05/03/2024

Australian Opals are currently in camp (Photo: Basketball Australia)

With the Opals training hard in camp to earn their place in Sandy Brondello's side for the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers in Serbia, we've highlighted six players that could make a difference.

There are currently 16 players at Opals camp in Sydney this week aiming to impress head coach Sandy Brondello and her panel of assistants for a spot in the final 12 headed to Serbia later this month.

The Inner Sanctum has analysed six key players who could make a significant difference to the squad if selected.

Darcee Garbin

The stretch big couldn’t have started the WNBL season any better, leading the league in three point shooting (48 per cent).

She has been an important leader on the floor for the Lynx team, both from a defensive point of view as well as offensively – helping create lanes for their scorers and hitting the long range shot with damaging effect.

Strengths: Garbin offers Brondello a four that can stretch the floor and shoot the three ball effectively. She’s a capable rebounder and a solid team defender.

Point of difference: Her leadership qualities – she’s currently the captain of the most talented team in the WNBL. You can’t underestimate the impact she’s having on that squad, helping it be a cohesive unit. 

Question mark: Can she transfer her current form to international level? Will Brondello add her to the stretch four depth of talent that already exists in the team, or will she replace one of those already existing players such as Cayla George?

Shyla Heal

The exciting ‘score first point guard’ who burst onto the scene in the WNBL last year playing for the Fire, she was selected in the 2021 WNBA draft at pick #8 before being traded and waived.

She spent the off-season training with her new coach and father Shane Heal, deciding against making herself available for the Opals’ Asia Cup team. 

Strengths: Elite level ball handling skills and ability to find her own shot under pressure, with an array of shooting options including her two favourites ‘the floater’ and ‘step back three’. 

Point of difference: Plays with no fear and can score when she needs to. She’s also a good passer, she would become a real threat in the right offensive structure. 

Question mark: Is she disciplined enough at international level to hold back some of her individual play making to fit into a offensive team system?

Anneli Maley

Arguably the most exiting Australian female basketballer in the country at the moment, Maley is an undersized rebounding machine – averaging a double-double a game –  with 18 points and 14 rebounds. 

Strength: Athleticism and basketball IQ. Not only can she get her hands to most rebounds, she reads the play really well and knows how and when to get into position for the boards. 

Point of difference: Ability for Brondello to play small ball – Maley would still give her the rebounding the team will need and provide speed in transition. 

Question mark: What position does she play internationally? Because let’s be honest, she’s not big enough to play a four or five. Does she have the guard skills that’s needed to play on the wing? Will Brondello reward her by adding her into the squad as a depth player? 

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Sara Blicavs

The small forward that can play on the wing or as a trailer, Blicavs was an important cog to the Flyers’ championship team last year and a barometer for her team when she gets going on offence. 

Strength: Her versatility to play three or four whilst stretching the floor with her efficient 3 point shooting. She has good basketball IQ and knows how to read the play to get into good offensive positions, both as an inside presence and when spacing the floor. 

Point of difference: She’s resilient. First cut by Phoenix Mercury and then by the Opals team before being called up to replace Liz Cambage in Tokyo in 2021, she has learnt a lot from those experiences, especially about how to improve her athleticism and utilise her strengths against the best in the world.

After being cut and then brought into the team last year, she should know what Brondello is looking for and how to impress her. 

Question mark: Can she provide Brondello with the offensive spark off the bench that will grab her a spot?

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Bec Cole

The Flyers’ point guard has had an impressive few years in the Australian 3×3 team, and is currently leading the Flyers’ offence with 18 points a game.

Strengths: Her speed and ability to get out and run and score in transition. She loves to utilize her 3×3 skills to full effect, driving one on one and attacking the lanes. She’s also added three point range to her set of offensive skills. 

Point of difference: She has international experience with 3×3. She is a combo guard, so can play point or the two. She’s a great teammate and brings plenty of energy and passion to her game. 

Question mark: Are the skills that she possesses to be one of the best 3×3 players in the world transferable to five vs five format at international level? 

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Abby Bishop

The forgotten centre of Australian basketball has had a solid season so far for the Flyers, averaging 13 points a game and just under 10 rebounds. 

Strengths: Her step back post move and three point shooting, plus an ability to step into any offensive system and play her role. Her basketball IQ and her passing ability would be an asset to Brondello’s offensive structure.

Point of difference: Patience and perspective! She’s a mum and has played all over the world. She has missed out on recent Opals squads, and rather than letting it impact her, she’s taken the attitude to ‘control what she can control’. Bishop will bring her strengths without trying to be anything but herself. 

Question mark: Has Bishop’s recent form quashed Brondello’s previous concerns about the Flyers’ centre? We are not sure what they are, but if she is seriously considered for the squad, then she should make the final 12. 

The Australian Opals team is in a fascinating position with lots of unanswered questions about the direction of the program. Will Brondello make wide spread changes and bring in some youth, or will she stick to a similar team to 2021? 

There’s no doubt it’s a competitive squad with both experienced veterans and some young new exciting players to choose from. 

These six players highlighted will be hopeful of a chance to be in the final 12 to get the opportunity to prove that they can contribute to the success of the next wave, and ultimately be in the the World Cup team come September.

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