Australian Opals player profiles for the FIBA 2022 World Cup Qualifying Tournament in Serbia

This week the Australian Opals play three games at the FIBA 2022 World Cup Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia. The Opals team includes seven players that represented Australia at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games in Cayla George, Marianna Tolo, Steph Talbot, Bec Allen, Alanna Smith, Tess Madgen and Sara Blicavs. The Opals team also includes three members of the bronze medal winning team at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup in Perth Lynx duo Sami Whitcomb and Darcee Garbin along with point guard Kristy Wallace. Point guards Shyla Heal and Maddison Rocci will both be making their debut for the Australian Opals and were each selected in the 2020 All-WNBL second team. In the article below player profiles are included for all 12 members of the Australian Opals at the FIBA 2022 World Cup Qualifying Tournament in Serbia but first of all some information on the tournament and the 2022 World Cup is provided.

The 2022 FIBA World Cup will be held in Sydney, Australia from Thursday 22 September to Saturday 1 October. From today, Thursday 10 February to Sunday 13 February (host city time) 16 nations will compete in four World Cup Qualifying Tournaments. Four nations will compete in each World Cup Qualifying Tournament, with the host cities being Belgrade (Serbia), Osaka (Japan) and Washington DC (USA). The top three placed countries at each of the four tournaments qualify for the 2022 World Cup. As hosts Australia are one of two countries that automatically qualify for the 2022 World Cup along with 2020 Olympic Games gold medallists, the United States of America. If the United States of America or Australia finish last in their group the top two teams in their respective group would qualify for the World Cup and the third ranked team would miss out.

Australia are ranked third in the world and have been drawn in a group with Serbia (ranked 10th), Korea (14) and Brazil for (17) their World Cup Qualifying Tournament in Serbia.

The tournament schedule for the Australian Opals is:

Thursday, February 10 vs Brazil 10pm AEDT

Sunday, February 13 vs Serbia 7am AEDT

Monday, February 14 vs Korea 1am AEDT

All three of Australia’s games will be broadcast in Australia on ESPN with the opening game against Brazil shown on ESPN and the games against Serbia and Korea telecast on ESPN2.

Australian Opals team

Bec Allen                             Valencia Basket (Spain)

Sara Blicavs                         Southside Flyers

Darcee Garbin                   Perth Lynx

Cayla George                     Melbourne Boomers

Shyla Heal                           Sydney Uni Flames

Tess Madgen                     Melbourne Boomers

Maddy Rocci                       Southside Flyers

Alanna Smith                     Adelaide Lightning

Steph Talbot                       Adelaide Lightning

Marianna Tolo                   Basket Landes (France)

Kristy Wallace                    Southside Flyers

Sami Whitcomb                Perth Lynx

Head Coach                        Sandy Brondello

Assistant Coaches            Cheryl Chambers and Olaf Lange

The Australian Opals team for the World Cup Qualifying Tournament was selected after 16 players attended a training camp in Sydney last week from Monday 31 January to Friday 4 February. Whilst the Australian Opals team only has two debutants and seven players that represented their country at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics four of the six players that averaged more than 20 minutes per game at the Tokyo Olympic Games aren’t playing in the World Cup Qualifying Tournament, providing opportunities for several players to take on additional responsibility and play a more prominent role, particularly in the back-court as Katie Ebzery has retired, Leilani Mitchell is pregnant and Tess Lavey is combining basketball with the Bendigo Spirit and AFLW with Richmond over summer. Two front-court players from the Opals 2020 Olympic Games team weren’t available for the World Cup Qualifying Tournament, Ezi Magbegor suffered an ankle injury at last week’s training camp and Jenna O’Hea withdrew from this tournament, commenting “It has been a very busy 12 months and I don’t feel I am mentally prepared for another Opals campaign at this time. I had some niggling injuries in the lead up to the WNBL season and recently contracted COVID, which has set me back further and I need to focus on getting myself right, both mentally and physically. I am proud to part of the Lifeline Australia program and to support the community and raise awareness of mental illness. On this occasion I am practicing what I preach to ensure I look after my mental health.”1

At the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Sami Whitcomb captained the Australian Opals and earlier today it was announced that Whitcomb would continue as Opals captain at this week’s FIBA 2022 World Cup Qualifying Tournament in Serbia. Whitcomb told Australia.basketball “I’m honoured to have been selected to lead this team once again. We have a really special group so a huge year ahead of us. There’s a rich history of being an Opal, there’s a sisterhood there and that’s something that we’ve really tried to highlight again. It’s really important to this group and means a lot for so many.”2

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Milestones and Misses have published articles on the following WNBL milestones during the 2021/22 season.

Cayla George 4,000 points in WNBL career

Kelly Wilson 400 games

Abby Bishop 250 games

Aimie Rocci 200 games

Bec Cole 200 games and

Steph Talbot 150 games

To view these articles as well as other WNBL articles published on Milestones and Misses please click on the link to the website’s home page below.

https://milestonesandmisses.com/

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Player profiles

The #number is the singlet number the player will wear for the Opals during the 2022 FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournament in Serbia.

