The Jayco Australian Opals move a step closer to the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women, with a 31-player extended squad named from which the final team will be selected.
The extended squad sees the return of 2006 FIBA World Championship for Women MVP Penny Taylor to the Opals setup, following a long battle with a knee injury.
Taylor, regarded as one of the premier players in the world, is one of a host of Olympians named in the extended squad, including Lauren Jackson, Liz Cambage, Erin Phillips and Rachel Jarry.
The WNBL is strongly represented among the 31 athletes, with WNBL All-Star Five trio Gabrielle Richards, Laura Hodges and Leilani Mitchell all named.
European-based Opals Belinda Snell, Marianna Tolo and Cayla Francis join established squad members Jenni Screen and Abby Bishop, bringing plenty of major tournament experience.
Sporting a mix of established Opals stars with Olympic experience and emerging young talent, Head Coach Brendan Joyce said the squad has a view for the World Championships and building towards the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and beyond.
“I wanted to bring in players that I really think can play and give them an opportunity to be exposed to the Opals program,” Joyce said.
“We see this extended squad as an opportunity to expose more players to what we are doing here in the Jayco Australian Opals program – not just for the now, but for the future – so the players who will become the Opals of the future understand the expectations and fit seamlessly into the squad.
“We’ve included some young players in the squad and it’s important we do it now and not wait until years down the track.
“With their involvement in the Opals program we could see one of these players use the opportunity to dramatically expediate their development and maybe even force their way into contention for this year’s World Championships.”
Among the rising stars hoping to put their names in lights will be Melbourne Boomers young gun Rebecca Allen, following a breakout WNBL season.
Joining the 21-year-old as part of the young brigade are Lauren Scherf, Tessa Lavey, Stephanie Talbot and Carley Mijovic.
The Opals embark on a busy training period over the coming months, with camps scheduled for Canberra in late March and the Gold Coast in mid-April.
Joyce said the camps will see a vast majority of the 33-player squad available, presenting his coaching staff with an opportunity to build a strong culture and understanding of what it takes to be part of the Opals program.
“The more players and coaches we expose the Opals culture and style of play, the more it will filter through to clubs and become habitual,” Joyce said.
“So when players attend the camps they know what to expect and they’ve already been living those values coming into the program.
“The greater the depth we create, the more players we expose to the Opals program, the greater the pressure for us to select the best team – therefore we should have a better team.”
The next step for Joyce is the journey to Istanbul, Turkey for the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women official draw, which takes place in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Fans of the Jayco Australian Opals can follow the team’s fortunes, with the official draw streaming LIVE at www.youtube.com/FIBA, livebasketball.tv and on the FIBA Game Center application for iPhone and Android devices.
Joyce said the official draw plays a significant role in terms of logistics and scouting, but takes a simple approach to finding out who the Opals will face in Turkey.
“I take a very pragmatic approach to the draw for the tournament – we’ve got to beat everyone we face if we want to be world champions,” Joyce said.
“Simply whoever we play in Turkey we have to beat them if we want to advance.”
The squad for the upcoming camp (23-28 March) at the Basketball Australia National Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Canberra will be announced early next week.
The 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women will be played in Turkey from 27 September to 5 October.
Jayco Australian Opals extended squad for the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women
Rebecca Allen – Melbourne Boomers
Abby Bishop – Canberra Capitals/PEAC Pecs (Hungary)
Natalie Burton – West Coast Waves
Elizabeth Cambage – Beijing Bulls (China)/Tulsa Shock (WNBA)
Stephanie Cumming – Townsville Fire
Katie-Rae Ebzery – Sydney Uni Flames
Jessica Foley – Adelaide Lightning
Cayla Franci – Nantes (France)
Laura Hodges – Adelaide Lightning
Natalie Hurst – Canberra Capitals/Canik Belediyesi (Turkey)
Lauren Jackson – Canberra Capitals/Heilongjiang Shenda (China)
Rachel Jarry – Melbourne Boomers/Minnesota Lynx (WNBA)
Alice Kunek – Dandenong Rangers
Emma Langford – Logan Thunder
Tessa Lavey – Bendigo Spirit
Tess Madgen – Melbourne Boomers
Rachael McCully – Townsville Fire
Carley Mijovic – Canberra Capitals
Leilani Mitchell – Dandenong Rangers
Mia Newley – Townsville Fire
Erin Phillips – Indiana Fever (WNBA)
Gabrielle Richards – Bendigo Spirit
Lauren Scherf – Dandenong Rangers
Jennifer Screen – Adelaide Lightning
Belinda Snel – CCC Polkowise (Poland)
Stephanie Talbot – Adelaide Lightning
Penny Taylor – Phoenix Mercury (WNBA)
Marianna Tolo – Bourges (France)
Kristen Veal – Logan Thunder
Kelly Wilson – Bendigo Spirit
Hanna Zavecz – Logan Thunder