Back in the Day - Part Two 'Dare to Win'

Back in the Day - Part Two 'Dare to Win'

Back in the Day Special Report 2.7: The 15th FIBA World Championships for Women

-In a landmark decision, the Federal Court rules that the Australian Wheat Board acted “deliberately and dishonestly” to conceal its role in the growing U.N. ‘Oil for Food’ scandal. The Wheat Board and several of its senior corporate officers were accused of defrauding the United Nations out of millions of dollars of sales resulting from the sale of Iraqi oil for food supplies during the reign of Saddam Hussein. The Court also rules that the AWB must turn over 360 documents to a judicial inquiry headed by Justice Terence Cole. The United Nations’ own inquiry, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker accuses AWB of rorting the system and lying to its investigators.

-A new National Intelligence Estimate leaked to The New York Times suggests that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has “spawned a new generation of Islamic terrorists” and threats against the American homeland have if anything grown in seriousness. In a further blow to the Bush Administration in the area of national security the Senate makes clear that it will not be voting on the nomination of John Bolton as the new Ambassador to the United Nations.

-Motor racing legend Peter Brock’s state funeral draws vast crowds onto Melbourne’s streets. Andrew Gaze is just one of the many public figures who attended the service. Eulogies from Collingwood champion Peter Daicos, former teammate Neil Crompton, family friend Dr. Eric Dowker and Brock’s daughter Alexandra pay fulsome tributes to a man whose skills behind the wheel made him a hero to sports fans across Australia.

-The following day the nation stops to pay its respects to the memory of naturalist and T.V. superstar Steve ‘The Crocodile Hunter’ Irwin. Five networks broadcast the memorial, held at Irwin’s Australia Zoo in Queensland, in full. It is Irwin’s daughter Bindi who steals the spotlight. With most of those present openly weeping, Bindi reads a self-written tribute to her father word perfect. Soon the question is asked: can Bindi carry on her father’s legacy?

-In a speech to the Fabian Society, Senator Robert Ray lashes out at ALP colleagues including Stephen Conroy and Kim Carr, calling them ‘factional Daleks’. Ray also blasts ‘the Stasi element’ within the Victorian branch of the party. The Australian is moved to comment in an editorial that Ray’s speech is “more Groundhog Day than Rise of the Cybermen”.

-For once, there is a bloodless coup in Thailand. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is overthrown by members of the Royal Thai Army and is charged with corrupt behaviour during his term in office. Unfortunately for the leaders of the coup, Shinawatra is out of the country at the time and announces he will not be returning any time soon. Meanwhile, Shinawatra’s supporters flow into the streets of Bangkok, saying that they will not leave until their leader is reinstated.

 -For the first time in decades, a centre-right coalition comes to power in Sweden after national elections. Led by Fredrik Reinfeldt, the new government pledges to cut taxes and wind back one of the most generous welfare states in all of Europe. The governing coalition has only a majority in the Parliament having garnered a total of 48.1% of the overall vote.

-The match-ups for the Grand Finals for the major football codes are now set: the AFL’s big day will see Sydney and West Coast meet again with neutral fans hoping to see a repeat of the drama surrounding their meeting the year before. In the NRL history is made when two teams from outside New South Wales prepare to meet on the first Sunday of October. The Melbourne Storm aim to spoil the farewell of Brisbane Broncos champion Shane Webcke.

-In the build-up to the NRL Grand Final, the traditionally meek and mild Tom Brock Lecture draws controversy when UWS lecturer David Rowe claims that the game “faces not so much extinction as sporting subordination.” He says that a combination of media baron-induced carnage and a series of ever more degrading scandals involving sexual misbehaviour condemn the sport to a sorry and darkening future.

-Australia is slaughtered 5-0 in a bad-tempered Davis Cup semi-final against Argentina in Buenos Aires. Lleyton Hewitt draws the ire of the partisan crowd within Purque Roca Stadium by protesting against their catcalling and hooting during his attempts to serve. A poll conducted by a local newspaper names Hewitt as one of the five most despised sportsmen in the world.