WNBL games are up to 9 February 2022  

Sami Whitcomb        

#4                                            Position: Guard

DOB  20 July 1988                   Height 178cm       WNBL debut: 2015/16                  

WNBL games played: 85        2021/22 WNBL Team: Perth Lynx

Olympic Games:                     Nil

World Championships:          2018 – Silver Medal

Whitcomb was born and grew up in Ventura, California in the United States of America. At 12 years of age Whitcomb began playing basketball, having played soccer previously. At the University of Washington Whitcomb played 113 games including 94 as a starter during four seasons of college basketball from 2006/07 to 2009/10.

After being undrafted at the 2010 WNBA draft Whitcomb signed a training camp contract with Chicago Sky and played three pre-season WNBA games but was waived before the season started. From 2011/12 to 2012/13 Whitcomb played two seasons in the Damen-Basketball-Bundesliga (DBBL) in Germany, playing for ChemCats Chemnitz in 2011/12 and Wolfenbuttel Wildcats in 2012/13.

Whitcomb excelled for the Rockingham Flames in the State Basketball League in Western Australia from 2013 to 2015, winning the league’s MVP award and being named in the All-Star five in all three seasons. The Flames won the state championship in 2014 and 2015 with Whitcomb winning the Grand Final MVP award in each season.    

In May 2015 Whitcomb signed as an import to play with the Perth Lynx in the WNBL. In each of Whitcomb’s first three seasons from 2015/16 to 2017/18 she earnt selection in the All-WNBL First team. Whitcomb finished third in the 2015/16 MVP Award and was runner-up in 2016/17.

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Sami Whitcomb shooting a free-throw for Perth Lynx against Townsville Fire at the State Basketball Centre on 26 November 2017

Seven years after going undrafted at the 2010 WNBA draft Whitcomb made her WNBA debut with the Seattle Storm in 2017. In five WNBA seasons from 2017 to 2021 Whitcomb has been durable, playing a total of 149 regular season games including 41 starts. Whitcomb played four seasons for Seattle from 2017 to 2020 and was a member of WNBA Championship winning teams in 2018 and 2020.

Whitcomb was traded from Seattle Storm to New York Liberty on 10 February 2021 and had a career-best WNBA season with the Liberty in 2021 alongside fellow Opal Bec Allen, averaging 11.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 28.1 minutes per game to set career-highs in all four categories. During 2021 Whitcomb shot at 47.3% from the field and 42.5% from long-range and made 76 three-pointers for the season – ranked second in the WNBA.

Whitcomb played for Montpellier in France during 2018/19 and 2019/20 followed by a season with Galatasaray in Turkey during 2021. Montpellier were runners-up in the French League Championship in 2018/19 and qualified for EuroLeague in 2019/20.

At the 2018 World Cup in Spain Whitcomb was a member of the Australian Opals team that won a silver medal. Whitcomb captained the bronze medal winning Opals at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup and had an exceptional tournament, averaging 17.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 28.3 minutes per game to earn selection in the tournament’s all-star five. Whitcomb led the Opals in scoring, assists and minutes and ranked second for rebounds.

In early 2018 Whitcomb became an Australian citizen, she is playing her fourth season with the Perth Lynx in 2021/22 and first WNBL season as an Australian player. Whitcomb has played eight games for Perth in 2021/22 and is averaging 12.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists (ranked 10th in the WNBL) and 1.6 steals (10th) per game.

Sami Whitcomb playing for the Perth Lynx against the University of Canberra Capitals in a WNBL game at Selkirk Stadium, Ballarat on 19 January 2022

Over an 85 game WNBL career with the Perth Lynx Whitcomb has averaged 19.64 points per game, ranked fourth on the WNBL’s all-time list in this category behind Lauren Jackson (22.2), Julie Nykiel (20.3) and Kia Nurse (19.65). During 2016/17 Whitcomb led the WNBL in scoring with 24.2 points per game and broke the league record for most points in a season. Whitcomb also makes an impact with her passing ability, quick hands and reading of the play to generate steals.

Sami Whitcomb shooting a three-pointer for Perth Lynx against Townsville Fire at the State Basketball Centre on 26 November 2017

WNBL Achievements:            All-WNBL First Team 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18

WNBL Leading scorer 2016/17

WNBA Achievements:           WNBA Championship 2018, 2020 (both with Seattle Storm)

Shyla Heal                  

#6                                            Position: Guard

DOB  19 September 2001       Height 167cm              WNBL debut: 2015/16

Junior Association                   Northern Suburbs (New South Wales)

WNBL games played: 70        2021/22 WNBL Team: Sydney Uni Flames

Olympic Games:                     Nil

World Championships:          Nil

At 20 years of age Heal is the youngest member of the Australian Opals team for the World Cup Qualifying tournament but is already in her fifth WNBL season, having made her debut with the SEQ Stars in 2015/16 where she was coached by dad Shane who played for the Australian Boomers at four consecutive Olympic Games from 1992 to 2004. Shyla played 11 games with the Perth Lynx in 2018/19 and played limited game-time during her first two WNBL seasons.

Point guard Heal excelled at under-age level for Australia with a highlight being selection in the All-Star five at the 2018 FIBA Under 17 World Cup in Belarus after averaging 16.0 points – ranked second overall at the tournament, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Heal played a pivotal role in the Australian Sapphires winning the bronze medal and scored an equal game-high 16 points in the bronze medal game against Hungary.

With the Bendigo Spirit in 2019/20 Heal averaged 12.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per game and increased this output higher playing for the Townsville Fire in 2019/20 to average 16.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game, contributing to Townsville making the Grand Final. Heal was selected in the 2020 All-WNBL Second Team and also won the Betty Watson Australian Youth Player of the Year Award.

