View video interviews: Jan STIRLING, Erin PHILIPS, Hollie GRIMA, Suzy BATKOVIC, Rohanee COX, Suzy BATKOVIC & Tully BEVILAQUA, Belinda SNELL
MELBOURNE (Olympics) – Jan Stirling agonized for months over what Australia’s final 12-player squad would be for the Beijing Games.
On Friday, the coach who led the Opals to the gold medal at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Brazil announced her final group and forward Rohanee Cox was the big winner.
The 28-year-old Cox, a powerful 1.82m forward, was named in the squad and will compete in her first major tournament with the Opals.
“I’m ecstatic, absolutely over the moon,” Cox said.
“To be playing with the likes of Lauren [Jackson], Penny [Taylor] and Kristi Harrower is such a great opportunity, a dream come true.
“This is a once in a lifetime experience and I just want to go out there and be the best that I can be.”
Superstar power forward/center Jackson, arguably the best player in the world, along with Taylor, Harrower and Belinda Snell were lynchpins in the team that won in Brazil in 2006 and have all been included.
Center Suzy Batkovic missed out on that title through injury but has returned to the mix and defensive stalwart Tully Bevilaqua, a guard who turns 36 on July 19, has made her first Olympic squad.
Veteran forward Natalie Porter and guard Alicia Poto were two of the unlucky veterans to miss out on Beijing.
The Aussies won the world title but they know it will be an almighty challenge to overcome Team USA, hosts China and Russia this summer.
The women’s tournament is shaping up to be the most competitive in Olympic history with several other excellent teams taking part like Spain, Belarus, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Brazil.
In announcing their squad, the Australian Basketball Federation threw down the gauntlet to gold medal favorites and three-time defending champions Team USA.
The federation said: “The strongest Australian women’s basketball team ever has been assembled for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
“The world champions have the firepower to topple the United States …”
The American team, many will say, has the best frontline in the world with veterans Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson and young center Sylvia Fowles.
“The coaches and I are really excited at the team we have put together for these Games,” said Stirling, who will have a home series against a rebuilding Brazil national side at the end of the month before travelling to China.
It will be the first time since Sydney 2000 that Australia have seen their women’s Olympic basketball team take the court at home.
“The team is even better than the one we took to the World Championship and facing off against Brazil will give us the preparation we need,” said Stirling, who called Cox a valuable addition.
“Since winning gold in Sao Paulo, the athletes have been steadily improving and with the addition of Rohanee Cox we are going to be really strong.”
Jackson, Harrower, Taylor, Snell, Batkovic and Laura Summerton are the six players in the squad that have played in an Olympics before.
“I’m incredibly excited to be going to Beijing,” Taylor said.
“It doesn’t matter how many Games you go to, the incredible feeling just gets stronger.
“I’m really proud of the team going over. It’s great to have the time to train together and we really do have strength in every position.”
Australia squad: Suzy Batkovic, Tully Bevilaqua, Rohanee Cox, Hollie Grima, Kristi Harrower, Lauren Jackson, Erin Phillips, Emma Randall, Jennifer Screen, Belinda Snell, Laura Summerton, Penny Taylor.