• Opals legend Michele Timms is looking to take China to the top (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The Chinese women’s basketball team is in the middle of a Rio qualification tournament. Good thing they have one of the best players in history on their side.
Megan Hustwaite

16 Jun 2016 - 5:00 PM  UPDATED 16 Jun 2016 - 5:00 PM

Being part of the opposition can’t dampen basketball legend Michele Timms’ excitement about the Opals Olympic prospects.

The 50-year-old is assistant coach of the Chinese national team which is in France this week competing at an Olympic qualifying tournament. Twelve countries are vying for the final five spots.

“If we play our best we can qualify for sure. This week we’ll know our fate,’’ she said.

Green and potentially gold

Once thing Timms knows for sure is that the country she represented 264 times will be tough to beat in Rio.

Timms, who captained the Opals to a silver medal in Sydney, Australian basketball’s best ever result at an Olympics, is typically honest about Australia's chances.

“They are going to medal for sure,’’ she said.

“I know people always say it but I really believe the Opals are a good chance to win gold. It’s not their best chance, we had chances in 2000 and I thought we were a strong chance in 2004, but this is really exciting.

“Australia rolls out player after player that is hard and dynamic with a high basketball IQ. Other countries would be lucky to have one or two of those but Australia has teams full of them, even when players are away in the WNBA.

“I can’t wait to see Penny Taylor playing at another Olympics, after missing London through injury, and leading the Opals. What she brings as a leader and as a player is second to none, with her in the team the Opals go up another level, just from that one player.

“I’m excited about Liz Cambage in the middle, Penny at the helm, Erin Phillips, Leilani Mitchell, Rachel Jarry – there’s a cast of thousands.”

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Six appeal

If China qualifies for Rio, 2016 will mark Timms’ seventh Olympic campaign. She played in 1988, 1996 and 2000, commentated from a television studio back in Australia in 2004, was an assistant coach with China in 2008 then Australia in 2012.

“I support the Opals every game they have, apart from when it’s against us, and keep up to date on how they’re going at every tournament,’’ she said.

“It’s horrible coming up against Australia because you know exactly how hard it’s going to be. It’s never mixed emotions, you just put a gap between your emotions and when you play Australia it’s just like when you play against your best friends, it’s a bit awkward but you just want to win so bad.”

Legend status confirmed

Timms has been overwhelmed by well wishes the past few days since FIBA announced it would induct her into to its hall of fame at a gala event in Switzerland in August.

She will be the first Australian female player to be recognised. But Timms has long been a trailblazer in this country.

In 1989 she was the first Australian to play professionally in Europe, the  first Australian to play in the WNBA and in 2007 became the NBL’s first female coach when she was appointed an assistant coach of the South Dragons.

“I never thought I’d be a trailblazer and I didn’t plan to be one. When it was all written there to read I did think 'oh wow',’’ Timms said.

“I’ve received a crazy amount of messages but the ones that really pull on my heart strings are the ones that say I was their role model or I was the one that inspired them to play.

“It’s pretty cool when even grown men say I was their role model when they were a kid! For this I’m really proud of what I have achieved.

“I know I’m not the best player Australia has ever had, or going to have, but I’m proud to be labelled a trailblazer and a role model back in the day.”

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