At the 2021 WNBA Draft Chicago Sky selected Shyla with pick eight and Heal played four regular season games with the club before being traded to the Dallas Wings in June 2021 who immediately waived her.

During the current 2021/22 WNBL season Shyla is playing for the Sydney Uni Flames and is again coached by her dad Shane. In 2021/22 Heal is averaging 16.1 points and a WNBL career-high 4.0 assists per game to rank fifth in the league for scoring and equal eighth for assists.

WNBL Achievements:            All-WNBL Second Team 2020         

Betty Watson Australian Youth Player of the Year 2020

Maddison Rocci         

#13                                          Position: Guard

DOB  1 June 1998                    Height 167cm       WNBL debut: 2017/18

Junior Club                              Werribee Devils (Victoria)                              

WNBL games played: 95        2021/22 WNBL Team: Southside Flyers

Olympic Games:                     Nil

World Championships:          Nil

As a junior Maddison Rocci commenced her basketball career at 11 years of age with the Werribee Devils in Melbourne’s western suburbs. Rocci progressed to represent Vic Metro at National Championships in the under 16’s, under 18’s and under 20’s and played for the Australian under 17’s and under 19’s teams. Rocci was the captain of the 2015 Under 18 Victoria Metro team that won the gold medal and was a starter for Australia at the 2017 Under 19 World Cup until an arm injury ended her tournament.

In 2017/18 Rocci made her WNBL debut at 19 years of age for the University of Canberra Capitals and finished runner-up in the league’s Betty Watson Rookie of the Year Award behind then Capitals teammate Ezi Magbegor.

Maddison Rocci playing for the University of Canberra Capitals against the Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 18 November 2017

In 2018/19 and 2019/20 Rocci played in back to back WNBL Championships with the University of Canberra Capitals and took on more responsibility during this time. During 2018/2019 Rocci started some games early in the season due to injuries to team-mates and then became a permanent starter in 2019/20. 

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Maddison Rocci playing for the University of Canberra Capitals against the Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 9 November 2019

Playing in the Queensland Basketball League in 2020 Rocci flourished being the go-to player for Sunshine Coast Rip City, averaging 32.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game to win the league’s Most Valuable Player Award. In July 2020 Rocci was included in the extended 23 player Australian Opals squad for the Tokyo Olympic Games and attended several Opals training camps.

During the 2020 WNBL season guard Rocci took her basketball to another stratosphere, excelling with her speed, reading of the play and quick hands to rank in the top 10 of the WNBL for scoring, assists and steals. Rocci was recognised for her brilliant season by winning the University of Canberra Capitals Most Valuable Player Award, was selected in the All-WNBL Second team and finished fifth in the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award.

Rocci returned to Victoria to play for the Southside Flyers during the current 2021/22 WNBL season and is a team-mate of sister in law Aimie. Maddison is averaging 4.0 assists per game -ranked equal eighth in the WNBL.

Maddison Rocci playing for the Jayco Southside Flyers against the Melbourne Boomers at Melbourne Sports Centres Parkville on 11 December 2021

Rocci was named in an Australian Opals squad for the first time on 13 July 2020. On being included in the Opals 23 player squad Rocci commented to WNBL.com.au “I got an email from Sandy about being named in the Opals squad and to be honest I had to look at it a couple of times and re-read it to make sure it was right. I was honestly lost for words. It’s been such a big dream of mine to be named in the Opals squad, so it was a very special and proud moment.”3 After attending several Opals training camps Rocci is making her debut appearance for the Australian Opals at this week’s  2022 FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournament in Serbia.  

WNBL Achievements:            All-WNBL Second Team 2020                                                                                              WNBL Championship 2018/19, 2019/20 (both with University of Canberra Capitals)

Kristy Wallace           

#16                                          Position: Guard

DOB  3 January 1996              Height 180cm       WNBL debut: 2018/19

Junior Club                              Southern District Spartans (Queensland)                             

WNBL games played: 10        2021/22 WNBL Team: Southside Flyers

Olympic Games:                     Nil

World Championships:          Nil

In 2013 point guard Wallace was a member of the South Queensland Under 18 Girls team that won a bronze medal. At the 2013 Australian School Championships Wallace was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player (MVP).

From 2014/15 to 2017/18 Wallace played four seasons of college basketball in the United States of America for the Baylor Lady Bears, playing a total of 136 games and averaged 8.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game. In Wallace’s final season at Baylor she was selected in the 2017/18 All-Big 12 First team and the All-Defensive team. In Baylor’s final regular season game of 2017/18 on 26 February 2018 tore the ACL in her right knee, ending her college career. Baylor won the Big 12 regular season championship in all four of Wallace’s seasons. In all three NCAA Women’s tournaments that Wallace competed in from 2015 to 2017 Baylor were defeated in the elite eight. With Wallace sidelined due to her right knee injury in 2018 Baylor were defeated in the sweet sixteen.

At the 2018 WNBA draft Wallace was selected by Atlanta Dream with pick 16. Wallace made her WNBL debut with the University of Canberra Capitals in 2018/19 but in her second game injured her ACL again. Wallace missed the rest of the season for the Capitals who went on to win the 2018/19 WNBL Championship.

After going through another knee reconstruction and lengthy rehabilitation process Wallace made her basketball return on 16 May 2021 with the Melbourne Tigers in NBL1 South, averaging 14.2 points and shooting the ball at 53.5% from the field in five games.