-The K Club in Wales is the setting for one of the most emotional Ryder Cup matches in the almost 80 year history of the event. Europe retain the Cup by a score of 18 ½ to 9 ½ with Swedish rookie Henrik Stenson slotting home the putt that seals victory for the home team. The emotion comes from the play of Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke who in his second tournament since the untimely death of his wife Heather wins all three of his matches.

-There is also high emotion in the city of New Orleans as their Saints host their first game at the Louisiana Superdome since Hurricane Katrina ripped a hole in its roof and tore through the city’s soul. Their Monday Night meeting with division rival Atlanta opens spectacularly when Steve Gleason blocks an Falcons punt on the fourth play of the game and Curtis DeLoatch recovers for a touchdown. After such a beginning, New Orleans’ 23-3 victory is almost pre-ordained.

-Notable deaths during the week included scion of the American political dynasty Patricia Kennedy Lawford (at the age of 82), Vietnam-era journalist and double agent Pham Xuan An (at the age of 79), former leader of the NSW Country Party Charles Cutler (at the age of 88) and British composer Sir Malcolm Arnold (at the age of 84).

Monday 18th September 2006

Group E Match: Opals vs. Argentina

Final score: Opals 83-Argentina 49

The major story in the lead-up to this final game before the quarter-finals was the withdrawal of Kristi Harrower following a bout of food poisoning. This meant that Tully Bevilaqua (at 33 years of age and considered a ‘rookie’) would move into the starting line-up. The game would prove the efficacy of selecting a squad that could play 12 deep and Jan Stirling’s goal of giving every player a decent amount of court time through the tournament.

From the opening possession, Australia’s game plan was clear: give it to Lauren and give it often. It took a minute and forty-five seconds before Penny Taylor scored the opening basket off a circus-shot lay-up. Both sides looked to penetrate and mix-up their offenses. Argentina opened with a strong pressure defence that caused two jump-balls in the opening three minutes. In a low-scoring opening the Opals led 8-6 after five minutes.

It had taken some time but finally Australia’s offence clicked into second gear. Jenni Screen dropped a three-pointer from the corner: the next possession saw Jackson catch a lob pass, hit the lay-up, draw the foul and connect with the bonus free-throw. Baskets from Summerton (one plus a free-throw) and Grima (two) and in just under four minutes the lead had ballooned to 21-6. A couple of late scores from Argentina saw the Opals take a 21-10 lead into the first break.

Australia’s defence held their opponents to 4/13 shooting from the field in the first term.  The swarming defence continued in the opening moments of the second period. Overall, the Opals still looked a little flat after their mighty victory over the hosts the previous day. A couple of loose passes, one air ball and concerns were rising. Then a Snell three-pointer followed by Emma Randall making a lay-up after some good chain passing and the lead was stretched to 32-18.

It was looking to be a good day for Jackson: she had already racked up 14 points and was going strong. The Argentineans continued to try to carry out their strategy of penetrating and trying to score: they were simply overmatched by Australia’s height and strength in the paint. They were also getting monstered on the boards (at one point the Opals led 17-4 in the rebound count). Despite not getting out of second gear, Australia’s lead was 41-26 at the main break.

The opening of the second half saw Argentina make a small run, cutting the margin to an even ten points. The Opals steadied after Jackson blocked a shot from Gisella Vega, ran the floor, took the pass in the post and hit the lay-up. Two possessions later: turnover, fast break, Jackson running the middle lane, Taylor with the pass, low catch and score. An 8-0 run and it was wide open at 51-33.

A worrying sign midway through the term was Taylor lying on her back in front of the bench with the team physio working on an injured right groin muscle. Jackson kept pouring in the points, hitting shots from all over the compass including from directly under the basket. She would finish with 13 for the quarter. Finally with 38 seconds left in the period Sandra Pavon hit a three-pointer and ended a 20-0 run by Australia. At the final change the lead was out to 63-38.

The Ibirapuera Arena was very quiet at the start of the final quarter: so were most of the worries surrounding the Opals progress to the medal round. Argentina’s defence was made to look silly on several occasions: a Whittle three-pointer drove the margin past 30 points. Erin Phillips had to be subbed off after receiving an errant arm to the bridge of her nose. Argentina’s coach Eduardo Pinto called a time-out as Australia swept to a margin of 80-39.

