Australian Opals head coach Brendan Joyce has named a squad of 18 for a training camp to be held in Gosford, NSW from 27 April to 2 May in preparing for the FIBA Oceania Olympic qualifiers to be played against New Zealand in August. The team is headlined by six bronze medalists from the 2014 FIBA World Championships and the inclusion of some outstanding young talent.
Joyce has narrowed the squad down from the 22 that attended a camp earlier in the year, managing to find room to include Kath McLeod and Belinda Snell who were unable to take part in the first camp of 2015. From this squad of 18, Joyce explained that the final make up of the team that will take on New Zealand would come from this group.
"Credit to all the girls and their commitment to the Opals program," stated Joyce in speaking exclusively with The Pick and Roll. "This squad has been chosen not just about the FIBA Oceania qualifiers against New Zealand, but also looking ahead to Rio and beyond. The final team for the series against New Zealand will most likely come from this group."
Joyce has doubtlessly put together a very talented and balanced squad from which he will select an Opals team that will be looking to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Despite the squad boasting six players who earned bronze in 2014, given the series against New Zealand clashes with the WNBA season, he believed it was unlikely that the Opal's host of WNBA stars would be available for selection.
"I remain hopeful that we can secure our WNBA players and we are working hard to negotiate their leave to take part in the series," Joyce explained. "However due to the nature of the WNBA's collective bargaining agreement, it is unlikely that they will join the team."
That means that squad members including Rebecca Allen and Cayla Francis will likely miss the New Zealand series, joining other Australian stars such as Penny Taylor and Erin Phillips who will all be expected to suit up for the respective teams in the WNBA. While the Opals will be far from full strength when they step on the court to take on their trans-Tasman rivals in Melbourne, Joyce explained that he was buoyed by the potential return to the court of two of Australia's brightest stars ahead of the Olympic qualifiers; Lauren Jackson and Elizabeth Cambage.
"In speaking with Lizzy and Lauren, there is strong medical advice that provided they stick to their rehab schedules, they are on track to be available for the FIBA Oceania series," enthused Joyce. "Both have been a part of the Opals program for quite some time. Lauren played with the team last year, and Lizzy was part of the lead up to the World Championships before she got injured. They would be welcome additions to the team."
If Jackson is able to make a successful return from injury, this will be the first step towards finishing her distinguished Opals career with a potential medal on offer in Rio. For Cambage, it will be a chance to work towards realising her undeniable potential.
Following the Opals camp in Gosford, Joyce outlined that the next step in the team's preparations would be to head to Europe from 20 May to 6 June to take on a number of countries as they too prepare for EuroBasket 2015 which doubles as their Olympic qualification tournament that commences from 11 June.
"This tour will be a great opportunity, and especially our younger players. We will be playing at least eight games and the experience will prove vital for both now and into the future. This is a great preparation for us despite not being at full strength."
On their European tour, the Opals opponents will include the likes of 2014 FIBA World Championship silver medalists Spain, Serbia and Italy. These teams will be in their final preparations for their Olympic qualifying tournament and will all be at or near full strength and prove a tough test for a new-look Opals team.
"We will continue to run, attack and defend aggressively," Joyce explained on what style of play that the Opals would employ. "We will spread the scoring and look to maintain the pressure on our opponents at all times."
In attempting to replicate the attacking, aggressive style of game that proved so effective at the 2014 FIBA World Championships, the Opals are once again set to entertain and build on their success with a mix of tantalizing mix of youth and experience. To build on that success, they first must beat New Zealand in August.
Australian Opals Squad
Gosford Training Camp | 27 April to 2 May 2015
1. Rebecca Allen (Melbourne Boomers)
2. Suzy Batkovic (Townsville Fire)
3. Sara Blicavs (Bendigo Spirit)
4. Natalie Burton (Melbourne Boomers)
5. Aimee Clydesdale (Dandenong Rangers)
6. Katie Rae Ebzery (Sydney Flames)
7. Cayla Francis (Townsville Fire)
8. Madeleine Garrick (Bendigo Spirit)
9. Rachel Jarry (Melbourne Boomers)
10. Alice Kunek (Dandenong Rangers)
11. Tessa Lavey (Bendigo Spirit)
12. Tess Madgen (Melbourne Boomers)
13. Kathleen MacLeod (Dandenong Rangers)
14. Elyse Penaluna (Bendigo Spirit)
15. Lauren Scherf (Dandenong Rangers)
16. Belinda Snell (Bendigo Spirit)
17. Stephanie Talbot (Canberra Capitals)
18. Kelly Wilson (Bendigo Spirit)