THE Australian Opals team for this year's Tokyo Olympic Games will have a distinct Bendigo flavour.
It follows the selections of Bendigo Spirit WNBL pair Tessa Lavey and Leilani Mitchell and Bendigo Braves NBL1 star Tess Madgen in the 12-strong women's basketball team to compete in Japan later this year.
Lavey, the Spirit's reigning most valuable player award winner, and Mitchell, a new signing for 2021-22, are returning for their second Olympic Games, while Madgen, co-captain of the Braves 2021 line-up, will make her Olympics debut.
Announced on Wednesday morning, a powerful Opals line-up, which will be aiming to build on its silver medal at the 2018 World Cup in Spain, will be captained by dual Olympian Jenna O'Hea and will be spearheaded by three-time Olympian Liz Cambage.
Lavey and Mitchell are among seven dual Olympians in the squad, joined by O'Hea, Katie Ebzery, Cayla George, Stephanie Talbot and Marianna Tolo.
Rebecca Allen, Ezi Magbegor and Alanna Smith will make their debut alongside Madgen.
Bendigo Spirit coach Tracy York hailed the selections as a great moment for Bendigo basketball and a personal triumph for all three players currently representing the city in either the WNBL or NBL1.
"The whole squad up for selection was super-talented and there were some really good young players coming through, so I guess for (coach) Sandy Brondello, it's a very versatile team and a strong line-up," she said.
"They are all very experienced in their own right and can bring something different to the plate.
"There's no doubt they have all earned their spot.
"For Tessa, she was in the 2016 team, and I think it's great for her to make the team again.
"It's a great thrill for her and it's great for Bendigo and now Lei (Mitchell) is with us and Tess Madgen, although she plays WNBL with the (Melbourne) Boomers, she's Braves, so it's great all-round for Bendigo. It's a big win for the city."
The Opals are striving to add to their rich Olympic legacy, with three silver and two bronze medals from Atlanta 1996 to London 2012.
While a lack of international basketball during COVID makes this year's Olympics a bit of an unknown, York felt there was no reason why the Opals would not head to Tokyo a realistic chance of securing their first-ever gold medal.
"We obviously haven't seen a lot of international basketball, but we know the USA will always be tough and some of the European countries, but we have a great line-up and are ranked number two in the world," she said.
Braves women's coach Mark Alabakov said he could not be happier to see 30-year-old Madgen, who was part of the Opals' silver-medal winning line-up at the 2018 World Cup, earn an Olympic call-up.
"It's totally deserving, she has really elevated her game to another level in recent years," he said.
I worked with her back in 2014 and '15 with the Boomers and the maturation of her game and her as a person in the past seven years has been as good as I've seen.
'"She's ultra-competitive and incredibly talented at both ends of the floor, but does it all with a team-first mentality.
"She always gets others involved in the game. You look at her games with the Braves, she's a triple-double machine; she contributes in all areas and this is an honour she is very deserving of."
A second Olympic selection for Lavey continues an amazing past 12 months on the sporting front, following her selection by Richmond in the AFLW draft last year and subsequent debut season earlier this year.
Alabakov, the lead assistant coach with the Spirit in 2020, said the 28-year-old guard's selection was reward for an outstanding season in the WNBL hub and pure hard work and dedication.
"During COVID, we had an exemption and I was with her doing individual training sessions five days a week during the lockdown period and that work exemplified the season she had in the hub," he said.
"Even though we didn't win a game, she was statistically the best-performing guard in the whole competition.
"She is proof a girl out the country with a work ethic and with diligence and as someone who is prepared to seek out the help to get better, can achieve anything.
"She is now a two-time Olympian and dual-code athlete, she is a phenomenal story."
Point guard Mitchell, who signed with the Spirit last month after winning a trio of WNBL championships with Southside Flyers last year, Canberra Capitals in 2019 and Sydney Uni Flames in 2017, is currently playing in the WNBA with Washington Mystics.
She scored six points and had three assists in the Mystics' most recent game, an 85-69 win against Indiana Fever.
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