The rise of Cambage

The rise of Cambage

At 204cm, or six-foot-eight, Australia's Liz Cambage is literally the biggest and most exciting prospect in international women's basketball.

With an intimidating presence and talent to burn, she has scouts and coaches the world over salivating.

But, seemingly purpose-built to be a basketball player, the 19-year-old was very nearly lost to the sport.

As a child, the product of a Nigerian father and an Australian mother hated basketball - and sport in general - and regularly wanted to quit.

Cambage was far more interested in singing, dancing, acting and playing music than sweating it out in a gym or a weights room.

A bubbly, effervescent character with an infectious smile perpetually plastered on her face, Cambage's dream was to host her own television show.

That is until her mother Julia firstly introduced her to basketball and then used a little friendly blackmailing to convince her to stick with it.

"I think I was nine or ten years old and we'd just moved to Mornington Peninsula from Melbourne and mum thought it'd be a good way to make new friends in a new town," Cambage told AAP of her first introduction to the sport.

"We had already tried Sea Scouts, which failed. I was a Sea Scout for about two weeks.

"When I started playing I was hopeless because growing up I was always an arty child - painting, performing. I'm still a performer, still a drama queen.

"I hated it and it took me a while to start loving it.

"I'm pretty sure after my first session I ran back to bed.

"But I'm happy mum kept making me do it."

Asked when she first began to appreciate the game, she said: "Probably after I hit my first goal. Mum gave me 10 bucks and took me to the movies.

"I thought `this is good, I'll keep going'."

And the Australian basketball scene is eternally grateful.

While the Opals have blossomed into a world champion outfit and a three-time Olympic silver medallist, they have typically lacked the height and depth to match the American women and their production line of imposing basketball machines.

But Cambage has arrived just in time to provide the type of physical post presence past Australian teams have craved.

After the world championships in the Czech Republic - where she has started every game and kept Australia on track to defend their crown - and another season with Bulleen in the WNBL, Cambage will be drafted in the first couple of picks into the American WNBA.

Her rate of improvement has been remarkable and has impressed the jewel of the Australian program for the past decade, Lauren Jackson.

Jackson had her first on-court encounter with Cambage during the last WNBL season, when the teenager was named in the All-Star Five after averaging a sensational 20.1 points, 9.8 boards and 1.75 blocks per game.

"Playing back in the WNBL was great because I got to see people like Lizzie," Jackson told AAP in the Czech Republic.

"Her development over the last six months has been amazing.

"I mean Lizzie can dunk the ball so easily, it's unbelievable.

"I've never seen a woman do it with that much ease. Her development in the next couple of years is going to be amazing.

"I'm just glad I get to play with her."

Cambage admits she didn't try as hard as she should've during her time at the Australian Institute of Sport.

But she has since learned the value of hard work and lists LA Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant and Australian teammate Jackson - two of the most dedicated professionals in the game - among her role models.

Opals coach Carrie Graf believes Cambage could benefit from more time in Australia before she leaves for the WNBA, but it seems certain the youngster will take her game to the States in 2011.

"She definitely would be a great prospect for anyone," said US women's team assistant coach Marynell Meadors, who also coaches the WNBA's Atlanta Dream.

"There aren't too many six-foot-eight kids. Every day she gets better. I saw her in July at the All-Star game (when Australia had a scrimmage against the US).

"From July to now she's improved tremendously."

She didn't cut it as a Sea Scout and the television career is on hold, because Cambage is clearly on the verge of basketball stardom.

"She's got to be a top few pick in the WNBA," Graf said.

"If you look at the Jackson factor, and I don't want to draw too many comparisons, but she's unique.

"She's six-foot-eight, she's mobile, she's got great hands, she understands and learns the game well and she's building a work ethic.

"She's unique."