Opals keen on Jackson World Cup return

Murray WenzelAAP
Lauren Jackson has been in superb form this season after taking a six-year break from the sport.
Camera IconLauren Jackson has been in superb form this season after taking a six-year break from the sport. Credit: AP

Opals co-captain Cayla Francis has said she would welcome Lauren Jackson's fairytale World Cup return but admits she's cutting it fine ahead of September's campaign in Sydney.

The four-time Olympian and three-time WNBA MVP has dominated for Albury Wodonga this season, making light of six years in retirement to average 31.8 points and 13.6 rebounds in the second-tier NBL1.

The Opals' 18-player squad to face Japan in a three-game series from Friday in Sydney is stacked with players from that league, Jackson joining the US and Europe-based talent, as well as WNBA coach Sandy Brondello, as key omissions.

The 41-year-old is hesitant to over-commit after debilitating knee soreness forced her to retire ahead of the Rio Olympics but has not ruled out gunning for a second world title.

"She's moving all right and playing well, got her touch but she hasn't played international basketball in nine years," Francis said of the likelihood of Jackson's Opals comeback.

"So she'd have to come in pretty soon, but she was my idol growing up, I had photos of her on my schoolbooks.

"I played with her in her last Opals games in 2013, it'd be full circle.

"It'd be really cool. She was a phenomenal player and at her peak the best in the world, and at 41 still would be super valuable."

With many regulars missing, games on Friday and Sunday in Sydney and in Newcastle on Tuesday will allow the squad a chance to push for World Cup selection and the likes of Shyla Heal to shine.

Heal was drafted seventh overall in the 2021 WNBA Draft by Chicago Sky before being traded and waived in a brutal sequence of events for the 20-year-old.

"Everyone's career has high and low moments and unfortunately, or even fortunately - you can switch that real quick - she had it early on and she's bounced back really well," Francis said of Heal, who played this WNBL season for the Sydney Uni Flames

"She's got a great future with the Opals, you wouldn't even know what happened last year. She's come out full steam ahead, chip on her shoulder.

"It's a great opportunity to play in front of her family, showcase what she's about even more."

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