-On the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. President George W. Bush appears before the General Assembly of the United Nations to deliver an overview of the ‘war on terror’ to date. Bush again preaches his view that “The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in Baghdad.”As the civilian and military death toll rises inexorably in Iraq and Afghanistan there are seven weeks to go before the final mid-term elections of Bush’s presidency. Opinion polls have the opposition Democratic Party sweeping up seats in all parts of the country and controlling both houses of Congress.
-The Bush Administration is reaping the seeds of its dismissal of multilateral diplomacy with the major members of the NATO alliance publically refusing to send any troops to prop up the worsening situation in Afghanistan. Germany and Italy bluntly knock back the request while France is more circumspect. In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair is attacked by Opposition Leader David Cameron for his “slavish” behaviour in relation to the Anglo-American alliance.
-In related ‘war on terror’ news:
#Former C.I.A. operative Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband Joseph file suit against the former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage seeking damages following Armitage’s role in the leaking of her status to several Washington-based reporters.
#Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty draws fire by suggesting that anti-Muslim rhetoric and behaviour within the community is “self-defeating”. He also says that he is uncomfortable with the phrase “war on terror”. After several full and frank discussions with Cabinet ministers, Keelty walks back his comments.
#The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee votes 15-9 to approve legislation restricting the use of torture techniques in C.I.A interrogations while making it easier for suspects to defend themselves. The legislation receives supports from the former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
-The worsening situation in Iraq is not the only cloud on Tony Blair’s horizon. Having been finally forced to set a date for his departure by his Chancellor Gordon Brown, Blair is now desperately on the lookout for someone to assume the role of a successor more congenial to his own outlook. Environment Secretary David Miliband and Health Secretary Alan Johnson are spun as Blair’s preferred successors.
-The junior U.S. Senator from New York Hillary Clinton comfortably wins the Democratic primary and is expected to coast to a second term. Most political commentators are focused on her future: Clinton is regarded as the prohibitive favourite to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for President two years hence.
-Back home, Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley continues to search for a way to prove he’s tougher on terror than Prime Minister Howard. His latest idea is to force people who are visiting Australia to sign a pledge endorsing “Australian values” before they can enter the country. When the policy is presented to Caucus it is met with a mixture of disgust and disdain with Victorian Senator Robert Ray calling out “Will this be dropped this week or next week?”
-Australia’s High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands is officially expelled as a protest against what the Solomon Islands Government believes to be interference in the internal affairs of the Pacific island nation. There are ever growing calls for Australia to lead a military intervention to rebuild the failing state; the Howard government remains mum.
-After months of consultation and review, Communications Minister Helen Coonan unveils legislation on the subject of media regulation. The most consequential sections of the new laws will be:
*A relaxation of cross-media ownership rules first introduced by the Hawke Government in 1986.
*Foreign-owned companies will now be able to buy bigger slices of Australian media companies.
Critics claim that the legislation guarantees a further concentration of media power in fewer hands and that as a consequence there will be fewer independent voices.
-To hoots of derisive laughter from media watchers, A Current Affair and Today Tonight engage in a bitter and ultimately pointless war to capture the story of a boy from West Papua and a cannibal freak show. In their efforts to ‘save’ a six-year old boy who it was believed would be killed then eaten by the other members of his tribe, Today Tonight host Naomi Robson and her crew attempt to enter the Indonesian province illegally on tourist visas. After an anonymous tip the Indonesian authorities arrest the Today Tonight crew and immediately deport them back to Australia. The two programs then spend the next several nights taking pot-shots at each other.
-The family of television superstar and cultural icon Steve Irwin announce that they will postpone the memorial service of the man known as “The Crocodile Hunter” until after the state funeral for motor-racing legend Peter Brock, due to be held in Melbourne.
-N.S.W. Opposition Leader Peter Debnam suffers a grievous blow to his leadership after his hand-picked candidate Pru Goward is heavily defeated by right-wing member Greg Smith for pre-selection to the safe seat of Epping. In response, Debnam moves quickly to parachute Goward into the new seat of Southern Highlands, centred on Goulburn. For Goward, it is an easier fit: her primary residence is on a farm at the southern end of the electorate.
