Basketballer Lauren Jackson returns to top level of Australian Opals 25 years after first picked
She is arguably Australia’s greatest female basketball player ever and now Lauren Jackson is poised to take the green and gold again, 25 years after she was first called up to represent the Opals.
Jackson, 41, last played for Australia in 2013 and has now been selected to join the Opals squad for the World Cup in Sydney in September.
The lure of a second world title was enough to lure the Australian women’s basketball ‘GOAT’ out of international retirement after returning to competitive basketball in the NBL1 earlier this year.
Jackson will participate in the Opals team camp in Canberra next week and captain Australia to their only world title in 2006.
Lauren Jackson plays for Australia at the 2012 London Olympics
Jackson (right) playing at the 2000 Sydney Olympics for the Opals against Brazil
She was the event ambassador for the World Cup and her addition to the Opals squad is a huge boost to the profile of the event.
Her inclusion in the Opals squad was confirmed on Tuesday evening and is an important step towards Jackson’s potential international comeback.
Jackson, who is also a three-time WNBA MVP and seven-time WNBA All Star after being the first-choice of the 2001 draft, retired before the Rio Olympics due to debilitating knee pain.
She returned to domestic competition for her hometown of Albury in the NBL1 early this year after a rigorous fitness regime where she was in excellent shape, averaging 32.6 points and 11.6 rebounds.
Jackson is interviewed during halftime of an Opals match in May
“I never expected to get to this point, so every day that I pass by here is a blessing and I really feel like one of the luckiest people in the world to have another chance after the way my career ended” said Jackson. News Corp†
“There’s a bit of anxiety. I’m definitely a little scared and excited, but who knows what will happen to my body.
“I’ve been very careful from the start, not to get too excited or put pressure on myself. It’s been a really long journey, but with every milestone I’ve reached, I’ve gone, ‘I didn’t think I’d get to this point’.
“It kind of feels like I’m a kid again competing for a job. When I found out I was on the squad I was shocked for a while, it’s reality now and I’m excited to compete again to wear green and gold again,” Jackson said.
Lauren Jackson plays for the Opals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics
Liz Cambage (left) and Jackson (right) inspect their 2012 Olympic bronze medals
Jackson has one of the best resumes in Australian sport, in addition to her incredible performance in the US WNBA.
She is a four-time WNBL MVP and Grand Final MVP, was a member of five WNBL premier teams and won three silver and one bronze medal for the Opals at four Olympics.
Not surprisingly, Jackson is convinced she can make a difference if she makes the final for the third-ranked Opals’ World Cup team.
Lauren Jackson while playing for WNBA side Seattle Storm in 2012
“With my size, height and experience in the game, I think what I can bring to the team is invaluable in terms of leadership,” she said.
“Once I set foot on a basketball court I’m pretty confident in it, it just comes naturally and has always just been a part of who I am. I know I can give the girls that confidence, I can help them and that’s where I think I can be helpful.
“In terms of my talent and my ability to come out and score buckets, people know I can do that, but I think it’s the other things that are going to make a difference,” Jackson said.
Lauren Jackson has four Olympic medals as part of the Australian Opals
Jackson after leading Australia to a 2013 World Cup win over New Zealand
That said, Jackson literally laughed at the idea of representing Australia again when she held a press conference to announce her return for Albury-Wodonga in the NBL1.
‘Too big image (to think about). I’m literally just really happy where I am… just being able to play basketball here for our community is more special than anything I can imagine,” she said in February.
“I haven’t played for eight years, it would be absolutely stupid if I were to sit here and say I’ll be there (for the Opals), because I’m not… that’s not on my radar. †
Well, she’s back – and watching the Opals play in a World Cup at home will now definitely be on the radar of Australian basketball fans eager to catch a glimpse of the ‘GOAT’.