The remarkable comeback story of basketball champ Lauren Jackson has continued, with the 41-year-old included in Australia’s 12-strong Opals team for this year’s FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup nine years after she retired.
An emotional Jackson, who retired in 2016 through a chronic injury after a Hall of Fame career in Australia and the US, said she “didn’t honestly know” if her body would hold up to the rigors of international basketball again.
But Opals coach Sandy Brondello said Jackson would add “another dimension” to the team that has gone through some tough recent times in the wake of Liz Cambage’s controversial exit.
“Making the final cut to 12 is always difficult with so many great athletes pushing for selection” Brondello said.
“The training camp in New York demonstrated how much each of these athletes wanted to compete on home soil. The competition for a spot on the team was fierce.”
“Of course, the inclusion of Lauren is the talking point, but from my perspective, she has put in the work and deserves to be here. She will add another dimension to our team dynamic.”
Jackson began her comeback for local team Albury but is hoping to help the Opals add to the team’s rich World Cup legacy having won silver in 2018, bronze in 2014 and gold in 2006.
“There were a lot of emotions when Sandy rang me, I had a bit of a cry to be honest,” Jackson said.
“I have been working my body hard, and I didn’t honestly know if it was going to hold up to my intense training regimen, but it has and I’m feeling good.
“The whole team have been so welcoming and made me feel at home. The age difference disappears as soon as I step onto the court.
“I believe in this team and what we can achieve. If I can play a part if getting us onto the podium, then the hard work is all worthwhile.”
Shyla Heal was a notable omission from the final 12, with Bec Allen and Cayla George to return for their third World Cup appearance. Marianna Tolo, Steph Talbot, Sami Whitcomb, Tess Madgen and Ezi Magbegor will return for their second appearance and Sara Blicavs, Darcee Garbin, Anneli Maley and Kristy Wallace will make their debut.
Jackson will make her fifth World Cup appearance after last playing in 2010.
The squad is filled with international experience, with Allen (New York Liberty), Magbegor (Seattle Storm), Whitcomb (New York Liberty), Wallace (Atlanta Dream) and Talbot (Seattle Storm) all playing in the WNBA.
The Opals are ranked No.3 in the world and have drawn Group C, with pool matches against France, Serbia, Japan, Mali and Canada tipping off on September 22 in Sydney.
Australian Opals 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup team: Bec Allen, Sara Blicavs, Darcee Garbin, Cayla George, Lauren Jackson, Ezi Magbegor, Tess Madgen, Anneli Maley, Steph Talbot, Marianna Tolo, Kristy Wallace, Sami Whitcomb.