Despite playing very little basketball in the previous three years due to her knee injuries Wallace made her Australian Opals debut at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup, playing six games off the bench for the bronze medal winning Opals team.

Kristy Wallace playing for the Jayco Southside Flyers against the Perth Lynx at Dandenong Stadium on 27 January 2022

Wallace is the only one of the 10 Opals at the 2022 FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournament playing in the WNBL this season that isn’t in their WNBL club’s usual starting five. With Bec Cole and Aimie Rocci missing the game against Perth Lynx at Dandenong Stadium on 27 January Wallace had her only start to date of the 2021/22 WNBL season with the Southside Flyers and made the most of the opportunity to score 14 points, shooting at 67% from the field and had four assists with Opals coach Sandy Brondello in attendance. Off the bench Wallace has been able to make an impact at both ends of the floor, impress with her defense and efficiency in offense, shooting at 50% from the field and 46.7% from the perimeter. During the 2021/22 WNBL season Wallace has played eight games for the Southside Flyers and is averaging 9.4 points and 23.4 minutes per game.

Kristy Wallace shooting a jumpshot for the Jayco Southside Flyers against the Melbourne Boomers at Dandenong Stadium on 18 December 2021

Tess Madgen           

 #12                                         Position: Guard

DOB  12 August 1990             Height 180cm       WNBL debut: 2008/09

Junior Club                              Eastern Mavericks (South Australia)             

WNBL games played: 235       2021/22 WNBL Team: Melbourne Boomers

Olympic Games:                     2020

World Championships:          2018 – Silver Medal

Guard Madgen grew up in South Australia and played for the Eastern Mavericks alongside current Melbourne Boomers and Australian Opals teammate Cayla George. At 18 years of age Madgen made her WNBL debut with the Australian Institute of Sport in 2008/09 and played a total of 38 games in two seasons for the AIS.

After graduating from the AIS Madgen played two seasons for Bendigo Spirit in 2010/11 and 2011/12 and two seasons for Townsville Fire in 2018/19 and 2019/20 in between two stints with the Melbourne Boomers. During 2021/22 Madgen is playing her sixth WNBL season with the Boomers and 12th season overall in the league. Throughout her WNBL career Madgen has been a consistent scorer, averaging more than 11.5 points per game in nine of her 12 seasons including four seasons above 15.0 points per game.

Tess Madgen playing for Townsville Fire against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 18 November 2018

Madgen returned to the Boomers for the 2020 season and playing predominantly as a point guard averaged 6.2 assists per game to rank second in the WNBL in this category. In the 2020 WNBL season Madgen averaged more than 13.0 points per game for the seventh time of her career to earn selection in the All-WNBL second team, the second All-WNBL honour of her career, having previously been selected in the All-WNBL first team for her 2014/15 season with the Melbourne Boomers.

Tess Madgen playing for the Melbourne Boomers against the Southside Flyers at Melbourne Sports Centres Parkville on 11 December 2021

In 2015 Madgen had a short stint in the WNBA with Phoenix Mercury. Madgen played in Poland for AZS UMCS Lublin in 2016/17.

Madgen was a member of the Australian Opals silver medal winning team at the 2018 World Cup in Spain alongside current Boomers teammates George and Magbegor. Madgen played all four games for the Australian Opals at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

WNBL Achievements:            All-WNBL First team 2014/15

                                                All-WNBL Second team 2020

Bec Allen       

#13                                          Position: Guard/Forward

DOB  6 November 1992          Height 188cm       WNBL debut: 2009/10      

Junior Association                  Nunawading (Victoria)

WNBL games played: 103      2021/22 Team: Valencia (Spain)

Olympic Games:                     2020

World Championships:          2014 – Bronze Medal, 2018 – Silver Medal

Bec grew up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne and started playing basketball for the Nunawading Spectres at 11 or 12 years of age, having played netball previously. In 2009/10 Allen made her WNBL debut, playing one game for the Dandenong Rangers before playing a total of 11 games for the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) during the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons.

Allen has played 103 WNBL games including three seasons for the Melbourne Boomers from 2012/13 to 2014/15 and one season for the SEQ Stars in 2015/16. Allen won the WNBL’s Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2014 and in each of the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons with the Boomers averaged more than 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

Bec Allen playing for the SEQ Stars against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 8 November 2015

Bec Allen running on court for the SEQ Stars during the pre-game introduction for the game against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 8 November 2015

On 2 February 2015 Allen signed with WNBA club the New York Liberty as a free-agent. Allen only played two games in her debut WNBA season with the Liberty due to a serious right knee cartilage injury. Allen has played a total of 133 WNBA games for New York including 21 as a starter, playing at least 21 games in each season from 2016 to 2021 apart from 2020 when she opted out of the WNBA’s bubble season. In 2021 Allen started 13 of her 25 games for New York and averaged 9.2 points and 24.2 minutes per game to set WNBA career-highs in both categories.

Allen has not played in the WNBL from 2016/17 to the present, playing basketball in Europe during Australia’s summer. Allen is in her second season with Spanish team Valencia, having been a member of the Valencia team that won 2021 EuroCup Women title, defeating Reyer Venezia 82-81 on 12 April 2021. During the 2021/22 EuroCup Women season Allen is averaging 13.6 points – ranked first for Valencia, 4.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.5 steals in 25.7 minutes court-time per game, shooting at 47.5% from the field and 44.6% from long-range.