-The struggles continue for Australia’s conservative politicians with Queensland Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg announcing his immediate resignation in the wake of the Coalition’s third straight loss in the Sunshine State. It appears that nothing will end the reign of Premier Peter Beattie except Beattie himself.
-South Korea’s Foreign Minister Ban-Ki Moon becomes the prohibitive favourite to replace Kofi Annan as Secretary-General of the United Nations.
-In the AFL, a boardroom coup at St. Kilda sees Grant Thomas given the chop as head coach after five seasons. Some members of the Melbourne press note the fact that Thomas himself gained the job through a boardroom coup in 2001; his friendship with club president Rod Butters allowed him to remove two-time Premiership coach Malcolm Blight.
-The build-up for the most eagerly awaited Ashes series in decades continues with England announcing their tour squad. In something of a surprise, all-rounder and likely lad Andrew Flintoff is named as captain. Cynics in the Australian press draw the obvious comparisons between Flintoff and the failure of Ian Botham to transfer his undoubted talent into the area of captaincy and leadership.
-The Final Fours for both the NRL and the AFL are set. It’s a special weekend in the west with Fremantle and West Coast progressing to the Preliminary Finals on successive nights. In the NRL, St. George Illawarra and Brisbane both produce thumping victories to move on to their respective Grand Final Qualifiers.
-The soil of Victoria’s Phillip Island resounds to the sound of thousands of motorbikes as the MotoGP circus takes over the famous circuit. In a race affected by the Island’s traditionally unpredictable weather Italy’s Marco Melandri claims victory with Australian wet-weather expert Chris Vermulen finishing second. World champion Valentino Rossi rounded out the podium.
-In other motor-racing news, V8 Supercars Australia announces that the prize for finishing 1st in the Bathurst 1000 will now include ‘The Peter Brock Trophy.”
-Australia’s men field hockey team fall victim to their ultimate nightmare, losing to traditional foes Germany 4-3 in the World Cup final in Monchengladbach. Playing without superstar Jamie Dwyer the Kookaburras lead by 3-1 after 11 minutes of the second half. In the next nine minutes the game is lost as the Germans slam on three goals in front of a raucous home crowd. The Kookaburras’ disappointment is compounded by the fact that the team was attempting to become the first in the sport’s history to be Olympic champions while holding the Champion’s Trophy and World Cup at the same time.
-Nominations for the ARIA Awards are announced: there are five for Wolfmother, Hilltop Hoods and Bernard Fanning. Perth-based band Eskimo Joe is awarded four nominations. The scene will soon shift to Sydney’s Acer Arena where the awards will be handed out.
-The final shortlist for the Man Booker Prize is released: Australia’s hopes rest on Kate Grenville and her lauded novel Secret River. 2006 will be one of the few years where Peter Carey’s name is not present.
-One of the notable deaths of the week was that of colourful Sydney identity Abe Saffron at the age of 86. Saffron, nicknamed “Mr Sin”, was a pivotal figure in Sydney’s criminal underworld for most of the post-war period with his operations centred in the area around Kings Cross.
-Other notable deaths during the week included German author and historian Joachim Fest (at the age of 79) the former Governor of Texas Ann Richards (at the age of 73), British broadcaster Raymond Baxter (at the age of 84), creator of the British television soap opera Crossroads Peter Ling (at the age of 80) and the controversial Italian journalist and interviewer Oriana Fallaci (at the age of 77).
-“Sexyback”, “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin” and “I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair)” were the songs making people move on the dance floor.
Apart from the World’s the major news item in the world of Australian basketball was the launch of the 2006/07 NBL season. There are two new teams: the South Dragons, based in Melbourne and the Singapore Slingers. The NBL’s move into Asia was portrayed as being a major step forward with then Commissioner Rick Burton stating his confidence that “The League is on its way back.” The season would open with Singapore hosting the Adelaide 36ers. Most basketball experts agree that the Brisbane Bullets are the favourites to claim the Raschke Trophy: with players like C.J. Bruton, Ebi Ere, Sam MacKinnon and Dusty Rychart, Joey Wright’s squad is one of the most powerful in the League’s history. As defending champions, Al Westover’s Melbourne Tigers were second choice while the Sydney Kings could never be discounted.
