This article was first written for and published by Siren Sport.
After a disappointing 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Australian Opals are looking ahead to their home FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup later this year, beginning the lead-up with a 2-1 record at the recent World Cup Qualifiers in Belgrade, Serbia.
For Opals veteran Cayla George, the World Cup qualifiers were an important opportunity for the Opals group to come together.
“It was a positive environment, even though some of us were still carrying some baggage from Tokyo where the result was not what we wanted,” said George. “But coming into the Qualifiers, the sisterhood was still strong and our culture has come along in leaps and bounds.
“We are not where we want to be for the World Cup and there is still a lot of hard work to do, but we are so excited about the prospect of a successful World Cup in front of our home fans.”
The Tokyo Games did not end the way that George and her Opals teammates had hoped after exiting in the quarter-finals with a loss to the United States. The late withdrawal of Liz Cambage and some disappointing losses throughout the tournament, there was significant adversity for the team to overcome. But for George, that adversity has made an already strong team culture, even stronger.
“The adversity we went through as a group was huge and it still has ripple effects to this day, but ultimately how we have shown our strength and resilience post that trauma has put us in good stead to keep moving forward and now we are a year on and have started taking steps forward again.
“We would not have been able to take those steps together if we didn’t have a strong culture and sisterhood.”
For George, the easy approach would be to look back on the Tokyo Olympics with regret. But that’s not her style. “What happened in Tokyo had to happen,” said George. “I have no regrets because you can’t have regrets in life.
“It was an Olympic Games and a wonderful experience. I’m not going to look back and feel sour about it because there were lessons learnt in that moment.”
“The predictions for the World Cup came out from FIBA and they ranked us 7th for the tournament after the qualifiers. It made me a bit angry, but it’s ok because we just need to go out and prove everyone wrong again. In this game of basketball and life as an athlete, you are constantly proving your own self-worth and constantly trying to prove the critics wrong.
“You just want to prove to everyone you deserve to be where you are, but most importantly we need to keep proving to ourselves that we are good enough to be on that podium.”
Already, the preparation has started in a more positive way. What is easy to forget is that leading into the Tokyo Olympics, very few had the chance to play internationally before the games. This lack of competition certainly had an impact.
“We have another 14 or so games before we get to the World Cup and that’s something we didn’t have before the Olympics,” said George. “That lack of international game time was through no fault of our own but it is always helpful leading into a big event, especially with so many fresh faces in our squad.”
What George believes will be key to the Opals success is being consistent and playing the Opals brand of basketball.
“Our brand of basketball looks like tough defence and enjoyable offence, that’s what we aim for but that comes with a lot of hard work and preparation. There’s not long till the World Cup now, but there is plenty of time to prepare and come together again.
“I am expecting big things, but enjoying the process. I’m sure we will have a successful tournament, whatever that looks like. It’s going to be a successful tournament for the Opals.”