The final six minutes of the game saw both sides simply trying to make it to the end without injury. What had been expected to be a close game (Argentina had qualified for the second stage at the top of their pool) had turned into a laugher. Jackson spent most of the period sitting contentedly on the bench: her 30 points on 13/21 shooting from the field earned her an early rest. Rebounding was also a crucial factor: Australia won the boards 48-21. Emma Randall had her best game of the tourney, finishing with eight points and nine rebounds. The defence was so stifling that Argentina shot only 17/64 (27%) from the field.  Former Opals coach Tom Maher did his nation a favour, inspiring China to an upset victory over France and guaranteeing an easier road to the Gold Medal Game.

After a rest day the Opals departed base camp for the final climb to the mountaintop...

Wednesday 20th September 2006

3rd Quarter-Final: Opals vs. France

Final score: Opals 79-France 66

Now the equation was simple: win and go on or lose and feel lame.  This was the third match on quarter-final day: Russia had defeated Spain 60-56 while Brazil had handily beaten the Czech Republic 75-51. Following this game, Lithuania would attempt to dethrone the United States of America. The winner of this match-up would have the pleasurable task of facing Brazil in the first semi-final!  France was on paper the perfect match-up for the Opals, having secured the fifth and final qualification slot at the previous year’s Eurobasket in Turkey. This was, however, no time to be taking opponents lightly.

Kristi Harrower was back in action and Australia’s offense appeared to be more assured in the opening moments. Penny Taylor was also making an impact on both ends of the court: a steal and forced turnover on the defensive side was matched by two nice buckets on the offensive end. France’s defensive pressure was forcing the Opals away from the basket and not allowing Jackson to pitch a tent under the basket. In a game of half-court offense, Australia led 13-8 after five minutes.

Immediately following the time-out the Opals brought in a touch of zone defence which brought immediate dividends when Laura Summerton scored the team’s first basket in transition for the game. There was a moment of concern when Tully Bevilaqua fell awkwardly while battling for a loose ball with France’s Emile Gomis. In typical style Tully got straight up and scored the next field goal. By quarter-time Australia had drawn away to take a 23-13 lead.

During the break Stirling cajoled her team by saying “We want to really build on that now...and don’t give them a sniff. Let’s really say to ourselves...let’s not give them a second shot in this quarter.”  Taylor now started to inject herself into the game, making two long-stepping drives to the rim, one of which was successful. France raised their intensity with a zone defence and held the Opals within reach. By the half-way point of the term, Australia’s lead had been chipped back to 29-22.

When Sandra Dijon’s sweet hook swished the net to make 29-24, Australia called time-out to recalibrate for the rest of the period. Immediate dividends were claimed when on the Opals next possession Jenny Whittle hit a line-drive three-pointer to push the margin past two scores. A short passage of basket for basket play was halted when Taylor made a difficult three-point play to stretch the margin to nine points. An 8-0 run had Australia in the lead by 42-28 at the half. For the record, France had two second shot opportunities, one of which was successful.

The second half saw the Australians do enough to keep their opponents at bay. Each time France made a run, a couple of stops followed by quick baskets swung the tide the way of the Opals. At 25/57 (44%), it was the worst shooting performance by Australia in the tourney to date. A free-throw of 37 to 15 in favour of the Opals proved to be a giant help. Jackson (19 points and 11 rebounds) and Taylor (18 points) were the only Australians to reach double figures. For France Sandrine Gruda was the leading scorer with 15 points. After this game it was clear that major improvements would be needed if the giant obstacle of Brazil and their devoted support was to be overcome...

Thursday 21st September 2006

1st Semi-Final: Opals vs. Brazil

Final score: Opals 88-Brazil 76

This was the second game of the day at the Ibirapuera Arena: France had snuck home 79-78 over the Czech Republic in the opener. The arena wasn’t full with people but it was full of noise: chanting, whistles, horns and other noise-making devices created the most fevered atmosphere of the championships so far.

