Lauren Nicholson in action for the Australian Opals (Picture: Australian Opals, Design by Madeline Irwin)

Starting her WNBL career at the Sydney Flames in 2009, Australian Opals star Lauren Nicholson has undergone an evolution over her years in the competition. Coming into the league as a young talent, she has truly blossomed into an WNBL stalwart.

Playing for the Sydney Flames from 2009 to 2011, including some time as a development player, Lauren Nicholson had made the jump to professional basketball as a teenager. She also featured in the 2009 FIBA Oceania Under-16 Championship for Women where she was part of the gold-medal win for Australia in 2009.

This WNBL stint was followed by one at Saint Mary’s College of California, where she played college basketball for the Gaels. After four seasons with Saint Mary’s, she returned to the Flames where she played out the 2016/17 season. Nicholson won her first WNBL championship in this season when the Flames bested the Perth Lynx.

She made her move from the Flames down south, where she signed with the Adelaide Lightning for three years in total. In her second season at Adelaide, Nicholson was recognised with the WNBL’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2018/19, signalling a rise from a talented player to one of the league’s players to watch.

In January 2019, Nicholson became an Opal, earning her place in the final roster for the FIBA Asia Cup.

Heading to Townsville to take up an opportunity with the Fire, Nicholson ended up playing three seasons there. Her time at the Fire reached its peak at the end of the 2022/23 season when she won her second WNBL championship.

Starting afresh at Sydney ahead of the 2023/24 campaign, Nicholson is eager to make the most of the return home. She spoke exclusively to The Inner Sanctum about her evolution in the game.

“I think Adelaide was early in my career, [the stint there] taught me about putting in the work, the coach there taught me to put in the work and to be a professional basketballer,” she said.

“Townsville taught me a lot about leadership and how to bring together a team to win.

“I think [this stint at] Sydney is going to be a bit of everything.

“I think I am starting to love basketball more and more as I get older and it’s not just a job for me, it’s a thing that I love to do so I want to play for as long as possible and I think Sydney is the best place to do that.”

Having made the leap from a young player with promise to a leader within a team, Nicholson explained what her new role as a player looks like and how she is keen to foster the young talent at Sydney.

“It’s a really great feeling [making that jump], I love the thought of playing with younger players and sharing some of my knowledge,” she said.

“I’ve been in the league a long time so being able to help out the younger players and show them the ropes a little bit is something that I look forward to.

“I love seeing younger players be successful, get better and helping them get to where they want to be as well. I am excited to play alongside people like Kiera Rowe and Emma Clarke, who are a little bit younger than me and hopefully we can all improve going up against each other every day.”

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In the last few years the WNBL has grown as a league, with ex-WNBA talent and the best young talent joining the league, as well as the bigger viewership, the WNBL is stepping up in the world of women’s basketball.

Nicholson described what it is like to be part of the league’s push to better itself and how it still can continue to grow.

“The league has come a long way, especially in the last couple of years, I think it does still have a way to go but it is a lot more professional,” she explained.

“We obviously have high quality imports that come out here from America, who are WNBA superstars.

“I’ve played with quite a few of them, so to have those high quality players out here playing, [it] is a testament to how great our league is and how competitive it is.

“I hope that it can continue to grow each year because it is a sport that people should love and want to come to watch.”

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Making her Opals debut in 2019, Nicholson has represented Australia in a handful of tournaments such as Olympic Qualifiers and Asia Cups. She spoke about what it is like to suit up in the green and gold and how the upcoming Olympics in Paris is next in her sights.

“Any opportunity you get to represent your country is a no-brainer, I’m lucky enough that I have represented Australia at a few tournaments but the ultimate goal is to play at a major tournament,” Nicholson said.

“I definitely have my sights set on the next Olympic Games but I’m just going to do everything in my power to be ready for that and be ready for selection.

“If it is to happen then it happens, if it isn’t then I’ll move on but it is a goal of mine to and has been since I was a little girl, but it’s always an honour to represent your country no matter what tournament it is.”

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At 30 years of age, Nicholson has had an illustrious career full of highlights and triumphs, she opened up about what she considers her biggest achievements in her career.

“I have two [biggest achievements], one is winning the championship in Townsville last season, that was definitely up there,” she said.

“It had been a big three years of growing that program and being a part of something was really special, and to win it was just the icing on the cake.

“[The other one is when] I played in Bourges in an Olympic Qualifier in France a couple of years ago before the last Olympics, that was one of the most emotional tournaments I’ve ever been a part of, just getting over the line to qualify for the Olympics and that was a memory that will stick with me for a long time.”

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Behind every athlete is a support system and some stabilising forces that help keep them grounded. For Nicholson, that role model was her mother, she explained her influence and the influences of other figures in the basketball world.

“As cliche as it sounds, [my role model] was my mum, I have had a few people who have been in my corner the whole way but my mum coached me throughout my whole junior [career] and has kind of been there through the good times and all the hard times,” she said.

“I think that she’s been the main influence behind my basketball but there’s also some other people that have been important to my journey.

“Peter Lonergan’s been a big [influence], he is still involved in the basketball world [as well as] my sister Jacki, she’s been there every step of the way.

“There’s a few others that I call close to me that have really influenced my journey, what steps I’ve taken [and] where I am now and I think where I am now [is with] my family [and] my partner and I know that I have a full base in Sydney.”

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