Opals to shine at four-day training camp

AUSTRALIAN Opals will put the polish on their preparation for the World Women’s Basketball Championship qualifiers in Ballarat.

New head coach Brendan Joyce will lead a four-day training camp in his former hometown from Wednesday, July 24.

Opals superstar Lauren Jackson will head up the squad to gather in Ballarat.

Although Joyce is yet to announce the exact make-up of the squad he confirmed Jackson, who is returning from hamstring surgery, would join fellow London Olympians Belinda Snell, Jenni Screen and Laura Hodges at the training camp.

The Opals play New Zealand in the FIBA Oceania qualification series in Auckland and Canberra next month, with the winner progressing to next year’s world championships in Turkey. Joyce said he was looking forward to taking the squad to Ballarat.

“Ballarat is a basketball community who has a proven record with the sport, having provided sports leadership in country and regional centres.”

As well as training commitments, the Opals will play against Ballarat’s Big V Youth Men’s Championship League, play an intra-squad practice game and assist with the running of Aussie Hoops sessions.

Joyce put 18 players through their paces for three days in Canberra last week — the squad’s second training camp since he took on the head coaching role earlier this year.

“We’re not taking a single thing for granted in the lead-up to the FIBA qualifier,” Joyce said earlier this week.

“We had a great run in China last month.

 “We played well with a lot of our big names out due to injury and managed a win against China on their home turf, which is no small feat.

“But the key for us now is to keep that momentum running high when we take on New Zealand in the Oceania championships.”

The Canberra camp featured former Ballarat Lady Miners/Rush players Cayla Francis and Amy Lewis, and emerging Ballarat talent Abbey Wehrung.

Ballarat Basketball Association has taken the opportunity of the visit to rally the support of Opals hierarchy in its bid to attract funding for the development of a $20 million stand alone multi-purpose indoor sports stadium in Wendouree – a proposal unveiled in May.

Joyce said opportunities for the Opals, Boomers and other national basketball teams to have training camps, practice games or even qualifying matches in Ballarat would only be enhanced with improved facilities.

Opals team manager Tamara Sheppard said basketball was a highly competitive world sport and the Opals had to work hard at staying in the top echelon of teams. 

“Better facilities and more courts will only add to the number of girls committing themselves to the sport and this will ultimately strengthen the base for national team selection,” she said.

david.brehaut@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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