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Solid Opals for Asia Cup

ABBY Bishop’s return into the green-and-gold is a Naismith-send after the appalling way she was treated by Basketball Australia and the Opals program in 2014.

Instead of being lauded, applauded and wisely utilised as the incredible role model she is, BA at the time turned her selfless decision to adopt her ill sister’s newborn baby Zala, into an issue about carers and other such embarrassing twaddle.

Clearly out of favour with the powers-that-be(-mercifully-gone), the WNBL’s 2015 MVP was overlooked for Rio Olympics selection while even a player not good enough to make Sandy Brondello’s first official Opals squad ended up starting during that ill-fated campaign.

But these are happy days again for the Opals, with Bishop and Belinda Snell – sent into a premature international retirement before starring in Sydney Uni Flames’ 2016-17 WNBL championship – both back where they belong.

BISHOP'S MOVE: Abby Bishop in action for the Opals at the 2012 London Olympics.

Naturalised forward Kelsey Griffin also has been named in the Opals team which will for the first time contest the Asia Cup in India from July 23-29.

Brondello will be tied up with her WNBA coaching commitments with Phoenix Mercury and wisely her husband, internationally recognised coach Olaf Lange, has been added to the Opals staff. 

ASSISTING: Olaf Lange has international credentials, including a WNBL stint with Logan.

So too Rio Olympics captain Penny Taylor, who retired internationally after the heartbreak of that Games fiasco, and from the WNBA last season.

Taylor already is getting her coaching feet wet with the Mercury but, like Brondello, will be unavailable for the Asia Cup due to her Phoenix commitments. Having her assured presence in the program – a la Luc Longley with the Boomers – can only be a positive and it also may allow her to get to a further Olympics and see the team again on the dais.

Sydney Uni Flames’ championship-winning coach Cheryl Chambers and Canberra Capitals’ rookie coach Paul Goriss will share the coaching load with Lange in India.

Being a firm believer in the “players should hear one voice” philosophy, coaching-by-committee is probably the only dubious area, although BA officials were quick to point out the coaches would share the (head coach) role, obviously for different games.

From the Rio Games team, four-time Olympian Laura Hodges, Marianna Tolo, Tessa Lavey and Katie-Rae Ebzery return, while at the other end of the international journey, Lauren Mansfield and Alex Bunton make their Opals debuts.

Sara Blicavs and Stephanie Blicavs – yes, they ARE related – and Melbourne’s burgeoning talent Maddie Garrick round out the 12-player team with which it is hard to pick fault.

Brondello is rapt with her initial group, even though several key players such as Erin Phillips, Suzy Batkovic and Liz Cambage are unavailable, not to mention the crew playing in the WNBA.

It augurs well for the FIBA World Cup and Tokyo Olympics, the staff additions of Lange and Taylor a “no-brainer”.

“His knowledge of my system is a valuable tool to the players and members of the coaching staff in aiding its application,” Brondello said of Lange.

“In addition, Penny is the one of the most respected Opals of all time.

“She has delivered an incredible legacy as a player and now, having been working with me at the Mercury as an assistant, she has an intimate knowledge of my system that the players can tap into.” 

SUPERSTAR: Phoenix Mercury star Penny Taylor moves into coaching there, and with Australia.

The Opals head to India on July 17, with a warmup match against China and a few preparatory hitouts still being pencilled in.

The intrapool draw sees them in very good shape:
July 23: v Korea, 3.30pm
July 24: v Philippines, 5.45pm
July 25: v Japan at 5.45pm
July 27: Quarter-Finals
July 28: Semi-Finals
July 29: Bronze and Gold medal games
(*All times AEST, matches to be on FIBA TV but there could be further broadcast news to come.)

The team is Abby Bishop, Sara Blicavs, Stephanie Blicavs, Alex Bunton, Katie-Rae Ebzery, Maddie Garrick, Kelsey Griffin, Laura Hodges, Tessa Lavey, Lauren Mansfield, Belinda Snell, Marianna Tolo, 2017 grand finalists Sydney Uni Flames and Dandenong Rangers well represented and MAC Adelaide Lightning also boasting two spots.

Jul 7

Content, unless otherwise indicated, is © copyright Boti Nagy.