Our focus now shifts to Brazil, where the 16 best nations in women’s basketball were sending teams to take in the 15th FIBA World Championship for Women. All matches were played in the city of Sao Paulo with the major venue being the Ibirapuera Arena. The 16 teams were drawn in four groups:
Group A: Argentina, Brazil, Spain and South Korea
Group B: Australia, Canada, Lithuania and Senegal
Group C: China, Nigeria, Russia and United States of America
Group D: Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Czech Republic and France.
The Opals arrived in country on September 9th after what can only be described as an extremely basic preparation. Following the team’s selection they played only one match together: a warm-up game against the United States on September 7th which the Americans won handily. The squad was one directed towards the future with only five survivors from the Athens Olympics. One of the debutants was Adelaide star Erin Phillips who was bubbling with excitement “Being a part of this team is just awesome...To be playing at a world championship is a dream come true.” Before the tournament opened, Penny Taylor received a bunch of red roses for luck from her future husband Rodrigo Gil, a star for the Brazilian volleyball program. In her online diary, Tully Bevilaqua noted that some of Penny’s teammates were a little disappointed that their loved ones hadn’t thought to do the same thing!
Tuesday 12th September 2006 (all dates are local time)
Group B Match: Opals vs. Lithuania
Final score: Opals by forfeit
The Opals’ drive for gold suffered a setback when their opening game against Lithuania was cancelled after an almost comical series of mix-ups. The Lithuanians had originally missed their flight to Brazil and had had to organise a second flight via French Martinique. When they arrived at an airport in northern Brazil immigration officials sent them straight back, on account of the fact that the Lithuanian team had not received the mandatory inoculations for yellow fever for those passing through French Martinique. Eventually the Lithuanians arrived in Sao Paulo at 10:30 p.m. local time on the day of their first game: five and a half hours after the match had been due to tip off.
Australian team manager Marian Stewart: “We told the girls at a team meeting and they were troupers. They took it on the chin.” The two points gained from the no-contest guaranteed the Opals a place in the second round. Nothing could make up though for the loss of an opportunity to shake off the rust and get some much-needed match practice.
Wednesday 13th September 2006
Group B Match: Opals vs. Senegal
Final score: Opals 95-Senegal 55
At last, Australia’s campaign got underway on the court as they faced the minnow Senegal. At 7:45 p.m. local time (8:45 a.m. EST on Thursday 14th in Australia) the starting five of Harrower, Snell, Taylor, Whittle and Jackson made their way onto the floor. In front of a sparse crowd, Spanish referee Antonio Conde tossed up the ball, Jackson won the tip and we were off!
It was Kristi Harrower who got the opening score of the game: her mid-range jump shot from the right elbow seemed to hang on the rim for an eternity before finally dropping through. There was a clear emphasis in the early moments by the Opals to test out their transition game as it would be needed in the later rounds. Harrower scored six of Australia’s opening 10 points as the Senegalese offense sputtered. After five minutes the lead was 16-4 and Senegal coach Diop Magatte called a time-out to halt the rot.
After the time-out, Senegal brought in a 3-2 zone defence and was able to capture a couple of stops. With Australia forced to shoot three-pointers to break the zone (which they were missing) Stirling called time-out to adjust her charges’ attack. By this stage several bench players including Tully Bevilaqua, Jenni Screen and Hollie Grima were now getting some court time. The advice was ‘work it to the bigs...so that we can go high-low or low high’. Off the time-out, Australia extended their defence and forced Senegal to turn the ball over. The ball was pounded inside to Jackson who muscled her way in for the score and it was 20-8. The rest of the first term saw the combination of a suffocating defence with an efficient offence to give the Opals a 25-8 lead.
At the opening of the second quarter, Erin Phillips got her first court time at the World Championships which pleased the South Australian basketball community. Some fine ball movement had Jackson finish the play off with a nice bump and shoot to stretch the lead to 19 points. The Opals continued to work Jackson into the offence with plenty of deep tosses in front of the basket where the scoring opportunities were harvested. By the half-way mark of the second quarter all 12 players had been on court and a Belinda Snell three-pointer pushed the lead back out to 37-18.