In the opening moments it was the Janeth and Penny show, as the two great stars traded baskets. After this early flurry the match soon settled into a battle of half-court offences with both teams hitting equally tough shots and equally poor decisions with the ball in hand. What was also evident from the start was that the Opals bench would not get as much court time as they had in previous games: the times were too important for that. It was Australia 11-10 after five minutes.

Taylor had started the game afire, ripping off nine of her team’s 11 points while delivering the final assist for the other two. In a troubling sign for the hosts, Iziane seemed content to hoist up three-pointers which had no chance of going in. It took four goes before one finally dropped. Immediately the Opals made a change and Emily McInerny was brought on to cool Iziane off. With Adrianinha hitting a runner on the horn, the score was locked at 21-21. Taylor had been red hot, finishing with 13 points for the quarter.

It was obvious that this game had all the makings of a classic. It took 1:36 before Snell opened the scoring with a three-pointer from the right wing. Micaela struck back immediately with a three-pointer of her own. With the crowd starting to rise, Snell brought back the silence with a strong three-point play. It wasn’t long before Erica, coming in off the bench, scored six points and started waving her arms around to get the crowd involved. The score was now Brazil 33-29.

While Jackson took a breather on the bench, the margin slipped out to six before being tugged back by free-throws from Taylor and a tough 2nd shot from Snell. The score remained tight as the two teams continued to go basket for basket. It was basketball’s equivalent to a high-grade heavyweight title fight with one combatant then the other taking control of the action. Then Adrianinha, standing at least six feet beyond the arc, connected on a giant three-pointer. Brazil led 40-39 at the half with the crucial stat being Australia’s ten turnovers.

The second half opened with Jackson catching off a ball screen, drawing a foul and sinking two free-throws. When the Opals defence forced a shot clock violation the ire of the crowd was raised. The two teams twice swapped threes as left hook follows right cross. Now the horns were honking and the crowd was roaring. With both Jackson and Taylor sitting down on three fouls the home side took control of the offensive boards. Brazil had a 55-51 edge after five minutes of the third period.

Brazil’s big gun Alessandra was now starting to cause havoc in the paint. Her combination of sixe and skill were creating a major problem for Australia’s interior defence. The Opals were slowly being strangled by costly turnovers.  When Micaela sank a three-pointer with 1:23 remaining in the quarter the Brazilian lead sped out to seven points and Carnival had come to the Ibirapuera Arena. At three-quarter time, Brazil led 64-57 and Australia looked to be suffering from a severe case of the wobbles.

In the first three quarters, Jackson had scored only nine points. With the game and a possible gold medal on the line, it was time for the Captain to stand tall. Iziane opened the term with two free-throws but Jackson answered with a three. This sparked a 7-0 run that got the Opals back in the match. Whittle delivered a Dalton-like screen that left Adrianinha sprawled on her back: Snell took advantage to drop yet another three-point shot that cut the lead to a single point, brought the bench to its feet and had Marian Stewart crazily waving a towel!

On the following possession Snell found a seam in the defence, drove to the basket, kissed the ball high off the glass and dropped it through. Australia now led 69-68 on a 12-4 run. After Jackson blocked a shot by Janeth, a nice pick and roll along the baseline saw Taylor hit the lay-up, draw a foul and make the bonus. As Brazil’s offence looked to be stuck in quicksand, Snell scored a lay-up in transition to push the advantage to 74-68 on what was now a 17-4 run.

The crowd, sensing it could play a role in the final result, got ever louder in a desperate effort to get their heroes home. Australia just kept making the big plays: a steal from Snell saw Whittle make a mid-range jumper and force coach Carlos Barboza (at his fifth World Championships) to call a time-out. The Opals were now living on an intoxicating mixture of passion and adrenalin, on a high from which they did not want to come down.

With 3:03 to go, Jackson dropped her third three-pointer of the game and the score was 79-72.  The seconds ticked away, the 2:00 warning passed by and the hosts could make no inroad into the lead. When Harrower broke the Brazilian press, penetrated and scored with 1:37 remaining the game was put on ice. There were still some twists to navigate before Australia could be considered safely at home.

