squad; Victorian pair Isobel Anstey and Lily Scanlon, as well as Ruby Porter who is the sole South Australian in the team after impressing during the selection process.

Potter, Scanlon, Hollingsworth, and Anstey were all part of the Victoria Metro side that came away with the title at this year’s Under 18 national championship. A total of seven members of the squad finished in the top 10 for scoring in that tournament, with Fowler the only player to average a double-double, chalking up 17.3 points and 12.1 rebounds per contest.

As was the case with the victorious side of 2016, the vast majority of the squad have spent the year playing SEABL together for the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence, which no doubt will assist with team cohesion on the back of last year’s Asian Championship victory. Head coach Shannon Seebohm and assistant Mark Wrobel will also reprise their roles from 2 years ago, bringing title-winning experience to a squad that may have competed at the continental level, but not yet at a World Championship. Former Centre of Excellence coach Melissa Downer replaces Tracy York as the team’s other assistant coach.

While this team may not be quite as hyped as the 2016 title-winning side that has already seen no fewer than eight members feature on WNBL rosters, there is now an expectation from within that all Australian teams secure medals on the world stage. The success of the 2016 side will no doubt instill belief in the 12 players selected to defend the title.

This roster isn't totally without WNBL experience though, with several players already involved with clubs as development players, while point guard Shyla Heal having spent time playing for the now defunct South-East Queensland Stars in 2015/16.

2018 will see the Sapphires take on competition newcomers Angola, Latvia (10th in 2016), and Canada (7th in 2016). Latvia finished fourth in last year’s Under 16 European Championship, whilst Canada were runner-up to the dominant US side in the Americas tournament. Angola finished second in the African Championship, atoning for a group stage loss to Egypt by defeating the same opponent in their semi-finals before falling to Mali in the final.

The Australians’ semifinal and final opponents from their 2016 campaign, USA and Italy, have been drawn in the same group, meaning it is almost certain that at least one of those teams will be in the same half of the draw as the Sapphires heading into the knockout rounds. Both of those countries, as well as European heavyweights France and Hungary, are sure to be among the top teams, while Japan have already shown their class by pushing the Sapphires all the way in the 2018 FIBA Asian Championship title game.

2018 Under 17 World Cup Schedule

22 July: vs Angola @ 3:00am 23 July: vs Latvia @ 12:45am 24 July: vs Canada @ 11:00pm 25 July: Round of 16 Finals 27 July: Quarter-Finals/Classification Games 28 July: Semi-Finals/Classification Games 29 July: Gold Medal Game/Classification Games

All of the Sapphires games will be streamed LIVE on The Pick and Roll’s Facebook page with Australian commentary.

Sapphires Squad

Georgia Amoore (Victoria) Isobel Anstey (Victoria) Agnes Emma-Nnopu (Victoria) Alexandra Fowler (Queensland) Ashlee Hannan (Queensland) Shyla Heal (New South Wales) Eliza Hollingsworth (Victoria) Jade Melbourne (Victoria) Isabel Palmer (New South Wales) Ruby Porter (South Australia) Gemma Potter (Victoria) Lily Scanlon (Victoria)

Head Coach: Shannon Seebohm Assistant Coaches: Mark Wrobel, Melissa Downer

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