Allen was a member of the Australian Opals team that won a bronze medal at the 2014 World Cup and was part of the starting line-up for the silver medal winning Opals at the 2018 World Cup. At the 2019 FIBA Asia Cup in India Allen averaged 11.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.7 steals and 19.1 minutes court-time per game for the bronze medal winning Opals. Allen shot the ball at 53.1% from the field, 45.5% from the perimeter and was rewarded for her excellent performances with selection in the tournament’s All-Star five. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games Allen played all four games for the Opals but was unable to replicate her shooting performance from the 2019 Asia Cup.

WNBL Achievements:            Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year 2014


Steph Talbot
     

#10                                          Position: Guard/Forward

DOB  15 June 1994                  Height 188cm       WNBL debut: 2011/12      

Junior Association                  Eastern Mavericks / Norwood Flames (South Australia)      

WNBL games played: 154      2021/22 WNBL Team: Adelaide Lightning

Olympic Games:                     2016, 2020

World Championships:          2018 – Silver Medal

Talbot was born in Katherine, Northern Territory and after moving to South Australia at a young age had a decorated junior career that resulted in her receiving a scholarship with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).

After playing four games in her debut WNBL season in 2011/12 with Adelaide Lightning Talbot won the league’s Betty Watson Rookie of the Year Award in 2012/13. Guard/forward Talbot is a fixture in the Australian Opals team and has been a starter at several tournaments including the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the 2018 World Cup where Australia won gold and silver medals respectively. At the 2018 World Cup Talbot led Australia for assists and ranked third for minutes played.

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Steph Talbot during the warm-up for the Australian Opals opening game of the 2018 Commonwealth Games against Mozambique at the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre on 6 April 2018

In 2014 Talbot at 19 years of age was selected by Phoenix Mercury with pick 33 at the 2014 WNBA draft. Talbot further developed her game playing for the Canberra Capitals in the WNBL in 2014/15 and 2015/16 and played for ZS PWSZ Gorzow Wielkopski in Poland during 2016/17. Talbot made her WNBA debut with Phoenix in 2017 and has played 128 regular season WNBA games including 50 as starter, having played for Phoenix Mercury in 2017 and 2018, Minnesota Lynx in 2019 and Seattle Storm in 2021. During her four season WNBA career Talbot has averaged 4.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 16.9 minutes court-time per game. Playing for Seattle in 2021 Talbot set WNBA career highs for points and rebounds per game and equalled her career-high for assists set in 2017.

During a phenomenal 2020 WNBL season with Adelaide Talbot played all 13 games in her first season as Adelaide Lightning captain and averaged 18.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Talbot set new career highs for points and rebounds, ranked third in the league for scoring, rebounds and steals per game and eighth for minutes played per game. During the 2020 season Talbot excelled at both ends of the court to become the first player in WNBL history to win the league’s Most Valuable Player Award and Defensive Player of the Year Awards in the same season and the fifth person to win both awards during their career.  

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Steph Talbot playing defense for Adelaide Lightning against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 22 December 2019

Talbot was selected in the All-WNBL second team in 2019/20 and the All-WNBL first team in 2020 to be one of only three players to be named in an All-WNBL team in both 2019/20 and 2020 along with Melbourne Boomers forward/centre Cayla George and Katie Ebzery who earnt the honour as a guard with the Perth Lynx and announced her retirement in early October, 2021.

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Steph Talbot playing for Adelaide Lightning against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 22 December 2019

Throughout the 2021/22 WNBL season Talbot has been making an impact in several facets of the game for Adelaide Lightning to average 14.0 points, 9.7 rebounds (ranked 5th in the WNBL), 6.0 assists (1st) and 1.6 steals (equal 5th) per game and is shooting at 43.3% from long-range.  

WNBL Achievements:            Suzy Batkovic Medallist (League MVP) 2020

                                                Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year 2020

                                                All-WNBL First team 2020

                                                All-WNBL Second team 2019/20

Betty Watson Rookie of the Year Award 2012/13

Alanna Smith       

#17                                          Position: Forward

DOB  10 September 1996       Height 190cm       WNBL debut: 2021/22      

Junior Association                  Nunawading (Victoria)

WNBL games played: 7          2021/22 WNBL Team: Adelaide Lightning

Olympic Games:                     2020

World Championships:          2018 – Silver Medal

In June 2020 Alanna Smith signed with Adelaide Lightning for the 2020 WNBL season, however due to an ankle injury suffered late in the 2020 WNBA season with Phoenix Mercury Smith was ruled out for the 2020 WNBL season and made her WNBL debut with Adelaide in 2021/22. In a video interview with WNBL Media for the WNBL Fast Break Series in November 2021 Smith commented “I can’t believe this is my debut (WNBL) season to be honest. I’ve watched a lot of WNBL throughout my career, I remember training with WNBL teams when I was younger in my juniors as well so to finally play in Australia in one of the best leagues in the world is really exciting and I’m super pumped to get out there.”

Alanna is from a talented basketball family, her dad Darren Smith played 201 NBL games from 1994 to 2002/03 and her uncle, Darren’s twin brother Jason played 408 NBL games from 1995 to 2008/09, represented Australia at the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Olympic Games and was selected in the All-NBL First team twice (2001 and 2005).

