Australia’s Opals draw stars for FIBA ​​Women’s World Cup 2022

At Doltone House, a venue by the harbour, Sydney’s torrential rain stopped for a moment and the mood was high for the FIBA ​​Women’s Basketball World Cup draw.

Opals legend Michele Timms had the honor of drawing the squads, leaving Australia with group opponents France, Serbia, Japan, Nigeria and Canada in Group B.

In a roundtable after the teams were split into two groups, four-time Olympian Shane Heal had a tongue-in-cheek dig at Timms for her efforts, suggesting she could have secured Australia an easier passage.

Credit: FIBA

Talk to The pick and roll, however, Timms was optimistic about how the draw went for Australia. “I think it’s great,” she said of the Opals schedule. “I think we will definitely finish in the top four, and that’s all you have to do. Going through the process will toughen the girls up, and they will be truly ready for the important thing, the quarter-finals.

Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Lauren Jackson had the same mindset. “It’s a tough draw, but like any tournament, [the Opals] will have to go through the best to be the best. But it’s going to be a really, really tough tournament for them.

Tokyo Olympics silver medalists and Asian Cup champions Japan will be Australia’s last Group B game. Opals 20-year-old goaltender Shyla Heal says they will be great again. “The last two years they have improved so much. They have a different style of play to most World Cup teams; they are fast and shoot a lot of threes. They will certainly be difficult, but we can’t wait to play them.

Father Shane felt that defending the perimeter would be paramount against Japan. “Being able to contain their penetration is very difficult. Obviously the opals are much taller so it is difficult to contain them from the pick and roll. It’s something that was very poor in the Olympics but looked much better in qualifying. But they’re just on a different level with their speed and small size.

Timms, meanwhile, believes Japan’s form has weakened lately. “You know what? I wasn’t as impressed with Japan as I was in Tokyo, watching those World Cup qualifiers. They didn’t gel in the same way. Still, she thinks the Return of star striker Ramu Tokashiki to international level could elevate Japan once she is fully reintegrated into the team’s systems.

Timms also sees another Group B team, Canada, as a real danger, with or without former WNBL MVP Kia Nurse, who is recovering from a torn ACL. She is particularly impressed with how they have trained under new head coach Victor Lapeña. “They’ve been very aggressive and they’re playing less structured… they’re definitely playing a better brand of basketball. They’re freer, not as locked into the Princeton offense.

Serbia, who recently beat Australia at home in a World Cup qualifying clash, are another high-quality opponent awaiting Australia in Pool B. Shyla Heal says the Opals have a lot learned from this meeting. “Defensively, they were very strong, and the Opals, myself included, have a lot to work on. But we’ll take it in stride.

The Sydney Uni Flames star said the loss showed Australia they need to step up their defensive pressure. “As a group, we have to improve by pushing to get the ball up and into the passing lanes.”

Speaking about the Belgrade qualifying tournament as a whole, Timms explained that the Opals remain a work in progress as they navigate this new post-Cambage era. “Things haven’t happened for us yet. We know where we want to go, but it’s going to take time… We have a number of games ahead of us that will help us make the kind of defense we need a habit. We can play this kind of defense for half a game, but it’s not consistent yet.

As for Opals players who could influence the outcome, Jackson singled out Ezi Magbegor as a “massive factor” in Australia’s performance. “She’s going to be huge for Australia. She’s so sweet you don’t even notice when she’s taking over a game…I have no problem saying that because I think she’s ready to lift. the challenge.

Heal senior, meanwhile, is a die-hard Steph Talbot fan and believes his composure and experience will be essential. “For me, she’s a weapon. She’s probably not someone who makes big statements and pats her chest, but damn it, she exudes leadership to me.

Jackson also points out that a World Cup isn’t decided on talent alone. “I think there’s a lot of talent in Australia right now, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity to do things differently. But in the same breath, the way the team comes together and the chemistry of these girls is what’s really going to matter. She likes what she’s seen from Sami Whitcomb’s leadership. “Her intensity, her focus – she can do it all. I am clearly a fan.

Timms believes the Opals will play up to 15 games before the World Cup and says it’s not too late for players currently outside the squad to claim their spot. She has one particular player in mind.

“I would take Anneli Maley. It’s a possession animal, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be an international possession animal. It can be contagious – (she has a) dynamic quality that I like in a team. I would love to see Anneli in green and gold.

Along with the Xs and O’s and details of who will be in the Opals squad, many guests at the event highlighted the potential impact of the World Cup on the sport in the future.

“I think it solidifies women’s basketball in Australian sports culture,” Jackson said. “1994 (FIBA Women’s World Championship) took women’s basketball to the next level in Australia, and I think that will happen again. Women’s basketball has been around for many, many years, but we’ve come a long way in the last five or ten years.

Proud dad daughter Shane Heal sees big things coming out of the event. “I sat next to two young, high-profile basketball players (in the draw), and you could see the excitement on their faces,” he enthused. “Younger kids will be able to see it and get into the sport, or they’ll start taking it more seriously. It’s huge for Sydney, and at the Flames we want to use that as a springboard for what we plan to do next year, which will be on a whole different level from this year.

For Shyla Heal, having the opportunity to play a World Cup at home is just an advantage. “I don’t feel any pressure. Every time you play for the Opals you feel a lot of pride, but it’s even more special at home. We can’t wait.

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