Jackson gets green light for crucial Opals qualifiers
Murray Wenzel |
Lauren Jackson’s latest feat came as no surprise to Opals coach Sandy Brondello, who has been amazed by the Australian basketball great for decades.
The 42-year-old Jackson is banging on the door of a fifth Olympic campaign, 12 years after her fourth, having recovered from a partial achilles tear last year.
The Opals will play hosts Brazil in Belem in an Olympic qualifying tournament on Friday morning (AEDT), before games against Germany and Serbia on Sunday and Monday.
Three teams will progress to the Paris Games which begin in July – Jackson will be 43 by then – but it’s the end of the road for whichever squad finishes last.
Jackson retired with chronic knee pain ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics, having won medals at the previous four.
But she launched an audacious comeback ahead of the 2022 World Cup that climaxed with a 30-point haul in the bronze-medal game win over Canada.
That was planned to be her international farewell, and another campaign looked even more far-flung after her 2023 achilles tear.
But Jackson wasn’t done.
“From the beginning I told her, ‘Do you want to be named?’. We both knew she was going to get better and right now she’s in better shape than she was at the World Cup,” Brondello told AAP.
“Her answer has always been, ‘Whatever you need’, which says a lot about her and how much she loves the Opals.
“Lauren Jackson has amazed me for decades. She’s one of the game’s greatest players and she knows what she is capable of.”
After using Jackson sparingly at the World Cup, Opals great Michele Timms has encouraged Brondello to let the veteran off the leash and also give tenacious debutant guard Steph Reid an opportunity to terrorise her opposite number.
Brondello said there would be no restrictions on minutes and that she would call it as she sees it.
“Lauren gives us inside and outside offence, and they have to guard her,” the coach said.
“I’m just going to go with what we need. Hopefully our depth is our strength and we can throw multiple things at them.”
The Opals’ World Cup silverware was welcome but wounds from the Tokyo Games – where they struggled in a limp quarter-final exit after star forward Elizabeth Cambage’s late, controversial withdrawal – remain raw.
“Tokyo was a big disappointment but we’ve made a lot of changes since then and know we need to keep getting better,” Brondello said.
World No.8 Brazil will be dangerous in a first-up clash on their home soil, while Germany are ranked 25 in the world but can call on Dallas’s WNBA Most Improved player Satou Sabally and sister Nyara, who plays for Brondello’s Liberty.
Serbia, ranked 10th, beat the Opals in the Rio 2016 quarter-finals on their way to the bronze medal.AAP