Coming off a successful training camp on the Gold Coast earlier this month, Jayco Opals Head Coach Brendan Joyce has named a squad with an exciting mix of youth, experienced Olympians and seasoned WNBL stars looking to earn a spot on the plane to Turkey.
The tour will take in four cities across the USA in under two weeks, participating in scrimmages with four WNBA teams, including the Seattle Storm, Minnesota Lynx, Atlanta Dream and San Antonio Silver Stars, as they build towards the start of the 2014 WNBA season.
Due to the recently ratified new WNBA collective bargaining agreement, the Jayco Opals are not able to call upon any players with rights held by a WNBA team, meaning the likes of Erin Phillips, Penny Taylor, Rachel Jarry, Liz Cambage and Leilani Mitchell cannot participate in the tour.
Cambage and Mitchell have announced they will forgo their WNBA commitments for the 2014 season – electing to stay in Australia to complete the full Jayco Opals program building towards late September’s World Championships.
Joyce believes this presents an amazing development opportunity for the younger members of the squad to test themselves against WNBA opposition.
“For the likes of Rebecca Allen, Natalie Burton, Carley Mijovic, Alex Bunton, Alice Kunek and Tess Madgen the opportunity to be a part of this tour and be exposed to WNBA-calibre opposition will without question accelerate their development,” Joyce said.
“As we are unable to draw upon our WNBA-based stars for this tour, these younger players can use this opportunity to push to be part of the team that goes to the World Championships in September.
“Beyond the World Championships, this is a priceless experience for these players, who we believe will be the pillars of the Jayco Opals program for many years to come.”
Joyce has surrounded the young talent with international-quality experience, naming Laura Hodges and Jenni Screen in the squad – bringing a combined five Olympic and three World Championship appearances.
They are joined by seven-time WNBL Champion Natalie Hurst, Townsville Fire captain Rachael McCully, and Bendigo Spirit star duo Gabrielle Richards and Kelly Wilson.
Joyce said it is equally exciting to see the likes of McCully, Wilson and Richards get their chance to take on the WNBA stars and enhance their chances of booking a seat on the plane to Turkey.
“This tour is another big step for players like Kelly Wilson, Gabe Richards and Rachael McCully,” Joyce said.
“These players may have thought their opportunities to be a part of the Jayco Opals program may never present themselves or have passed them by, but they have proven in the WNBL and during our training camps they are capable of playing for their country on the international stage.
“For someone like Gabe, this is her first involvement in an international tour for her country since she played at the 2003 FIBA Young Women’s World Championships, so it’s exciting to see her given an opportunity.”
The Jayco Opals depart to the USA on Wednesday with the first stop Seattle for scrimmages on the May 2 and 3 before heading east to Minnesota for a scrimmage with the defending WNBA Champion Lynx on May 5.
Venturing south, the Jayco Opals will face the Atlanta Dream in scrimmage action on May 7 and 9 before rounding out the tour at the San Antonio Silver Stars on May 11.
Jayco Australian Opals Tour of USA
Rebecca Allen Melbourne Boomers
Alex Bunton Canberra Capitals
Natalie Burton Melbourne Boomers
Laura Hodges Adelaide Lightning
Natalie Hurst Canberra Capitals/Canik BLD (Turkey)
Alice Kunek Dandenong Rangers
Tess Madgen Melbourne Boomers
Rachael McCully Townsville Fire
Carley Mijovic Canberra Capitals
Gabrielle Richards Bendigo Spirit
Jennifer Screen Adelaide Lightning
Kelly Wilson Bendigo Spirit