For the past three seasons she’s been plying her trade in the WNBA when the Aussie season is on hiatus – albeit in a role that she’s not really accustomed to.
Playing on a loaded Los Angeles Sparks team has not hindered O’Hea’s development, it’s actually benefited her. She sees the bigger picture and is using the experience to better herself as a player. Basketball Australia caught up with the Opals guard after a comfortable 85-67 win over the New York Liberty on Saturday night.
BA: You’ve mentioned that you were battling injury this season. What was wrong?
JO’H: During training camp my disk bulged again, so I had to get an epidural injection. I was out for, maybe, two or three weeks with that, I got back just in time for the first game of the season [and] played a couple of minutes trying to work my way back into the rotation then I tore my calf.
I was out for another two or three weeks again, so, I’m slowly working my way back into it now.
BA: How’s the health now?
JO’H: It’s good now.
BA: You’re moving a lot freer on the court now?
JO’H: Yeah, I feel a lot better. It’s pretty easy to lose it [game fitness], but a lot harder to get it back. The team was in rhythm and it just took me a while to get back into the rotation, but it feels a lot better now.
BA: It’s your third year with the L.A. Sparks, third in total in the WNBA. What are the differences in your game from then until now? Has your confidence level jumped?
JO’H: It’s still a real big learning experience for me. I feel like the league just keeps getting better and better, and the girls are getting more athletic, and I’m not super-athletic [laughs].
I have to try and be savvy with my movements. First year it was really inconsistent in terms of some games I’d start, some I wouldn’t get on, which is a real mental factor. You can lose confidence pretty easy.
Whereas now, I know my spot in the team, and I know my role and I feel like I contribute to the team quite well.
BA: You’re a starter on basically every other team you play on – Opals, or WNBL – how hard has it been transitioning from that role, to coming off the bench in the WNBA?
JO’H: It’s definitely a challenge, but I like the role I play on this team. I come on and get the defensive roles, try and get a couple of rebounds and find the open player. I’m not a huge scorer in the WNBA, I don’t think all five players can be massive scorers, and we’ve got some great scorers on our team and I try get them the ball in the best places that they can [score from] and I think that really helps our team.
BA: You’re teammates with Candace Parker –arguably the best player in the league – the Sparks as a team are stacked with talent. Do you learn from these girls? Do you see certain things that you bring back to the WNBL when you return home?
JO’H: Yeah. Everyday in practice, or when I’m watching games, I see certain moves like a Kristi Tolliver, or a Candace Parker do, and I’m still in shock sometimes with the moves that they make. Every training session or every game they do something new and I try and learn as much as I can off them. Our coaches are great, they’re always helping me out and hopefully I can come back and have a great WNBL season from the things that I’ve learned.
BA: Sandy Brondello is an assistant coach with the Sparks. How much has that helped you?
JO’H: She’s been the assistant coach for the three years that I’ve been here. She’s great. Having another Aussie around is always really great. We talk in our twang and people don’t understand us!
She’s always helping me out and she’s a really great support for me.
BA: Do you keep in contact with the other Aussie girls during the WNBA season? Do you girls give each other advice on your games, etc?
JO’H: Not so much on each other’s games. We definitely – when we go to each other’s cities – we go out for dinner or catch up the night before [a game]. We just talk about the different experiences, we make jokes about the Americans and the different things that they do [laughs].
Liz [Cambage], Rachel [Jarry] and I went to Vegas during the All-Star break and had some fun together. It’s great having the support there. It’s not just basketball support, it’s also we’re on the other side of the world and we don’t have our families around so it’s good to have friends around.
BA: The Sparks are second in the Western Conference [behind Minnesota] now. What’s the mindset heading into the playoffs?
JO’H: We’re still trying to get that top spot. I think home-court advantage is a huge factor in the WNBA – especially on the West Coast. I know that when we go to Minnesota we lose by 30, when they come to L.A., they lose by 30. So, I think that top spot is really important. We’re 2 ½ games behind now so we need to keep getting wins and hopefully we can knock off Minnesota when we play them again and try and get that top spot because I think we really need it.
BA: Finally, what’s next for Jenna O’Hea after the WNBA season ends?
JO’H: I’m going back to Australia, back to the Dandenong Rangers. We’ve put together a nice squad ----
BA: Bringing Monica [Wright] back, or does Kevin Durant have a hold on her now?
JO’H: No. I don’t think she needs to play basketball anymore! [Laughs] We’ve got Kayla Pederson from Connecticut, we’re trying to get Leilani Mitchell [from the NY Liberty] – her mum is Australian, so we’re trying to get her citizenship – another girl, Natalie Novosel, who played for Washington last year.
Next year [after WNBL] hopefully back to L.A. again, and then the World Championships next year as well.
By Nick Metallinos in New York