With Jackson taking a well-earned breather, Australia attempted to break down the zone with a series of three-pointers all of which fell well short of success. Senegal was able to get the odd basket, just chipping away at the lead. Despite having a comfortable lead the Opals were not blowing their opponents off the floor. The final play of the first half saw Harrower penetrate and attempt to pass the ball to Jackson. Two defenders knocked it away but after a scramble the ball ended up in Jackson’s hand and she hit the lay-up with less than a second remaining. At the half: Opals 44-Senegal 24. Jackson was outstanding in the first half, finishing with 22 points on 8/10 from the field.
It was just over a minute before Jenny Whittle opened the scoring in the second half with a long-range jump shot to make it 46-24. After Senegal hit their first three-point shot of the game, the game moved into a period of free-throw for free-throw. The run was broken by a Penny Taylor line-drive three that drove Australia’s lead to 26, their biggest of the game to date. It was part of a 7-0 run that forced a time-out from Coach Magatte with the scoreline reading 58-30 to the Opals.
The run continued following the break in play: it eventually levelled out at 14-0. Jackson took a breather, allowing Laura Summerton to have an extended period of court time. As the quarter wound down the intensity started to seep out of the game with Phillips producing a bit of showmanship: a leaping pass to Screen for the score was followed by a three-pointer of her own as the margin came within the range of 40 points. Summerton’s patented breakaway lay-up rounded off a 32-12 quarter that gave the Opals a 76-36 lead going into the last change.
With the result now beyond any doubt, both teams coasted through the final term while scoring 19 points each. Jackson was the leading scorer for Australia with 31 points on 10/14 shooting from the field. For Senegal Traore Aya led their scoresheet with 17 points while Astou Traore was able to garner 14 points and six rebounds. The Opals shot 36/66 (55%) from the field while controlling the boards to the tune of 37-25 (15 of them offensive.) Jackson was pleased with the quality of her performance and the team’s commitment: “Everybody rose to the occasion...It was a really good hit-out for us as we haven’t played much as a team.” Coach Stirling was no more than satisfied: “We’re looking forward to chipping away and getting better with each game.” Clearly, there was still plenty of room for improvement.
Thursday 14th September 2006
Group B Match: Opals vs. Canada
Final score: Opals 97-Canada 65
The final game in the qualification round saw Australia face up to their toughest test in the pool in Canada. Historically the two teams had been involved in some rough-house encounters and this meeting promised to be no exception.
After the Opals won the tip, Canada moved immediately into a 2-3 zone defence. Tammy Sutton-Brown scored the first points of the game from the free-throw line. Australia got a quick reply from Penny Taylor and it was game on. After an even start the Opals put together a 13-4 scoring spurt sparked by a couple of sweet perimeter shots from Belinda Snell who was looking good. The Canadians had already turned the ball over five times in the opening five minutes.
Australia placed tremendous pressure on the ball carrier and played plenty of ‘rebound basketball’, to use an Australian Rules term. Despite that Canada kept in touch and was behind 14-19 with 2:30 remaining in the quarter. Stirling called time and urged her charges to “get after the offensive boards.” It was almost eight minutes in before Jackson scored her first field goal. It was the start of an 8-2 run that saw the Opals lead 27-16 at quarter time.
Australia opened the second quarter with a 2-3 zone defence, looking to protect Jackson from getting into foul trouble. While Canada’s shooting woes continued, Belinda Snell kept dropping open shots. The only reason the game had not become a total blow-out was the Canadians perfect record from the free-throw line (they would eventually have 36 attempts to Australia’s 13). Two successive three-pointers cut the Opals’ margin to four points and forced Stirling to use a time out.
The time-out did not bring pleasure to Australian hearts with Harrower forcing up a three-pointer that finished well short as the shot clock expired. Neither side had shot all that well in the period with too many gift shots missing badly. Coach Stirling called another time-out with 3:00 to play urging her players to “get involved in this game.” With 1:30 remaining, Penny Taylor made an outstanding put-back and completed the three-point play to make 38-33. At half-time the score was Opals 41-Canada 39.
