Following the recent Opals camp held in Phoenix, Arizona, Basketball Australia has announced a trimmed down squad of 16 ahead of the 2019 FIBA Asia Cup to be held in Bengaluru, India from 24-29 September 2019.
The squad includes five stars who have been in red-hot form in the WNBA, including 2018 World Cup silver medalist Bec Allen who is fresh off a career-night for the New York Liberty.
Allen is joined by dual All-Star Liz Cambage who has returned to MVP-type form with the Las Vegas Aces, and Minnesota Lynx wing Steph Talbot. Leilani Mitchell (Phoenix) and Sami Whitcomb (Seattle) are the remaining two WNBA stars in the squad, with only one of the naturalised Australian point guards able to be included in the final team of twelve.
The only current WNBA star missing is Phoenix rookie Alanna Smith who is battling to return from an ankle injury, with suggestion she may be out of action for the remainder of the season.
Smith is one of four World Cup silver medalists missing from the squad of 16. Alex Bunton has since retired, while Tessa Lavey and Tess Madgen were left out.
Head coach Sandy Brondello explained that the final team of 12 will be finalised as a later date, in part due to the uncertainty relating to the availability of her WNBA stars.
“With many of our players in the WNBA, and the uncertainty of the playoff seedings at this time, the coaches and I have decided to name a squad of 16 with the final team to be announced closer to our departure to Asia Cup and once we know who will be available from the WNBA,” said Brondello in the official release.
The remaining eleven players in the squad are all linked with WNBL teams for the upcoming 2019/20 season.
The Opals, who lost a thrilling final to Japan two years ago, will feature in the opening game of the 8-team, Division A event against the Philippines at an Australian-friendly time of 5:45pm AEST on 24 September.
The 2018 FIBA World Cup silver medalists enter the event as the highest ranked team with a world ranking of 3, and along with the Philippines (word rank of 47), are pooled with China (7th) and New Zealand (42nd) in Group B. The tournament is an important first step for the Opals as they embark on the long journey towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“Asia Cup is an important tournament and with our limited time together moving forward into the November and February Qualification, we would like to have our best team together as much as we can,” added Brondello. “While injuries have prevented some players availability, our depth continues to shine through.
“We feel this squad has the right balance of players in every position in order for us to perform well.”
After their opening game against the Philippines, Australia will take on trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand, before tackling Asian heavyweight China.
Australia were led by tournament MVP Kelsey Griffin in being pipped for gold by Japan when they debuted at the event in 2017. They have some unfinished business on their agenda, and their road to Tokyo starts with winning Asian Cup gold.
Australian Opals Squad
Rebecca ALLEN | New York Liberty (WNBA)
Abby BISHOP | Townsville Fire
Sara BLICAVS | Southside Flyers – TBC
Elizabeth CAMBAGE | Las Vegas Aces (WNBA)
Katie EBZERY | Perth Lynx
Darcy GARBIN | Townsville Fire
Cayla GEORGE | Melbourne Boomers
Ezi MAGBEGOR | Melbourne Boomers
Lauren MANSFIELD | Perth Lynx
Leilani MITCHELL | Phoenix Mercury (WNBA)
Lauren NICHOLSON | Adelaide Lightning
Jenna O’HEA | Southside Flyers
Nicole SEEKAMP | Adelaide Lightning
Stephanie TALBOT | Minnesota Lynx (WNBA)
Marianna TOLO | UC Capitals
Sami WHITCOMB | Seattle Storm (WNBA)
Australian Opals FIBA Asia Cup Schedule
24-Sep: Opals vs. Philippines at 5:45pm AEST
25-Sep: Opals vs. New Zealand at 5:45pm AEST
26-Sep: Opals vs. China at 8:00pm AEST
27-Sep: Semi-Final Qualifiers