Australian U19 Gems and Opals shining on world stage

VICTORIANS in the green and gold… some things just go together.

Our Under-19 Gems and Australian Opals women have been battling it out for World Championship and FIBA Asia Cup titles respectively.

The Gems are sparking in Italy, our Opals are shining in India and the Boomers are set to start their title bid in Lebanon.

Our Sapphires’ world champions – Ezi Magbegor, Jaz Shelley, Rebecca Pizzey, Monique Conti and Kiera Rowe – united with some more familiar faces in the Victorian basketball scene in Anneli Maley, Chloe Bibby and Maddi Rocci to take it to Earth’s strongest.

The Gems had a wake-up call on day one, downed by a faster finishing Japan in a 61-66 defeat.

It ignited the Australians’ intensity once more as the next three pool D clashes went into the winner’s books. Mexico, Hungary were knocked off with relative ease, but Latvia put up a fight. In a must win clash to advance, the Australians held on 61-56 through the likes of Magbegor (17 points, 10 rebounds), captain Rocci (10 points, six rebounds) and Shelley (10 points).

Magbegor has taken her impressive time in international clothing to new levels. The U17 World Championship MVP has backed up her amazing junior pedigree with another strong showing in Udine and Cividale Del Friuli in Italy – averaging 16.8 points and eight rebounds per game in an incredible start to her time in the U19s.

Speaking to FIBA earlier this week, Magbegor was amazed by her rapid rise through the worldwide tournament landscape.

“I have grown a lot in the last couple of years and maybe just how much I have evolved has come as a shock to me,” Magbegor said to FIBA. “But it has all been about being around the right people and we all keep each other grounded, something which is hugely important to me.”

The Gems now battle Russia in the quarter finals on Friday evening for a chance to take on the likes of USA, France, Spain, China, Japan and Canada.

It’s been an easier start to the international tournament schedule for our Opals though. Taking our talents to the Asian qualification process, the heavy hitting has come thick and fast through the Victorian stars.

Tessa Lavey, Alanna Smith, Maddie Garrick, Steph Blicavs (nee Cumming), Kelsey Griffin, Belinda Snell, Alice Kunek and Sara Blicavs show the power of the Victorian-led squad new coach Sandy Brondello has put together.

We’ve knocked over Korea (78-54), Philippines (107-65) and Japan (83-74) through the powerhouse displays from

After making the NCAA Final Four with Stanford, Alanna Smith’s amazing 2017 has continued with her earning the call-up to the national squad and impressing early with a 15-point, seven-rebound effort on Australian senior debut against Korea.

With Steph Blicavs (18 points) and Sara Blicavs (17 points, eight rebounds, six assists) smashing aside the Filipino women comfortably in league with Smith (12 points, seven rebounds) – the young Victorians have turned heads in the pool stage.

The best was saved for our 10-point triumph over Japan as newly naturalised swingman Kelsey Griffin shone. The Japanese had not been beaten at the Asia Cup in their last 17 starts… but number 18 belonged to Griffin. She reeled off 16 points, nine rebounds, four assists to leave Japan struggling to keep up with the Bendigo Spirit star’s barrage. In league with fellow country Victorian Belinda Snell (eight points, four rebounds, five assists) the experienced tandem flourished. Snell’s return to the Australian colours has been seamless – she’s picked up where she left off after her surprise omission from the Rio Olympic Games squad.

Speaking to The Hindu newspaper, Griffin said it was amazing to don the Australian uniform and get the chance to represent her country.

“It’s an amazing honour to put on the green and gold jersey,” Griffin said to The Hindu. “The longer I stayed and played in Australia, the more I got to know the people and the culture.

“I felt that this was where I was meant to be.”

The Opals aims start at the top four – with the semi-finalists automatically qualifying for the FIBA 2018 Women’s Basketball World Cup in Spain – with the first obstacle to overcome starting at 5.45pm today (Thursday) against North Korea.

Finally the squad has been assembled for the Boomers’ own Asia Cup campaign as David Andersen, Mitch Creek and Daniel Kickert earning their spots in the tournament starting 8 August and running through to 20 August.

Feature image courtesy of FIBA.

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