The Opals, as they’re fondly called, head to Tenerife as one of the most decorated women’s basketball teams in history. The 2017 Asia Cup runners up are the highest ranked team in the group (4th in the world) and only trail reigning World and Olympic champions, United States, World Cup hosts Spain and France.
The Opals qualified for the World Cup by finishing runners up in the 2017 Asia Cup which was won by Japan. Australia blitzed through the entire tournament with slick offence and stingy defence as they overpowered all the teams they faced—South Korea, Philippines and eventual champions Japan in the group phase, the entire conglomerate called Korea (North Korea and South Korea) in the quarterfinals and semi-finals respectively—before losing 74-73 to Japan in the final in what was a rematch of their final group game which the Aussies had won 83-74.
The Opals are coached by Sandy Brondello, a woman loaded with massive experience in basketball. Brondello enjoyed a great playing career which spanned 12 years during which she spent five years in the WNBA.
She played for the Detroit Shock (now Dallas Wings), the now defunct Miami Sol and two-time WNBA champions Seattle Storm. Brondello’s 41% three-point field goal percentage ranks her 4th all-time in WNBA history.
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The 50-year-old is in her 13th year as a coach and is currently the Head Coach of the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA. She led the Mercury to their third WNBA title in 2014 before being appointed as Head Coach of the Opals in 2017.
Coach Brondello has named a strong 12-man team for the World Cup, including five ladies who play in the WNBA, but no name jumps out better than their 6ft 8in (2.03m), 216-pound (98kg) giant center, Liz Cambage.
The 27-year-old Dallas Wings centre helped the Opals to a third place finish at the 2014 World Cup in Turkey and was leading scorer at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games (23.5 points per game) where they finished fifth after losing to Serbia in the quarterfinals.
Cambage finished the 2018 WNBA season with the Dallas Wings averaging 23 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, and followed it up with 22 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 blocks in her only WNBA playoff game – a 101-83 loss to Phoenix Mercury (incidentally coached by her national team coach, Brondello) in the first round.
She showed her class when she poured in 53 points, the all-time WNBA record for most points by an individual in a game, in a 104-87 win over the New York Liberty on July 17.
Worthy of note is the presence of Eziyoda Magbegor on the Opals’ roster to the World Cup. Magbegor is a 19-year-old born to Nigerian parents.
The Opals head to the World Cup with much history, class and confidence. They won the 2006 World Cup in Brazil and finished third on three occasions (1998, 2002, 2014). They have also won three silver and two bronze medals at the Olympic Games.
Except something out of the ordinary happens in Tenerife, the Australians are expected to put up a dominant display and top Group B ahead of Turkey, Argentina and Nigeria.
Written by Ayotunde Onabolu. Twitter: @AyotundeOnabolu