Despite the strong basketball background it wasn’t until Smith was a teenager that she got into basketball seriously, playing for the Nunawading Spectres. Smith progressed through the ranks quickly and at junior level represented Australia at several tournaments including the 2015 FIBA Under 19 World Championships where the Australian Gems won the bronze medal and forward Smith was named in the Tournament All-Star five, averaging 12.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per game.

During four seasons at Stanford University in California, USA Smith played 143 games including 74 starts – starting every game in her junior and senior seasons, and averaged 11.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. At the end of a four season college career Smith ranked 10th on Stanford’s all-time list for career points (1,707) and second for blocks (225).

After being selected at pick 8 overall at the 2019 WNBA draft by the Phoenix Mercury Smith has played three seasons for the Mercury where her coach was fellow Australian Sandy Brondello who is also the coach of the Australian Opals. Smith was a member of the Phoenix Mercury team that made it to the 2021 WNBA Finals. Smith has played 55 regular season WNBA games, averaging 2.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 9.9 minutes per game.

At senior level Smith has represented the Australian Opals at several tournaments including the past two major championships – the 2018 World Cup in Spain and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Smith has played off the bench for the Opals and in the 2018 World Cup final against the USA scored an equal team-high 10 points.

Playing for Incheon S-Birds as a starter in the Korean league in 2019/20 Smith averaged 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.

After predominantly playing off the bench in the WNBA for Phoenix Mercury or at international tournaments for the Australian Opals during the past couple of years Smith has been able to build some continuity as a starter for Adelaide Lightning during the 2021/22 season. Smith ranks eighth in the WNBL with 8.3 rebounds per game and fifth with 1.1 blocked shots per game.

Sara Blicavs       

#19                                          Position: Forward

DOB  15 February 1993          Height 189cm       WNBL debut: 2009/10      

Junior Club                              Melbourne Tigers (Victoria)  

WNBL games played: 236      2021/22 WNBL Team: Southside Flyers        

Olympic Games:                     2020

World Championships:          Nil

In 2009/10 Blicavs made her WNBL debut at 16 years of age with the Australian Institute of Sport, during her three seasons with the AIS she improved significantly and in her final season Blicavs ranked in the top two at the AIS for points, rebounds, assists and steals.

Blicavs joined the Dandenong Rangers for the 2012/13 season and starred on club debut, scoring 19 points and taking eight rebounds. In 2013/14 and 2014/15 Blicavs played for the Bendigo Spirit and was a member of the club’s 2013/14 championship. In 2015/16 Blicavs returned to the Jayco Rangers and she is playing her seventh consecutive WNBL season with the Dandenong based WNBL club who rebranded to become the Southside Flyers in 2019/20. Of all the players on a 2021/22 WNBL roster Blicavs has the longest current consecutive seasons streak with their club.

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Sara Blicavs playing for Dandenong Rangers against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 31 October 2016

In a 2015/16 semi final for the Jayco Rangers against the SEQ Stars Sara was phenomenal, playing one of the all-time great WNBL finals games, scoring 38 points on 14 of 26 field goals, taking a team-high nine rebounds and made an equal team-high four assists. During five seasons from 2012/13 to 2016/17 before suffering knee injuries Blicavs played a total of 131 WNBL games to be one of the most durable players in the league and was on an upward trajectory with her scoring average increasing by at least 1.5 points per game in all five seasons during this time. In 2016/17 Sara finished equal fifth in the 2016/17 WNBL MVP Award and was a joint winner of the Rangers MVP Award along with sister in-law Steph Blicavs. Days after the Rangers 2016/17 Awards Steph married Sara’s older brother Kris.

On Friday 10 November, 2017 Sara suffered a serious knee injury just before half-time against Adelaide at Dandenong Stadium. Days later it was confirmed that Sara required a knee reconstruction and would miss the remainder of the season, however Sara had actually suffered three injuries, rupturing the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), ripped the meniscus root of the bone and fractured her kneecap.

After her knee reconstruction in November 2017 Blicavs had hoped to miss only nine months of basketball however due to numerous set-backs she ended up missing 13 months in the WNBL, making her WNBL return in December 2018, playing limited minutes for the Jayco Rangers in her six games for the season. During the 2019/20 WNBL season Sara returned to being a starter, playing for the Southside Flyers. Blicavs was a member of the Australian Opals team that in February 2020 qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.

Athleticism has always been a strength of Blicavs’, however as her career progressed she has expanded her game to improve her defense and outside shooting. In 2020 Blicavs was part of the Southside Flyers Championship winning team and had a brilliant individual season to rank equal ninth in the WNBL for rebounds per game, 10th for steals and 15th for scoring. Blicavs was a weapon from long-range, making 24 three-pointers at an accuracy of 57.1% during the regular season. Blicavs was recognised for her brilliant all-round season with selection in the 2020 All-WNBL second team.  

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Sara Blicavs shooting a free-throw for Southside Flyers against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 4 November 2019

Forward Blicavs played for the Australian Opals at the Tokyo Olympic Games, becoming the third member of her family to represent Australia in basketball at a major championship, emulating both her parents, dad Andris and mum Karen.  

Despite missing games due to a back injury and COVID-19 during the 2021/22 WNBL season Blicavs is averaging 16.0 points (ranked 6th in the WNBL) and 6.4 rebounds in her five games and is shooting at 36.4% (10th) from long range.