When Taylor felt for her right groin muscle after landing awkwardly with 42 seconds left the hearts of Opals fans leapt immediately into their oesophaguses. On the final play of the game, things got a whole lot worse. Landing in the middle of a rebounding duel, Harrower’s left ankle bent almost double. In a matter of seconds the team’s medical staff was at Kristi’s side, consoling and gathering information for a diagnosis of the possible injury. Harrower’s body language showed that she felt her chances at playing in the Gold Medal Game had vanished. The mood had turned from one of elation to one of deep concern.

The Opals produced a 31-12 final quarter to sweep through to their first ever Gold Medal Game at a World Championship. At the post-match press conference both Iziane and Alessandra openly wept as their hopes for a gold medal on home soil vanished. Coach Barboza showed great class in defeat, saying that “Brazil lost to a great team.” Snell, who had played her best game in an Australian uniform, spoke for the team when she said “We’re happy we could fight back and make Australian basketball we just have to go out there...and give it our best shot.” Snell finished with 22 points on 8/12 from the field (3/5 from beyond the arc). Taylor continued her career-best form with 26 points on 8/10 from the field. Meanwhile Jackson finished with 19 points and seven rebounds, ten of those points coming in the final term. Harrower was sensational with nine points, six assists and ten rebounds For the Brazilians Iziane led their scoresheet with 16 points (while shooting 6/17) and Alessandra had 13 points and eight rebounds. Janeth disappointed with only seven points on 1/7 shooting

Saturday 23rd September 2006

Gold Medal Game: Opals vs. Russia

Final score: Opals 91-Russia 74

Following the victory, the team sat in the stands at Ibirapuera Arena and bore witness to one of the greatest upsets in the history of women’s basketball. The United States, traditionally unbackable favourites for the top step on the podium, were swept away by a Russian squad playing the game of their lives. Oxana Rakhmatulina shot 7/10 from the field (including three three-pointers) in scoring 18 points while Maria Stepanova and Tatiana Shchegoleva played like titans in the paint. The final score of 75-68 flattered the Americans who had had to make a furious comeback simply to get that close.

Jenny Whittle: “As soon as the game finished we got together in Lozza’s room to talk about...meeting the Russians tomorrow.” A call was made home and advice sought from Carrie Graf on how to defend the dangerous Stepanova. Graf said “The key for Lauren in the to play her body on the low post and go body to body.” As the meeting broke up and the players pondered the import of the next game, the medical staff prepared for a long, sleepless night. Taylor’s groin muscle tear and Harrower’s rolled ankle would need constant and ongoing attention if both players were to be available for the final. Without them, Australia’s outlook would be very gloomy indeed...

As the hours ticked away to tip-off the messages of support were sent to Sao Paulo from all over Australia. Here is just a sample:

“Dear Jan and Lauren, Congratulations to you...on your convincing win against Brazil...Janette and I wish the team all the very best as you take on Russia in the final.” –Prime Minister John Howard

“The hopes and wishes of 20 million Aussies and 20 Pacific island federations are with you. Go Get Em!”-FIBA Oceania Secretary General Steve Smith.

“The team is on the verge of history and we will be supporting them from afar. Please wish the whole team, support staff included, the best for tomorrow’s game and irrespective of the result you have already done Australia proud.”-Bryon and Lucinda Dunkley-Smith.

“If time permits they tell me LOUD SHIRTS are everywhere in Brazil...Be safe Go getum!!”-ABC broadcaster Peter Walsh.

After frantic work by the Opals medical staff, both Taylor and Harrower were pronounced fit to play. Realistically both players would have had to lose a leg before they declared themselves unavailable. The team was motivated, aware of the nearness of the prize and ready to dare to win for those who came before and those who were there now. The starting five, largely unchanged from their first game against Senegal, read this way:

PG: Kristi Harrower                         SF: Penelope Taylor             C: Lauren Jackson

SG: Belinda Snell                              PF: Jenny Whittle

Bill Russell, an expert in the winning of major championships, once wrote of the feelings in a dressing room before a decisive game:

“You’re about to run your guts out in five or six miles of short, frantic sprints...While you’re waiting there, shivering in your own sweat, you can literally feel the energy about to be released by the fans in the stands. Perfectly respectable people are getting ready to yell and scream, behaving as they never would any place else.”

