Lauren Jackson has been named on her fifth FIBA World Cup roster for Australia in her comeback to international basketball, in a selection that was somewhat expected.
Not so expected were the tears that came when the 41-year-old Jackson was officially informed of her place in the 12-player squad by head coach Sandy Brondello. It came 10 months after a comeback to the sport and as a mother of two boys.
“There were a lot of emotions when Sandy rang me, I had a bit of a cry to be honest,” Jackson said Wednesday. “I have been working my body hard, and I didn’t honestly know if it was going to hold up to my intense training regime. But it has and I’m feeling good.”
Jackson reiterated the emotional effect of her comeback at a later news conference.
“Just wearing the green and gold again means so much to me,” Jackson said. “I was so far removed from this level of basketball for so long. I never thought I would get back here.
“It is starting to sink in … I’m a mom now, I work, I have a completely different perspective than I did as a professional athlete 10 years ago.”
Jackson will be joined by other Opals with international experience. Bec Allen (New York Liberty), Ezi Magbegor (Seattle Storm), Sami Whitcomb (Liberty), Kristy Wallace (Atlanta Dream) and Steph Talbot (Storm) are all currently playing in the WNBA.
The Opals aim to add to their stellar past World Cup performances, having won silver in 2018, bronze in 2014 and gold in 2006.
The third-ranked Australians have been drawn in Group C, with pool matches against France, Serbia, Japan, Mali and Canada in the tournament scheduled for Sept. 22-Oct. 1 in Sydney.
Brondello will lead the Opals for the second time as head coach after guiding the team to its silver in 2018. She said she was faced with some tough selection decisions.
“Making the final cut to 12 is always difficult with so many great athletes pushing for selection” Brondello said. “The training camp in New York demonstrated how much each of these athletes wanted to compete on home soil, the competition for a spot on the team was fierce.”
“Of course, the inclusion of Lauren is the talking point but from my perspective, she has put in the work and deserves to be here. She will add another dimension to our team dynamic.”
Jackson, a four-time WNBA MVP, said she is stronger than when she played for Seattle and helped the Storm win two championships in 2004 and 2010. She also won league titles in Australia, Spain and Russia as well as three Olympic silver medals and one bronze,
She retired from playing in 2016 after knee injuries derailed her career. She had hoped to compete in the Olympics that year, but an ACL injury ended that dream. She stopped playing in the WNBA in 2012, walking away as one of the best players in league history.
Jackson had no intentions of playing again competitively after having a partial replacement of her right knee and dealing with the ACL tear that was followed by a staph infection.
“I get so emotional talking about this,” Jackson told The Associated Press during the training camp in New York. “I never thought I’d represent Australia again.”
After her selection was confirmed, Jackson said she felt “at home” with the current team.
“The age difference disappears as soon as I step onto the court,” Jackson said. “I believe in this team and what we can achieve. If I can play a part of getting us onto the podium then the hard work is all worthwhile.”
Australian World Cup team: Bec Allen, Sara Blicavs, Darcee Garbin, Cayla George, Lauren Jackson, Ezi Magbegor, Tess Madgen, Anneli Maley, Steph Talbot, Marianna Tolo, Kristy Wallace, Sami Whitcomb.
AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg contributed from New York
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