WNBL Achievements:   All-WNBL Second Team 2020    

WNBL Championship 2013/14 (with Bendigo Spirit), 2020 (with Southside Flyers)

Darcee Garbin         

#20                                          Position: Forward

DOB  24 June 1994                  Height 188cm       WNBL debut: 2011/12      

Junior Club                              Kalgoorlie (Western Australia)          

WNBL games played: 231      2021/22 WNBL Team: Perth Lynx      

Olympic Games:                    Nil

World Championships:          Nil

Darcee grew up in Kambalda, Western Australia and commenced her junior basketball career with Kalgoorlie, her family later moved to Perth. In 2011/12 Garbin made her WNBL debut at 17 years of age with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in the AIS’s last season in the league. Darcee’s younger sister Sophie plays netball for Collingwood in Suncorp Super Netball and has represented Australia.

From 2012/13 to 2014/15 Garbin played three WNBL seasons for the West Coast Waves (who were later re-branded the Perth Lynx). In the middle of her career Garbin played 110 WNBL games for the Townsville Fire in five seasons from 2015/16 to 2019/20 and played in WNBL championships in 2015/16 and 2017/18 with front-court teammates in these championship winning seasons including current Opals teammate Cayla George and six-time WNBL MVP winner Suzy Batkovic who the award is now named after.

Darcee Garbin shooting a free-throw for Townsville Fire against Perth Lynx at the State Basketball Centre on 26 November 2017

After averaging between 5.0 and 9.9 points per game from 2012/13 to 2018/19 Garbin has utilised additional court-time to make an impact on the scoreboard, averaging 14.4 points with Townsville Fire in 2019/20 before averaging a career-high 16.5 points for Perth Lynx in 2020, ranked fifth in the league and ranked in the top dozen for rebounds per game.   

At the 2019 and 2021 Asia Cup Garbin was a member of the Australian Opals team that won bronze medals. At the 2021 Asia Cup Garbin averaged 10.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 22.8 minutes per game, shot the ball at 55.6% from the field and 45% from the perimeter.

Garbin is in her 11th consecutive WNBL season and has been very durable, amassing 231 WNBL games at just 27 years of age. Garbin is the captain of the Perth Lynx in 2021/22 and has been outstanding from long range, making 24 of 50 three-pointers at an accuracy of 48% to lead the league in this category amongst players that have made at least 10 three-pointers.

Darcee Garbin shooting a three-pointer for Perth Lynx against UC Capitals at Selkirk Stadium on 19 January 2022

WNBL Achievements:            WNBL Championship 2015/16, 2017/18 (both with Townsville Fire)

Cayla George         

#23                                          Position: Forward/Centre

DOB  1 May 1989                    Height 193cm       WNBL debut: 2005/06      

Junior Club                              Eastern Mavericks (South Australia) 

WNBL games played: 295      2021/22 WNBL Team: Melbourne Boomers

Olympic Games:                     2016, 2020

World Championships:          2014 – Bronze Medal, 2018 – Silver Medal

In 2021/22 forward/centre Cayla George is playing her fourth consecutive WNBL season with the Deakin Melbourne Boomers and 14th season overall, amassing 295 WNBL games to date.

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Cayla George playing for Melbourne Boomers against Southside Flyers at the State Basketball Centre in a pre-season game on 5 October 2019

Apart from her rookie WNBL season with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in 2005/06 Cayla George has averaged more than 8.0 rebounds per game in each season and ranks third on the All-time list for most career rebounds in the WNBL behind Rachel Sporn and Suzy Batkovic.

George has played in three WNBL Championships with the Townsville Fire in 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2017/18 and has been selected in an All-WNBL team three times. Being selected in the All-WNBL first team in 2014/15 and 2020 and made the second team in 2019/20. George has had two top three finishes in the WNBL’s Most Valuable Player Award, being runner-up in 2014/15 and finished third in 2019/20.  

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Cayla George playing for Townsville Fire against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 26 November 2017

During an outstanding 2020 WNBL season George displayed her all-round skill-set to rank second in the league for rebounds, in the top seven for blocked shots and in the top 15 for scoring, assists and steals.

At the Tokyo Olympic Games George was superb, leading the Australian Opals for scoring and rebounding per game, ranked equal second for steals and third for assists. George played a significant role in the Opals defeating Spain in the semi final at the 2018 World Cup and winning by the required margin in their final group game against Puerto Rico at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games to advance to the quarter finals.  

Opals 2018 Comm Games team
Team photo of the Australian Opals before their opening game of the 2018 Commonwealth Games against Mozambique at the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre on 6 April 2018

From 2014 to the present George is one of only two players along with point guard Tessa Lavey to represent the Australian Opals at all four major championships comprised of the 2014 World Cup in Turkey, 2018 World Cup in Spain, 2016 Rio Olympic Games and 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. In three of the four major championships George has ranked in the top three for the Opals in rebounding with the exception being the 2016 Olympic Games. George was part of the Australian Opals starting line-up at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on home soil in Queensland. Australia defeated England 99-55 in the Gold medal game, George scored an equal game-high 16 points and took 10 rebounds to be the only player in the gold medal game that registered a double-double.

Playing for the Mackay Meteorettes during the 2021 NBL1 North season George averaged 22.4 points, 16.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game to win the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award.

