WNBL stars named for January Opals camp

WNBL stars named for January Opals camp

The build-up to the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women begins for the Jayco Australian Opals, with a 21-player squad named for first training camp of the New Year in Canberra next month.

The squad features players from all nine WNBL teams, headlined by the naming of WNBA and Dandenong Rangers star Leilani Mitchell – the American-born guard’s first call-up to an Opals camp.

In a coup for the Opals program, Mitchell – born to an Australian mother and American father – has pledged her allegiances to Australia ahead of next year’s World Championships in Turkey.

“This is truly exciting news to have someone of the calibre of Leilani commit to the Opals program will only benefit the team and add to the competition for places,” Opals Head Coach Brendan Joyce said.

“To play in the WNBA for the past six years you have to be a very good player. She plays with a lot of composure, can shoot the three-pointer and we all see how well she has been playing in the WNBL.”

Joining Mitchell will be a star-studded list of the WNBL’s elite, with three-time Olympian Laura Hodges named, along with fellow London bronze medallists Jenni Screen, Abby Bishop and Rachel Jarry.

Joyce has also taken a view to the future, naming exciting youngsters Carley Mijovic, Tessa Lavey and Lauren Scherf.

Excited to begin the journey to Turkey and the FIBA World Championships, Joyce said he is looking forward to working with the WNBL’s best at the Basketball Australia National Centre of Excellence next month.

“This camp is a great opportunity for these younger players and players on the fringe of the Opals program to come in a get the chance to impress and put their names up for consideration,” Joyce said.

“The camp gives us the opportunity to introduce our style of play and expose players to what the Opals are about from a strategic and cultural point of view.”

Joyce said the emergence of the likes of Kelly Wilson should provide players on the fringes with added confidence and desire.

“When we brought in Kelly Wilson, who hadn’t played for Australia since the 2007 World University Games, it created a lot of excitement, a lot of enthusiasm in the group and depth,” Joyce said.

“The addition of new players created healthy competition within the team and that helps create an environment where everyone is pushing each other to improve.”

The Melbourne Boomers’ amazing start to the WNBL season has not gone unnoticed, with Rebecca Allen joining Rachel Jarry and Tess Madgen in the squad.

Four players have been selected from league-leading Bendigo Spirit, with Gabrielle Richards, Elyse Penaluna, Kelly Wilson and Lavey called up for the four-day camp.

Penaluna returns to the national team fold after a horror run of knee injuries over the past two years has restricted her health and availability.

Townsville Fire pair Stephanie Cumming and Mia Newley join former teammate Jess Foley in earning a call-up, along with rising stars Katie-Rae Ebzery and Alice Kunek.

Natalie Burton, Hanna Zavecz and Natalie Hurst are among the seven players from the team that defeated New Zealand to claim the FIBA Oceania Championship who will be in Canberra.

Foreign-based Opals Lauren Jackson, Liz Cambage, Belinda Snell, Marianna Tolo, Cayla Francis are unavailable due to their club commitments, with Penny Taylor and Erin Phillips out through injury, and Kristen Veal (study) and Jenna O’Hea also unavailable to attend.

The Jayco Australian Opals training camp will take place from 12-15 January at the Basketball Australia National Centre of Excellence at the AIS, Canberra.

Jayco Australian Opals January Training Camp Squad

Natalie Hurst, Canberra Capitals

Leilani Mitchell, Dandenong Rangers

Tessa Lavey, Bendigo Spirit

Jennifer Screen, Adelaide Lightning

Kelly Wilson, Bendigo Spirit

Tess Madgen, Melbourne Boomers

Stephanie Cummings, Townsville Fire

Jess Foley, Adelaide Lightning

Katie-Rae Ebzery, Sydney Uni Flames

Rachel Jarry, Melbourne Boomers

Rebecca Allen, Melbourne Boomers

Alice Kunek, Dandenong Rangers

Hanna Zavecz, Logan Thunder

Mia Newley, Townsville Fire

Laura Hodges, Adelaide Lightning

Abby Bishop, Canberra Capitals

Elyse Penaluna, Bendigo Spirit

Carley Mijovic, Canberra Capitals

Lauren Scherf, Dandenong Rangers

Natalie Burton, West Coast Waves

Gabrielle Richards, Bendigo Spirit