Lauren Jackson is confident.
Australia’s greatest ever basketballer oozed confidence when she stepped on to the court for Australia at four Olympic Games and while she’ll be behind the microphone for Channel 7 in Rio, Jackson is extremely confident about the Opals chances of an elusive gold medal.
Jackson told SBS Zela:
“After watching America’s last three games I feel confident that the girls can beat them.’’
“I honestly think Australia will get through to the gold medal game and they should give it a real crack, I’m not saying the other countries aren’t worthy or good enough but I believe the Opals should be feeling quite confident right now and going in to the Olympics with a bit of swagger.”
As part of preparation for her commentary commitments, Jackson has been doing a different style of scouting and believes Australia will take plenty of valuable lessons out on Monday’s 104-89 loss to powerhouse USA in the final warm-up game.
She believes Australian coach Brendan Joyce has the Opals playing a brand of basketball they’ve never played on the Olympic stage.
“All the pieces are there, they’ve got everything right going for them it’s just a matter of them putting it together,’’ she said.
“I think Brendan’s got them playing a really great style of basketball I don’t think the Opals have played before. You have to attribute a lot of the success over the last couple of years to the way he coaches and his style of basketball, they’re so aggressive and fast and it’s really fun to watch. I think he’s bringing out the best in those girls because of his style of basketball
“It (the style) really is how they’ve got the offence running, making sure the ball moves a lot. Against America it was really clear in the first half, the girls really controlled the tempo of the game and that’s not something we’ve been able to do against America before.
“I think that was the most glaring thing to come out of the game for me other than the girls getting in foul trouble, otherwise they might’ve had a better shot at the end but it was a really good game to watch.
“Technically the girls need to stay out of foul trouble, I think that’s going to be their biggest problem and keeping girls on court. That’s where America’s luckier than us because they’re 12 players deep. If a couple of their players get in foul trouble they’ve got another four of five more superstars coming off the bench, every one of those girls can play international basketball for 40 minutes.”
Liz Cambage and Leilani Mitchell are key
Jackson has identified two crucial keys to ultimate Australian success - the Opals tallest player, towering 203cm centre Liz Cambage, and smallest player, 165cm pocket rocket point guard Leilani Mitchell.
She says they both showed their wares in the warm-up game against the USA.
“Leilani is crucial, her and Liz have two of the most important roles,’’ she said.
“Leilani took over scoring when the girls absolutely needed it and she’s capable of doing that. For someone her size she’s very, very good at getting the ball in the hole, controlling the tempo, putting pressure on the defence and the offence starts with her.
“And Liz is going to be huge for us. I think a lot of us think success relies heavily on how well she does, and I know that puts a lot of pressure on her, but anyone who understands the game understands how important she is to the team because her size is unmatched.
“The Americans couldn’t stay with her (in the warm-up game) on Monday, they can’t actually play defence against her, she just shoots over them. Liz is stronger, she has great touch, she’s a big body and she’s a tall girl, nobody can guard her. Unless the Americans start doubling or find a way to stop her it’s going to be very tight.”
Penny Taylor and Erin Phillips will lead the way
Seasoned Australian duo and WNBA stars Penny Taylor and Erin Phillips were notable absentees from Australia’s campaign in London, through injury and omission, and Jackson thinks their presence and experience will be invaluable.
“We really missed Erin in 2012 against France, we missed Erin the whole tournament but I think defensively if we had her against France we wouldn’t have lost that game,’’ she said.
“Erin’s done everything in her power to get back and be right for Rio, to be on the national team and fit and strong and healthy. She’s a great athlete, she’s got a good basketball head on her shoulders and she’ll go out there and give it everything.
“Then there’s Penny. What can I say about Penny that we don’t already know? She’s a great and she’s playing a leadership role now, the way she leads is going to be critical to the way the girls play, and obviously she’s still relied on offensively as well.
“She’s another one who needs to stay out of foul trouble too because the Opals need her on the court. That was evident against America, we need Penny and Liz on the court.”