The second half opened with a Laura Summerton hook shot swatted away by Sutton-Brown. Soon after, though, Australia put together a 7-0 run and Canada’s coach Allison McNeill called for time to break the streak. It didn’t help: the lead soon stretched into double figures. In direct opposition to the first quarter the Opals kept the momentum going. By the mid-point of the term, Stirling had brought on a more defensive line-up including Jenni Screen and Bevilaqua. This would soon bring dividends.
As Australia kicked their defence into another gear the Canadian shooting continued to struggle. They connected on only one field goal for the quarter as a combination of ugly turnovers, poor shot selection and a brace of offensive rebounds ground down their hopes for a victory. Kristi Harrower’s mid-range jumper was working well and when Hollie Grima scored off a well-timed cut to the basket the Opals were 66-47 to the good at the home turn.
Aussie eyes were smiling as the final quarter began. Another ten minutes and Australia would be through to the second round. The commanding position allowed Jackson and Taylor to take a longer rest than normal. Three-pointers from Jenni Screen and then Snell (her fifth for the game) kicked the lead out to 77-54. Even with the game apparently over the Opals kept up the intensity on defence. It was a positive sign with the power teams to come.
When Harrower was called for her fourth personal foul, courtside microphones clearly picked up her cry of “Ohhh...oh my god!” Jackson started to get her way into the game, scoring eight points in a row (including a three-point play on a continuation worthy of the greatest NBA superstar). An 11-4 run to end the game was one of the positive aspects of what was a good hit-out for the Opals heading into the second round.
The match stats showed Australia shooting 37-74 (50%) against Canada’s 15/44 (34%). The rebounds were 32-25 in favour of the Opals while the strong defensive effort forced Canada to turn the ball over 22 times compared with Australia’s ten. Belinda Snell was the stand-out for the winners, finishing with 24 points on 9/12 shooting (5/6 from three-point land). Taylor and Jackson each grabbed nine rebounds while Harrower dished off six assists. Some quotes now from the press conference:
Jan Stirling: “The final margin flattered us a little...We struggled against the Canadian zone...and it proved unsettling, especially in the first half...It was terrific to see the likes of Belinda Snell, Kristi Harrower and Laura Summerton play up to their true potential.”
Game MVP Belinda Snell: “It was good that I’ve finally started to knock down some shots.”
With the victory, Australia now entered the second round of competition. There they would face three dangerous teams in Spain, Brazil and Argentina...
Saturday 16th September 2006
Group E Match: Opals vs. Spain
Final score: Opals 72-Spain 68
A strong first half display from the Opals proved to be enough to hold off a determined Fightback by Spain in the fourth quarter. In a game where both teams shot lower than 50% from the field the class of Penny Taylor shone through. She led Australia with 13 points, ably supported by front court partners Jackson (11 points and 12 rebounds) and Whittle (also 11 points). Amaya Valdemoro was Spain’s best, finishing with a game high 19 points and seven rebounds. The Opals’ total of 18 turnovers was one of the worries that Coach Stirling in the lead-up to the clash with the tournament hosts: “Our cohesion is certainly a bit spasmodic...These girls have hardly been together, but it’ll come.”
Sunday 17th September 2006
Group E Match: Opals vs. Brazil
Final score: Opals 82-Brazil 73
This encounter had all the atmosphere of a local derby between Corinthians and Palmerias with “trumpets, a full horn section and almost non-stop screaming.” Despite mind games at the pre-game warm-ups (Brazil made the Opals warm-up for a full twenty minutes before coming onto the floor), Australia “silenced a deafening samba beat” with a 30-18 second quarter that proved to be more than enough to seal the victory. While Jackson produced a real captain’s display (21 points and 13 rebounds) Penny Taylor was the real star of the night. Her 27 points and seven rebounds helped to ensure that a possible clash with the United States would not occur until the gold medal game.
Australia had played four games and won them all. Despite the shortened preparation, all the signs were there that this team could be something special to behold...
Next week in “Back in the Day”: Part Two of a Special Report into the 15th FIBA World Championships for Women.
This is another in a regular series of articles that will take note of the historic events of the modern era of Australian basketball (1979-today). If you have memories to share, or topics that should be discussed, send an email to Nicholas.Way@Basketball.net.au and put in the subject line ‘Back in the Day.’