Basketball legend Lauren Jackson named in World Cup squad after 12 year absence

Basketball legend Lauren Jackson will suit up for her fifth World Cup after a 12 year absence, making her return to the national team. The 41-year old has been included in a 12-strong Opals team for the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup which gets underway in Sydney on September 22.

Retiring from international basketball nine years ago, Jackson’s last World Cup appearance was in 2010. The four-time Olympic medallist and three-time WNBA MVP had a dominant and decorated two-decade career across the globe until she was forced into retirement in March 2016 due to a persistent knee injury.

Jackson moved into basketball administration after her playing career, working for WNBL club Melbourne Boomers before moving to Basketball Australia to head up the league and oversee women’s hoops in the country. But after starring for Albury-Wondonga in the recent NBL1 season, Jackson earned a call-up to an Australian squad camp in June before impressing in Opals practice matches in New York last month.

“Congratulations Lauren Jackson, you’re going to another World Cup,” Opals coach Sandy Brondello announced via video call. “You should be incredibly proud, Lauren, and I’m incredibly proud because what you did to achieve this is really amazing. It shows a lot about you as a person and your hard work and dedication.”

Jackson wept when Brondello told her of her selection. “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 regime, but it has and I’m feeling good.”

After her retirement, Jackson revealed she experienced the “shakes” as she weaned herself off prescribed medication she’d relied upon during her playing career. In a 2018 Fox Sports documentary, the daughter of two national basketball players also spoke of struggling with lack of support from the basketball fraternity in retirement.

But Jackson also revealed she’d started training again in her home town, in the hope of suiting up for local team Albury-Wodonga Bandits. Four years later, and 27 years since she first made the Opals squad as a 14-year-old, she’s back in the green and gold.

Brondello, herself a four-time World Cup athlete, said Jackson deserved her spot. “Making the final cut to twelve 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.”

The Australians are looking to improve on the silver medal they won in 2018 in Spain under current coach Sandy Brondello. The Opals are ranked No 3 in the world, and have drawn Group C, with pool matches against France, Serbia, Japan, Mali and Canada.

Underlining the experience in the squad, Bec Allen and Cayla George will return for their third tournament and Marianna Tolo, Steph Talbot, Sami Whitcomb, Tess Madgen and Ezi Magbegor are playing in their second World Cup. Sara Blicavs, Darcee Garbin, Anneli Maley and Kristy Wallace will make their debut.

There are five current WNBA players including Allen (New York Liberty), Magbegor (Seattle Storm), Whitcomb (New York Liberty), Wallace (Atlanta Dream) and Talbot (Seattle Storm).

Missing is Liz Cambage, the former champion, who controversially withdrew from last year’s Tokyo Olympics squad under a cloud over allegations she made racist remarks to rival Nigerian players. The 30-year-old Cambage last month split with WNBA franchise the Los Angeles Sparks after just 25 games – a ‘contract divorce’ that also has the four-time All Star Centre unlikely to play for Australia again.

The World Cup tips off on September 22 in Sydney.