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FIBA Women’s World Cup Opals Preview

Former Siren Emerging Sports Writer Seraphina Newton is back to give her expert insight into what we can expect from the Opals at FIBA WWC!

I was barely two years old when the Sydney Olympics were happening, but I’m sure I was still sitting cross-legged in front of the tiny TV, nappy on and a toy basketball in hand, watching the greatness unfold.

Twenty-two years later and although it isn’t the Olympics, and I’ve grown out of nappies, the FIBA Women’s World Cup in Sydney brings the same type of energy and excitement about it, and you bet I’ll be glued to the action this time around – except this year I’ll be there for real; courtside.  

A lot has changed in women’s basketball since the 2000 Olympics. The Opals’ success has ebbed and flowed over time, but has never quite got back to the level it was back then. Tom Maher has arguably had the most success coaching the Opals, he had a surplus of talent at his disposal, and that harnessed with his expert knowledge of the game created the legacy that is the Opals. And some of this talent has come full circle.

Sandy Brondello, once upon a time point guard under Maher, has now taken the reigns as head coach. Her past teammate and now player, Lauren Jackson has stunned the world by announcing a comeback and making the final team for the World Cup. It would be the perfect story if these two could help restore the Opals to what they once were, a team with strong culture, who are an intimidating force and a real threat to team USA.

The Opals are not lacking in potential, even without the GOAT LJ in the team, they have a plethora of WNBL and WNBA talent, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to compete with the best in the world.

Let’s take a look at who makes up the Opals team and what they have to offer.

The Opals are a tall team, but that’s not to say they don’t carry speed and athleticism as well. Our point guard/shooting guards are extensive and provide multiple different options and line-ups.

  • Sami Whitcomb is likely to play some point guard, but is dangerous as a prolific shooter from the three. Her ability to shoot off the dribble makes her a nightmare to guard, especially with her quick shot release.
  • Steph Talbot uses her length playing point well, she is capable of looking after the ball and making strong passes. She is also a natural scorer with a strong drive to the basket and ability to pull up and shoot above hands.
  • Bec Allen can be deadly from deep, she has the length and her quick catch and shoot can expose defenders caught falling asleep.
  • Tess Madgen will be a handy option as point guard with her level head and her proven ability to be a great leader. With her strong build she can get to rack, while also being a solid three point shot option.
  • Kristy Wallace brings athleticism and speed to the guards line up. She runs in transition, she can finish at the ring in a myriad of ways and is a pest for defenders to keep an eye on. Watch her attack the rim with aggression!

Without the presence of Liz Cambage inside, the Opals will have to work extra hard to get rebounds and also lift their intensity on defence.

  • Bringing Anneli Maley into the squad with her ball winning ability and aggression will help the team secure more second chance points and also prevent the other team from doing the same thing.
  • Sara Blicavs is another go-getter and is a player who hustles hard for the ball, whilst also proving to be a scoring threat from all over the court.
  • Bec Allen, with her spider-like-limbs has the capacity to block shots from the perimeter and on drives. She can carry a (long) hand and has a decent leap to go with it.

While there is nobody quite like Liz Cambage in the paint, this new look Opals side has a combination of bigs who can play inside and out, stretching the floor and testing their opposition’s defence.

  • Cayla George knows how to seal in the key, has a deadly hook shot, midrange jumper and is very comfortable from deep which makes her a tough ask to guard.
  • Similar to this, is Darcee Garbin, who is another presence inside and out –leave her alone off a pick and roll and she’ll make you pay!
  • Ezi, although not as consistent from deep, can still hit them and more importantly has the mobility and speed to take her defender off the dribble and finish at the rack. Not to mention, she can run the floor and will be dangerous if she is given too much room to work with.
  • Marianna Tolo differs in strengths, but what she lacks in agility she makes up for in smarts. She positions herself well under the basket and uses her body to manoeuvre around defenders making her another threat inside the key for the Opals.
  • Last but not least, there’s Lauren Jackson. There’s not much to say as the name speaks for itself, but I expect her role in this team will differ to what we are used to seeing. Nonetheless, whenever she is needed on court (and off), her basketball IQ and experience will prove to be invaluable and hopefully be what the Opals need to get over the line.

This Opals have an excellent mix of some new energetic blood and wise, experienced players. With this combination there is no reason that the Opals don’t stand a strong chance. Ranked third in FIBA’s latest world power rankings, it’s also clear that it’s not just me who thinks so.

To know I will be in attendance and surrounded by such talented and empowering female athletes whom I grew up idolising (and still do) is such an amazing feeling and I couldn’t be more excited. Two-year-old Phina might not have known it at the time, but by watching the Sydney Olympics on TV and absorbing that energy, that inspiration would last a lifetime.

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