Discussing the top 10 Australian Opals of the past decade
The resurgence of basketball in Australia has been undeniable in the past decade. As mentioned in our Australian Boomers of the decade, our national stars have come so close to international glory on several occasions, and the Opals have experienced a slightly bumpy road this decade, finishing as runners up on some occasions and missing out on a podium finish for others.
Nonetheless this decade has been abundant on a lot of levels for our women, and the talent pool seems to be growing by the minute. We take a look at some of the best and brightest Opals to don the mighty Australian colours.
Interestingly, the Commonwealth Games organisers scrapped basketball for the 2010 and 2014 editions of the tournament, but it was reintroduced to the Games on the Gold Coast in 2018. In a similar vein, the Oceania Championship was scrapped after the 2015 tournament in favour of an expanded Asia Cup.
10. Katie Rae Ebzery
FIBA Oceania Championships (2015), FIBA Asia Cup (2017, 2019), Commonwealth Games (2018), FIBA World Cup (2018)
An Opal who is in her prime and provides firepower wherever she goes, Katie-Rae Ebzery’s name is synonymous with WNBL and Opals fans of late. Her introduction to the national squad may be a similar route for future basketballers, having played at the Universiade and 3×3 Championships before making her debut.
Her first taste of the Opals squad came with a gold in the 2015 Oceania Championships, punching her ticket to Rio in the process. On the world stage in Brazil she had to contend with inconsistent minutes with her strongest showing coming against Turkey, 11 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists.
Her performance averages improved the 2019 FIBA Asia Cup (averaging 7.3 points and 3.5 assists) and her consistent appearances at recent tournaments will work in her favour as she aims to make the squad for Tokyo this year.
9. Bec Allen
FIBA World Cup (2014, 2018) FIBA Asia Cup (2019)
Bec Allen is another star who will no doubt be part of this list again next decade, but her influence in the last few years was too impressive not to include her in this elite list.
Her tournament involvement with the Opals has yielded medals and success, with her earliest involvement with the Opals dating back to 2014 at the World Cup in Turkey on her way to her first taste of a bronze medal. She missed out on contention for the Olympic team in 2016, but worked her way back into the squad for the World Cup in Spain where
The New York Liberty forward had some extremely strong showings at the 2019 Asia Cup, particularly the third place playoff against South Korea where she finished with 20 points to her name. She finished her Asia Cup campaign with 11.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game and her performances were more than enough to earn her place in the tournament All Star 5.
8. Jenna O’Hea
FIBA World Cup (2010, 2018), Olympic Games (2012), Commonwealth Games (2018), Asia Cup (2019)
When we mention Jenna O’Hea, a lot of people will use words like composure, leadership, defensive presence and all-rounder.
Jenna was involved with the World Cup of 2010 and the Olympic Games in London, earning her first bronze medal with 7.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. She did miss a few tournaments in between drinks, but her return to the WNBL in 2018 reignited her position in the national team.
During the Commonwealth Games on home court, her top scoring performance came against a hapless Mozambique, where she scored 14 points and pulled in 3 rebounds and 3 assists. She completed her campaign with a tournament high assists tally (22 total, 4.4 assists per game) and 58.3% on 3-point shooting.
She put a quiet 2018 World Cup behind her to be named captain of the Opals for the 2019 Asia Cup held in India. Jenna raced out of the gates on her way to 17 points in the huge win over the Phillippines. Her tournament finished with 8.5 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, but as I always say you can never put stats on leadership and presence.
It looks like her involvement with the Opals will be ongoing for the foreseeable future, though she’ll need to recover from her most recent injury setback to be fit in time for the Tokyo Olympics.
7. Leilani Mitchell
FIBA World Cup (2014) Olympic Games (2016), FIBA Asia Cup (2019)
Leilani Mitchell has been around the game for a while, and her club career has definitely been much more decorated than her national team journey. Her Opals resume didn’t take off until the Rio Olympics, where she exploded onto the world stage.