Due to the time difference, the match would not be broadcast live with Fox Sports showing the game at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. Michelle Timms, working for the NBL’s South Dragons, had hoped to visit Fox Sports’ Sydney headquarters to watch the live feed. Unfortunately Michelle missed the last plane out of Tullamarine and had to be content to send a text message to the squad in the dressing room. It drew the following response: “Mate, the time’s now and this one’s for you guys.”  Timms would follow the game by calling Sydney every few minutes to grab the latest scores. In the Victorian town of Sale, Bulleen coach Cheryl Chambers (who had been slated to be an assistant coach before falling pregnant) sat awake all night awaiting score updates. Across the country families, friends, partners and fans suffered from sleep deprivation awaiting the result. In Sao Paulo several members of Australian basketball royalty were set to support the team: the Maher family, Lorraine Landon and newly-elected FIBA President Bob Elphinston fidgeted nervously as the game got underway...

One positive: Harrower’s movement showed that her ankle was holding up well. Graf, analysing the game for Fox, put it bluntly: “In a gold medal game, you just get out there and play.”  Australia took a little while to get going with almost three minutes elapsing before Harrower skipped through some non-existent weak side defence to make the score 6-2. This was the start of a 10-3 burst with Harrower having two baskets, an assist and a defensive stop during the sequence.

The Opals defence now got into gear, with some nice switches and help on the double teams. A Taylor three-point shot from the corner bounced up, took a Nunawading role and dropped through for a 13-11 lead. Another benefit from the selection of such a deep squad was now becoming apparent: even with Jackson and Taylor’s slow start Australia was right in the game as other players picked up the slack. At quarter-time the score was 19-15 to the good, with plenty of room for improvement.

The second quarter opened with bench players like Screen, Summerton and Grima playing some fine defence that created scoring chances at the other end. As Russia’s offence became mired in a morass made of a combination of hard-nosed defence and poor choices the Opals had their sets flowing nicely. When Jenny Whittle sunk her second three-pointer of the game the score jumped to 31-20 and all was looking and feeling good.

Taylor silenced all doubts about her groin muscle with a glorious turn-the-corner drive to the basket that resulted in a three-point play. The advantage ballooned to as many as 16 points as Australia continued to control the tempo of the contest. Russia made a run in the latter stages of the quarter halving the lead to 43-35 by half-time. Taylor and Stepanova each had thirteen points for their respective teams as they entered the locker room with the gold medal in the balance.

The first three minutes of the second half would be crucial: an Opals surge would see them almost out of sight. Harrower opened proceedings with a long-range three-pointer after only twenty seconds. Soon after Snell followed up on her own miss, dropped the put-back and it was a double figure margin again. When Taylor picked off a cross-court pass from Tatiana Shchegoleva and made the easy lay-up Australia had their biggest lead of the game at 60-42.

With Graf uttering the unutterable (“This has got gold written all over it”) Taylor made her second steal in a row, broke away, hit a tough-lay-up, drew a foul and scored her 22nd point by dropping the bonus free-throw. It was a sequence that on reflection broke Russia’s spirit.  As had happened in the second quarter the Russians whittled away the lead 21 down to 12. The quarter ended on a high with Harrower spinning on the spot then drilling the mid-range jumper with a second to go. With one quarter remaining the score was Opals 69-Russia 55.

The Australian basketball community was united in a single thought: we can’t lose it from here, can we? Having been in control for the vast majority of the contest the odds were favourable that Australia would climb the mountain....

So, it was time to open the final quarter. Immediately Jackson and Taylor combined to draw a shooting foul, with Taylor making one of two from the line (Penny was now 7/8 from the stripe). Russia cut the lead back to an even ten points before baskets by Harrower and Summerton (off a beautiful through traffic pass from Jackson) steadied the ship. Then Taylor accepted a Jackson screen, scythed her way to the basket, beat four defenders, made the shot and drew the foul. The sensational play drew every member of the Opals off the bench to roar their acclaim.

