Spirit duo in mix to fill Kristi's Opals shoes

OPALS coach Brendan Joyce admits one of his biggest headaches heading towards this year's world championships is finding a point guard to replace Bendigo Spirit star Kristi Harrower.

Joyce takes charge of the Opals for their first training camp of 2014 in Canberra from Monday.

With no automatic replacement for Harrower, Joyce is expecting healthy competition amongst the guards at the four-day camp.

Two of the players in the mix to fill Harrower's shoes are two of her Spirit team-mates - Kelly Wilson and Tessa Lavey.

Wilson has taken her game to another level in the past 12 months, including some impressive performances with the Opals against New Zealand at the Oceania Championships.

Lavey, 20, is a long-term prospect who is held in the highest regard by Joyce.

"Not one person replaces Kristi because she's been such a great all-round player for the Opals,'' Joyce said.

"We don't have one player that has Kristi's all-round package.

"In the near future what I see is a combination of Leilani Mitchell at age 26, Nat Hurst and Erin Phillips to fulfill that role as a group if they perform at camps and in trial games.

"You then throw in Kelly Wilson as part of that group.

"Kristen Veal at age 32 can come in and make the worlds team if she performs.

"It's not just the worlds that I have to look at.

"I have to look in the crystal ball for the future as well.

"In three year's time for the Rio Olympics, Tessa Lavey at age 23, if she gets the development, could  be ready to play a role at that level.

"My responsibility is to make sure that we have young players in the group and provide them with an opportunity to develop their game."

Lavey isn't seeing much court time with the Spirit, but that doesn't deter Joyce.

"Bernie Harrower will tell you he recruited Tessa to Bendigo because he sees her as the one of the best young guards in the country,'' Joyce said.

"Now she's not playing a lot in Bendigo because she has Kristi Harrower and Kelly Wilson in front of her.

"If she was in any other team she'd be playing 20 minutes a game or more.

"We took Tessa away to Hungary last year (with a young Australian team) and we played against three senior teams and three junior teams.

"People were coming up to me asking "who is the young Kristi Harrower"?

"With that team Tessa averaged something like 16 points and six assists per game. I know the ability is there.

"Tessa Lavey does a lot of things that a lot of girls can't do and you'll see that in the next couple of years."

Spirit frontcourt stars Gabe Richards and Elyse Penaluna will also head to Canberra for the Opals camp.

Joyce has been impressed with Penaluna's return from a serious knee injury.

"Elyse is getting better and better under Bernie and the Spirit program,'' Joyce said.

"You look at some players that dominate the WNBL, but don't play so well at international basketball.

"There's other players who play well in the WNBL, but are more suited at the international game.

"I think Elyse is an international player.  She has pretty good touch with her shooting and she runs the floor well.

"She's six foot, five tall, and she's only 25. Her best basketball is in front of her. She has a legitimate chance of making the team if she performs well."

Joyce said Richards deserves to be in the Opals squad on the back of some dominant form with the Spirit.

"Gabe is under-sized as a centre, but she just continues to get the job done in the WNBL,''  Joyce said.

"Gabe would have went close to making the Opals team for last year's Oceania titles, but she got injured.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how she goes at camp."

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