The coach of the Australian women’s basketball team says the team is more united without star player Liz Cambage.
- Opals coach Sandy Brondello says her focus is not with Liz Cambage rejecting selectors but instead with “the talent we do have”
- Australia has an automatic qualification into the 2022 World Cup, which will be played on home soil next September
- However, the team will still travel to Serbia in February to play in a series of qualifying games
Cambage elected to not be part of the Opals squad that was chosen for next year’s women’s basketball World Cup and announced the decision on social media, saying her interest “was and still is ZERO”.
The Opals’ long-standing coach and former player, Sandy Brondello, was asked by ABC Sport whether the team was more united without Cambage.
“Yes, they are way more united,” she answered, saying Cambage’s latest decision to snub selection for the World Cup squad did not surprise her.
“Liz has come out and said she has zero interest. For me, that’s okay — we have a decision.
“My whole mentality is to focus on the talent we do have.
“Liz has had a great career and she’s a great player, but we know she’s not a part of it now, so it allows us to say, ‘OK, what do we have to do to be successful?’”
Cambage fell out with her teammates during a pre-Olympic Games training camp.
During a game against Nigeria, she was investigated by Basketball Australia’s Integrity Division over a physical and verbal altercation.
She was subsequently found guilty of one count and cleared of three others.
Meanwhile, she pulled out of the Olympic Games due to mental health concerns.
Her late withdrawal contributed to a poor showing by the Opals at the Games, where they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by the USA.
Picking his words carefully, Chair of Basketball Australia John Carey said: “I expect that there might have been some frustration at a distraction shortly before an Olympic campaign.”
The Opals have an automatic qualification into the 2022 World Cup, which will be played at home in Australia next September, but the team will still travel to Serbia in February to play in a series of qualifying games.
Brondello is eager to start testing out new combinations, and without the dominant Cambage on the floor, said she would be focusing on a whole-team strategy.
“She’s six foot nine – you don’t just replace a six-foot-nine [player],” she said.
“She’s a great talent, I don’t undermine that, so it’s more that team effort.
“I don’t think it’s going to be one player. We’ve got some talented players — I think it has to be by committee.
“I think we can be more aggressive defensively; I think we can get more creative with the ball offensively.”
The Opals have spent much of the past few decades near the top of the women’s basketball world rankings.
The team is still ranked third, but their recent results have not been up to that standard, despite winning a bronze medal at the recent Asia Cup.
Brondello is looking for another podium finish at the World Cup.
“Losing a player like Liz, you always say the best teams with the best talent win,” Brondello said.
“But I think, ‘Why can’t we win a medal?’
“We’ve got to believe that. You’ve got to visualise it. You’ve got to see it. You’ve got to believe in the process.
“And we’ve got to make sure we’re doing it together.”
Brondello will have more time on her hands to pilot the Opals after losing her WNBA job of eight years as coach of the Phoenix Mercury.
The Mercury announced on Tuesday that the club and Brondello had agreed to part ways after a successful 2021 season.
Brondello led the Phoenix to the finals in October before losing to the Chicago Sky in four games.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity and time that I have had with the Phoenix Mercury,” Brondello said.