Taylor’s three-pointer with 4:38 to play made the score 83-63 and even the most pessimistic basketball fan could sense that the impossible dream was going to become a reality. Most of those pessimists were on the Australian bench with cries of “finish it off!”  At the 2:00 warning Stirling made the move and cleared the bench to give every member of the squad the chance to say that they had played in the most significant game in the history of women’s basketball in Australia.

Jackson sinks a long jumper with her feet on the arc: 89-71 Opals, 1:50 to go. Shchegoleva gets the ball inside, moves to the basket and is fouled. There is 1:35 remaining as Phillips, McInerny and Randall take the floor. Bevilaqua, Summerton and Taylor come out, receive a high-five from their coach and start hugging their teammates. Shchegoleva hits one of two: 89-72 Opals, 1:35 left. After an errant Phillips pass, Shchegoleva grabs another two, leaving her with 15 for the game: 89-74 Opals, 1:06 remaining. After Harrower works off some seconds on the clock, she pushes the ball to Phillips. Phillips finds Randall for the short-range jumper: 91-74 Opals, 42.1 seconds to go. Stirling calls time-out, just to bring the team into the home stretch.

No-one’s eyes were dry as the enormity of their achievement came into view. Lauren Jackson would barely have seen the final 40 or so seconds, so full were her eyes of tears. In 1957, the Original Opals had run chook raffles, passed the blanket at football matches and gave up their jobs to follow a dream. After almost half a century of toil, the journey was finally complete: the Opals were the champions of the world!

As the siren sounded, there was a storming of the floor and the team ended up in a huge pile with Taylor anchored to the bottom. Marian Stewart, carrying an Australian flag, picked her way through the pile to hand it to the captain. After the traditional handshake with their defeated opponents the team broke away and formed a circle at centre court. On the cry of “OPALS!!” thoughts were turned to the Australian contingent of the crowd. The cameras captured a rare sight: Jan Stirling smiling!

Soon, the presentation ceremony got underway. Jackson had an Australian flag tied around her beltline: Phillips had one draped over her shoulders. Jenni Screen’s accessory of choice was a flag featuring the Boxing Kangaroo. Firstly the United States team received their medals (they had defeated Brazil 99-59 in the Bronze Medal Game). Then the Russians collected their silver medals, matching their result at the previous two World Championships. Then: “And now, ladies and gentlemen, we present the 2006 FIBA World Champion...for Women and gold medal winning team...AUSTRALIA!” In unison the team took the step onto the dais. Out stepped Bob Elphinston, grinning from ear to ear. Before even a single medal was handed out, Jackson grabbed the President and delivered an enormous hug which was eagerly returned. As each player’s name was announced and they received their medals, the prize was received in different ways. Some were kissed; others thrust high to those watching in the arena or at home. The official trophy (which remains in the foyer of Basketball Australia headquarters) was handed over with Elphinston advising “Don’t drop it!” Jackson passed down the line, giving everyone a chance to get their hand on the ultimate prize. Finally, it was given to Jenny Whittle in recognition of her sterling efforts for the game. It was now time for the national anthem. Every word was sung with great gusto and passion, though not perhaps in tune. This was a forgivable lapse considering what they had just done.

Final Rankings:

1st: Australia. 2nd: Russia. 3rd: United States of America 4th: Brazil. 5th: France. 6th: Lithuania.

7th: Czech Republic. 8th: Spain. 9th: Argentina. 10th: Canada. 11th: Cuba. 12th: China

13th: South Korea. 14th: Chinese Taipei. 15th: Senegal. 16th: Nigeria

Opals Squad for 2006 FIBA World Championship for Women:

Lauren Jackson (captain), Tully Bevilaqua, Hollie Grima, Kristi Harrower, Emily McInerny, Erin Phillips, Emma Randall, Jenni Screen, Belinda Snell, Laura Summerton, Penny Taylor and Jenny Whittle

Coach: Jan Stirling

Assistant Coaches: Gary Fox and Peter Lonergan

Manager: Marian Stewart

Team Doctor: Dr. Scott Burne

Physiotherapist: Amanda Berntsen

Physiologist: Donna O’Connor

Inspired by:

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 and put in the subject line ‘Back in the Day.’