BENDIGO Spirit star Gabe Richards was going to watch Australia’s first game of the FIBA World Championships in the comfort of her home, instead the talented basketballer will be lining up with the Opals.
Richards received the late call-up to the team on Saturday night after an Achilles injury ruled out star player Liz Cambage for the tournament.
The WNBL All-Star five player flew out to join the Opals in Italy on Monday.
Richards said the call-up was unexpected and a complete shock.
“The past two years has been a basketball fairytale,” she told the Bendigo Advertiser.
“If someone had told me that I would be a part of two WNBL championships in Bendigo on our home court, being selected as an All-Star five and then being a part of the Opals I wouldn’t have believed you.
“Now I am heading over to Turkey to play in the world championships, it just doesn’t seem real.”
Richards said it was disappointing to see Cambage suffer an injury on the eve of the Opals’ biggest tournament, but admitted she had to make the most of her opportunity.
“Some new girls have been added to the team since I was last involved, the likes of Penny Taylor and Erin Phillips have joined the Opals from their WNBA commitments,” she said.
“It may be a bit difficult to adjust to the team at first but I am sure I will work hard and talk to the team about what my role will be."
"I am just proud to be on the team."
Opals head coach Brendan Joyce said you would be hard-pressed to find someone more deserving of an Opals selection then Richards.
“Gabe is a person of high character and has simply been one of the most dominant players in the WNBL over the past two seasons, and a major reason behind the Bendigo Spirit’s success,” he said.
“At 29 Gabe may have thought her chances of representing her country at a world championship were gone, but that’s one area we have really focused on with the program.
“We’ve recognised these mature-age players who we believe can contribute to the team and translate their form from the WNBL on to the world stage, and Gabe is a glowing example.”
Richards said she was looking forward to meeting up with her Spirit teammates Tessa Lavey and Belinda Snell, who have been playing in the four nation tournament in Paris, in preparation for the FIBA championships.
“I am stoked to be able to play alongside them,” she said.
“We were just saying at Spirit training on Saturday, how exciting it will be to watch them and now I will be playing with them.”
The center said she was looking forward to the challenge of playing against the world’s best.
“I am a basketball fan, so I was really looking forward to watching the games,” she said.
“Now I will be able to play and see them up close.”
The Opals’ first game at the FIBA World Championship for Women is in Istanbul against Cuba on Saturday at 9.15pm, AEST.