Mitchell was heavily relied on in that tournament, finishing behind Cambage and Taylor for average points per game. Her Olympic best was against Japan, finishing with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists. For a 5’5 guard, she managed to finish inside the top 5 Australian players for average rebounds, not an easy feat.
Her showing at the 2019 Asia Cup wasn’t as electric as her Olympics campaign, yet she put in some good shifts particularly against the Philippines and Japan.
Mitchell’s game is mesmerizing – her silky-smooth moves, composure and ability to score and create is invaluable for the Opals. Coming off the back of her second career WNBA’s Most Improved Player, it goes to show her stock as a basketballer is continually on the rise.
Her place in the national team will surely be buoyed by her form at club level. She’s quick, eagle eyed and has incredible composure and handles, and a no-brainer for Tokyo.
6. Cayla George
FIBA Oceania Championship (2015), FIBA World Cup (2014, 2018), Olympic Games (2016), Commonwealth Games (2018), FIBA Asia Cup (2019)
Cayla George (nee Francis) is not only a dominant basketballer, if you ever get to meet her in person, you’ll find her infectious smile and personality is as big as she is.
Standing at 6’4, her defensive capabilities are sure to always reinforce the squad for any given tournament. It’s not uncommon for her games to be accentuated by her rebounds and her assists more than her scoring output. Catch her on song and she’s nearly unbeatable.
Her performances for the Opals began to heat up toward the end of the decade, teaming up with Liz Cambage at the 2018 Commonwealth Games to unleash a wrecking ball effort on the competition. She averaged 11 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks en route to gold on the Gold Coast.
In 2019 her FIBA Asia Cup performance stood as almost strongly as her Commonwealth Games with 9.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. She opened her account with a tidy 11 points and 14 rebounds in the Opals’ demolition of the Philippines.
There’s no doubt the Boomers centre will be on her way to Tokyo this year.
5. Suzy Batkovic
FIBA Oceania Championships (2011, 2015), Olympic Games (2012)
Apart from the GOAT, Suzy is the only other player in this list to have represented the Opals across three decades. Suzy Batkovic has been a stalwart of the WNBL, particularly in the last 10 years, and she brought that firepower with her when playing for the national team.
The absences of Cambage and Jackson at the 2011 Oceania Championships proved to be no major hurdle, as Suzy was able to step up and fill the void left by the iconic bigs. Finishing with 17.7 points and 8 rebounds per game, her dominance was palpable as Australia dispatched New Zealand with relative ease to qualify for the 2012 Olympiad.
In the same game as Snell’s miracle 3-pointer, Suzy made her presence felt on the Olympic stage against the French. In the absence of Cambage and Jackson due to foul trouble, she bagged a healthy 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Opals to a noble loss to the eventual runners up.
Watching Batkovic play firsthand was breathtaking. Her positioning on and off the ball was predictable, yet nobody could stand in the way when she had the ball in her hands, her mid-range fadeaway seemingly impossible to stop.
4. Belinda Snell
FIBA World Cup (2010, 2014), Olympic Games (2012), FIBA Ocenia Championship (2013, 2015), FIBA Asian Cup (2017), Commonwealth Games (2018)
An absolute champion of the game who seemed like she could just keep going, Belinda Snell played at almost every major tournament this decade, missing only the 2016 Olympic Games, the 2018 World Cup & Commonwealth Games and 2019 edition of the Asia Cup.
Her participation in the 2012 Olympics would be one of her most memorable moments in the green and gold. In their second group game against the French, foul trouble to Cambage and Jackson set the tone for an intense finish. The French were up by 3 with 3.3 seconds to go, and Snell launches an incredible hail-mary 3 point shot from beyond halfway to send the game into overtime.
She also finished as top scorer against the Canadians at the same tournament, one of the few games not dominated by Cambage or Jackson.
Her best performance this decade came the way of the 2013 FIBA Oceania Championship, as Australia bested New Zealand in the two-game series. Snell finished with averages of 11 points and three rebounds, while boasting a 50% efficiency from beyond the 3-point line and a team high three assists per game.