On 17 January 2021 George scored the 4,000th point of her WNBL career, becoming just the 12th player in league history to reach this significant milestone. During the 2021/22 WNBL season with the Melbourne Boomers George is averaging 13.9 points, 11.1 rebounds (ranked third in the WNBL), 3.4 assists, 1.4 blocked shots (equal 1st) and 33.7 minutes (5th) per game.

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Cayla George making a jump shot for the Deakin Melbourne Boomers against the Southside Flyers at Melbourne Sports Centres Parkville on 15 January 2022

WNBL Achievements:            All-WNBL First Team 2014/15, 2020

                                                All-WNBL Second Team 2019/2020

WNBL Betty Watson Rookie of the Year Award 2006/07

                                                WNBL Championship 2014/15, 2015/16, 2017/18 (all with Townsville Fire)

Marianna Tolo          

#22                                          Position: Centre

DOB  2 July 1989                     Height 196cm       WNBL debut: 2006/07      

Junior Association                  Mackay (Queensland)

WNBL games played: 218      2021/22 Team: Basket Landes (France)

Olympic Games:                     2016, 2020

World Championships:          2014 Bronze Medal

At 17 years of age Tolo made her WNBL debut with the Australian Institute of Sport in 2006/07 and played six consecutive seasons in the WNBL comprised of two seasons for the AIS and four seasons for the Canberra Capitals. Tolo played in two WNBL Championships with the Capitals going back to back in 2008/09 and 2009/10. In the following season, 2010/11 Tolo was selected in the All-WNBL first team for the first time in her career.

In the lead up to the 2012 Olympic Games Tolo was in the Australian Opals extended 15 player squad and played some games for the Opals in the Farewell Series held in Victoria but was one of the last three, players cut, missing out on the final 12 player team for the London Olympics.

At the 2014 World Cup Tolo was a starter and averaged 12.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.0 blocked shots per game to lead the bronze medal winning Opals in scoring and rank equal first for rebounding and blocked shots. Tolo has gone on to become an integral member of the Opals, representing her country at three of the past four major championships, also representing Australia at 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games. During the 2020 Olympics Tolo averaged 11.3 points (ranked 3rd for the Opals) and 5.0 rebounds (2nd) per game and was outstanding in Australia’s final group game against Puerto Rico, scoring an equal game-high 26 points and taking a game-high 17 rebounds to play a crucial role in Australia winning by the required margin to advance to the quarter finals.

Tolo played 26 games in the WNBA for the Los Angeles Sparks in 2015 and has also spent several seasons playing in Europe.

During 2016/17 Tolo returned to play for the Canberra Capitals in the WNBL and was one of the most dominant players in the league at both ends of the floor, averaging 18.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game whilst shooting the ball at 56.3% from the field. Tolo was selected in the 2016/17 All-WNBL First team and won the Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Marianna Tolo shooting a free-throw for UC Capitals against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 17 December 2016

From 2018/19 to 2020 Tolo played three consecutive seasons with the University of Canberra Capitals and was a co-captain along with Kelsey Griffin. Tolo played in back to back championships with the Capitals for the second time in her career during 2018/19 and 2019/20.

Marianna Tolo playing for the UC Capitals against the Melbourne Boomers at the Arena in Geelong on 25 October 2019

Playing for Basket Landes in France during the 2021/22 season Tolo is averaging 11.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in Euroleague Women to rank second for her team in scoring.

WNBL Achievements:            All-WNBL First Team 2010/11, 2016/17

Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year 2016/17

WNBL Championship 2008/09, 2009/10, 2018/19, 2019/20 (all with University of Canberra Capitals)

Article and photographs by Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

References

1 https://wnbl.basketball/southside/news/jenna-ohea-withdraws-from-opals-team/

2          Opals name Captain ahead of Qualifying Tournament. | Basketball Australia

3          https://wnbl.basketball/uc-capitals/news/maddison-rocci-lost-for-words-at-australian-opals-shot/

Milestones and Misses

Milestones and Misses publishes articles to celebrate the achievements of sportspeople, mainly in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) and Australian Rules Football (AFL and AFLW). In sport as with life in general it is common that milestones are only achieved after overcoming adversity, so whilst the articles on the Milestones and Misses website celebrate sportspeople achieving milestones they also cover the misses along the journey such as a player having minimal game-time or spending a prolonged period on the sidelines due to injury. The aim of the articles is to enable readers to gain a greater appreciation of the journey sportspeople have had during their career.

A link to Milestones and Misses homepage is below:

https://milestonesandmisses.com/

The Milestones and Misses website was set up in December 2015. From 2020 onwards articles have been published on the following sportspeople:

WNBL

Cayla George

Kelly Wilson

Steph Talbot

Bec Cole

Aimie Rocci

Abby Bishop

Lindsay Allen

Tessa Lavey

Ezi Magbegor

Maddison Rocci

Zitina Aokuso

Leilani Mitchell

Maddie Garrick

Sara Blicavs

NBL

Nathan Sobey

AFL

Sam Walsh

Jack Steele

Luke Jackson

Harry McKay

Seb Ross

Nicky Winmar

Jayden Short

Clayton Oliver

Lenny Hayes

Tim Membrey

Rowan Marshall

AFLW

Georgia Patrikios

Alyce Parker

Tyla Hanks

Tyanna Smith

Tarni White

Caitlin Greiser


One thought on “Australian Opals player profiles for the FIBA 2022 World Cup Qualifying Tournament in Serbia

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