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Opals and Boomers shoot for gold

13 Feb 06 03:41

International superstar Lauren Jackson will lead the Opals in Melbourne. 

International superstar Lauren Jackson will lead the Opals in Melbourne.

Australia’s men’s and women’s teams are confident of taking home the inaugural Commonwealth Games Basketball gold after naming teams heavy on international experience.

“It is always exciting to welcome new members to the Australian Commonwealth Games team, but it is a particularly thrill to welcome basketballers to the Australian team for the first time,” Australian Commonwealth Games Association CEO and three-time Olympic basketball representative Perry Crosswhite said.

Regarded as one of the best female Basketball players on the planet, Lauren Jackson will share the captaincy of the Opals in Melbourne, hoping to continue a successful streak which saw them claim bronze in Atlanta and silver in Sydney and Athens.

Mr. Crosswhite said Jackson’s inclusion means the Opals captaincy will be in good hands.

“We don’t normally like to single out particular members of the team, but special mention must be made of Lauren Jackson,” he said. “Lauren has tremendous demands placed on her time, however she has once again shown her commitment to playing for her country and we congratulate her on making herself available for selection.”

Jackson said she is looking forward to lead the young team, alongside co-captain Jenny Whittle, and with the help of experienced players including Tully Bevilaqua, Jae Cross and Belinda Snell.

“I guess like everyone else in the female squad, we’re expecting a gold medal,” Jackson said. “We’re going into that fully confident but obviously not overconfident.”

With several players unavailable due to European playing commitments, coach Jan Stirling is instead relying on the depth of talent in the women’s National Basketball League in Australia.

The Boomers will also be short some of its best players who are unable to escape commitments in Europe and the United States, but will rely on the international court time of a core group of players including captain CJ Bruton, Jason Smith, Tony Ronaldson, Sam McKinnon and Paul Rogers.

Bruton and Smith were key members of the championship-winning Sydney Kings outfit in 2005, and Smith, a dual Olympian, will be particularly pleased to be playing in front of a crowd in Melbourne near the Vermont courts where he began his career.

One of the team’s rising stars is Brad Newley, the 2005 NBL rookie of the year, including speculation he’ll be snapped up by a NBA club in the next few years.

“We felt that he was an automatic selection in this team, he's going to be one of the main guys," Boomers coach Brian Goorjian said. "One of the areas that is a concern is how we were going to put points on the board and that is where Newls comes in nicely."

Melbourne Tiger Neil Mottram is one of the new generation who joins the Boomers outfit for the Games, and will join his brother, World Championships 5000m bronze medallist Craig, in the Commonwealth Games team.

“We already have eight other sets of siblings on the team; however they are all competing in the same sports. Neil and Craig will become just the second set of siblings to compete in different sports in the same Games,” Mr Crosswhite said.

The Boomers finished a disappointing ninth at the Athens Olympics, after finishing 4th in Sydney, but are in the process of rebuilding ahead of the 2006 World Championships in Japan in August.

Australia will enter the tournament as the highest ranked team in both the men’s and women’s competition.

Eight nations will compete in both the men’s and women’s events, with strong challenges expected from Nigeria, New Zealand, England, South Africa and Malaysia.

Two medals will be on offer after 10 days of competition which will begin at the regional centres of Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and Traralgon, before concluding in classification matches and finals at the Multi Purpose Venue (Melbourne Park).

The Australian Commonwealth Games Basketball teams include:

Women: Tully Bevilaqua, Hollie Grima, Jacinta Hamilton, Katrina Hibbert, Lauren Jackson, Jae Cross, Emily McInerny, Erin Phillips, Belinda Snell, Laura Summerton, Carly Wilson and Jennifer Whittle.

Men: C.J. Bruton, Brad Davidson, Russell Hinder, Jacob Holmes, Luke Kendell, Sam Mackinnon, Neil Mottram, Brad Newley, Paul Rogers, Tony Ronaldson, Jason Smith and Mark Worthington.

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