After captaining the Opals in her final major tournament of the Commonwealth Games, the sharpshooter retired at the conclusion of the WNBL 2018/19 season.
3. Penny Taylor
FIBA World Cup (2010, 2014), Olympic Games (2016)
If we were to discuss players who age like fine wine, Penny Taylor must be in the conversation. A mainstay of the Opals for the past two decades, Penny easily makes the cut as one of the most consistent performers for the national side.
In similar fashion to LeBron James of recent years, Penny’s scoring output and rebounding effort was comparatively greater in her earlier years with the Opals, while her last two major tournaments also showcased her playmaking abilities.
Penny was part of the squad that finished in fifth place at the 2010 World Cup. An ACL injury kept her from playing any major tournaments between 2012 and 2013, however Penny recovered in time to return at the 2014 World Cup. She captained the Opals to a bronze medal, while also earning her place in the All Star 5 of the tournament with 12 points, 4.3 rebounds and an unselfish 4.8 assists per game.
Despite the 2016 Olympics being underwhelming for our Opals, she saved her best performance of the decade for last, averaging 13.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists in Rio de Janeiro. Her scoring and rebounding efforts were bested by a tournament juggernaut in Liz Cambage.
2. Lauren Jackson
FIBA World Cup (2010), Olympic Games (2012), FIBA Oceania Championship (2013)
When discussing a team of the decade, there’s simply no going past the GOAT of Australian basketball.
Lauren has represented the Opals across three decades. She made her Opals debut as part of the team that won bronze at the 1998 World Championships in Germany. Her stature and leadership were paramount to the Opal’s success during the 2000s, and her national team experience kicked on into the early parts of this past decade.
Given the success of the Opals in the early 2000s, 2010 was a rough fifth place finish for the national side, despite Jackson and Cambage posting similar numbers and leading the way for the Opals.
The 2012 Olympics turned out to be the final time we would see Lauren at the Olympiad, as she was bestowed with the privilege of being the flag bearer at the opening ceremony for the Australian squad. The former WNBA champion posted 15.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, leading the Opals to a bronze medal and a podium finish for the fifth consecutive Olympic Games.
Try as she might, she narrowly missed out on competing for the Opals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the 2016 Rio Olympics, due to injury curtailing her career. Her storied Olympic career sees her as the all-time top scorer with 575 points. There were two things preventing her from being number one in the last decade; injury and the emergence of Liz Cambage.
1. Liz Cambage
FIBA World Cup (2010, 2018), Olympic Games (2012, 2016), Commonwealth Games (2018)
With all due respect to those who have come before, and those who are destined for tomorrow, no Opal has made quite the impression this decade as the highly talented and boldly outspoken Liz Cambage.
Liz stands head and shoulders above most, figuratively and literally speaking. The 6’8 centre was always destined for success due to her incredible height, but her skillset is just as impressive, and her on court presence has been near unparalleled.
Being introduced to the national team at the beginning of the decade, a 19 year old Cambage averaged 13.6 points and 5.4 rebounds, mirroring the performances of Lauren Jackson at the 2010 World Championships. Her averages were eerily similar at the 2012 edition of the Olympic Games, which she capped off with a bronze medal and the first ever dunk by a woman at the Olympics.
Despite a brief hiatus from the game in the 2016-17 season, she continued to impress with incredible numbers at both the 2016 Olympics and the 2018 World Cup. Cambage reigned supreme as the top average scorer and most points in a game at both tournaments, helping Australia to a silver medal at the Olympics and cementing her place in the All Star 5 of the World Cup.
As if that wasn’t enough, Liz top scored for the Opals in every game at the 2018 Commonwealth Games as they Coasted to Gold on home soil (pun intended). The only exception was the gold medal match, where she found herself unceremoniously ejected for talking back to a referee.
At 28 years of age and with enough medals, records and a continuous hunger for success, there’s simply no stopping her. Just ask the New York Liberty.