Lauren Jackson has been selected in the Opals' Women's World Cup squad. (Photo: @BasketballAus - Twitter)

The Australian Opals World Cup team has been announced with 12 players chosen from the recent practices games against Canada in New York. The squad includes some experienced members, four debutants and one significant inclusion.

Players named in the final 12 to play in the World Cup include Rebecca Allen, Sara Blicavs, Darcee Garbin, Cayla George, Lauren Jackson, Ezi Magbegor, Tess Madgen, Anneli Maley, Steph Talbot, Marianna Tolo, Kristy Wallace, and Sami Whitcomb.

The three omissions from the squad who competed in New York were Alanna Smith, Jade Melbourne, and Maddy Rocci. With such a talented squad, whoever missed out was always going to be incredibly unlucky.

Smith had a great WNBL season but unfortunately was released from her contract with Indiana in the WNBA. In a team with a lot of length and depth at her position, it was always going to be difficult for her to make the final team despite her strong WNBL form.

Melbourne, who has been impressive in her personal growth in the last two years would understand that she is still young in her Opals journey and will no doubt use the experience with the squad to continue to develop.

The 19-year-old has great insight into her own development, opting not to attend the WNBA this season despite Seattle selecting her with pick 33 in the draft. She decided to stay in Australia to focus on improving her deficiencies and making sure when she does attend a cutthroat WNBA camp, she gives herself the best chance possible to make a roster.

Unfortunately for Rocci, it wasn’t so much about her strengths and weaknesses but the impressive form of Kristy Wallace in the WNBA and Tess Madgen as the starting point guard that impacted her non-selection.

Coach Sandy Brondello has been vocal about wanting the Opals to have more of a defensive mindset and she has definitely selected a team that can get stops.

Madgen, Wallace, and Steph Talbot will lead the charge on the defensive end in the backcourt whilst Cayla George, Ezi Magbegor and Marianna Tolo will provide rim protection in the front court.

Strength and toughness have also been an improved focus with the Opals beating the strong and athletic Canadians in the two practice games.

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Potential World Cup starting five:

PG: Tess Madgen 

SG: Bec Allen

SF: Steph Talbot

PF: Cayla George

C: Ezi Magbegor

With this lineup, the Opals have speed, strength, and length at the guard spots, with three great spot-up shooters in Madgen, Allen and Talbot.

Tess Madgen’s basketball IQ and maturity will be integral to the team’s success in this upcoming World Cup. She will need to maintain an attacking mindset whilst looking to distribute. The point guard plays her best basketball when she is attacking the lanes and creating scoring opportunities for herself and her teammates.

Bec Allen’s ability to hit big shots from deep will be an important element to the offence, especially when the Opals look to attack inside out and penetrate and pitch or kick out from post entries.

Her length as a 6’2 guard will also help defend the perimeter. A regular in the Opals squad and playing for coach Brondello at New York will no doubt help with team cohesion.

Steph Talbot will be making her second appearance at World Cup for the Opals in Sydney.

Her length, speed, and outside shooting will be an important piece to the Brondello offence. The versatile Seattle Storm guard can also play as a stretch four if the Opals want to play small ball.

Cayla George is coming off another impressive WNBL season and is a leader amongst this Opals lineup. She is super consistent and always plays with energy, effort, and a sense of fun.

Stretch forwards who can sprint the floor are really important in international basketball and no doubt George’s confidence in her long-range shot will aid the team in causing opposition defences some trouble.

Ezi Magbegor’s reputation continues to rise as the young gun is having a significant impact in the WNBA. She is currently averaging 10 points and just under two blocks and six rebounds per game for Seattle.

There is no doubt Brondello will be looking at Magbegor to protect the rim and run the floor to get some inside touches.

Off the bench:

This current squad has arguably the greatest depth of any World Cup Opals team, with a lot of length and size on the bench.

Alongside the talls is New York Liberty point guard Sami Whitcomb who could arguably start and replace Tess Madgen. Whitcomb – a naturalised Australian has been inspirational in her previous efforts pulling on the green and gold.

Anneli Maley’s presence in the Opals team since she missed out on previous selection cannot be understated. A masterclass of effort and energy in the 2021/22 WNBL season saw her earn the MVP award as well as a call-up to the WNBA with Chicago.

Her speed, length, rebounding ability, and work ethic suit international basketball and she will be fun to watch come September.

The GOAT effect:

The most remarkable storyline is the return of 41-year-old Lauren Jackson. The four-time Olympian and three-time World Cup representative has overcome years of injury and rehabilitation to give herself the chance of hitting the hardwood once more.

When she returned to competitive basketball playing in the NBL1 competition for her hometown team, the Albury Bandits. There was suddenly a possibility that she may make a return to the Australian team.

An invite to the Opals camp and a trip to New York followed for the seven-time WNBA All-Star. The public saw limited footage of Jackson at camp and in the practice games, with the chances of her returning still unknown.

It was not until the official announcement that the dream of one of Australia’s greatest ever sportspeople returning to represent the Opals became a reality.

Although Jackson has put up very impressive numbers in NBL1 and has competed at an international level against Canada in the recent practice games, it is still unknown how she will perform at the World Cup. It is quite possible given her age and the depth of the team that she may play limited minutes.

Irrespective of whether she hits the floor in Sydney or not, her impact on the team with her leadership and experience will be unmeasurable and the panacea this team needs.

Guard depth:

The only obvious question mark surrounding this team is whether we have enough depth in our guard rotation.

Tess Madgen is going to need to possess a scoring mentality whilst Sami Whitcomb, Kristy Wallace, and Sara Blicavs will all need to trouble the scoreboard if the Opals are to be effective on the offensive end.

In our recent series against Japan, our guards had trouble bringing up the ball against Japan’s immense defensive pressure.

The responsibility will fall on Madgen, Whitcomb, and Wallace to take care of the ball whilst also being able to defend quicker point guards on the perimeter.

Ghosts of the past:

Resilience and mental capabilities are going to come into play when competing for a World Cup gold medal. There are some deep scars from what happened in Tokyo with Liz Cambage’s departure on the eve of the games and the disappointment of not winning a medal.

If the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympic Games was filled with doom and gloom then this World Cup campaign is full of hope and optimism – especially with Lauren Jackson’s return and the tournament being on home soil.

Final verdict: 

With the array of WNBA stars, Opal veterans, young rising stars, and the return of one of the greatest, this is the Opals’ best chance of a gold medal since they won the World Cup in 2006.

In one of Australia’s most anticipated sporting events of the year, there is no doubt this Opals team will play with pride and passion for the green and gold and put themselves in the best chance to win on home soil.

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