With the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 hitting Sydney Olympic Park in under six months (and tickets available to purchase from next week, Tuesday 29 March), what better time to get to know some of the biggest names and trailblazers that will be gracing Australian shores in September.
The Australian Opals feature several icons worth familiarising yourself with! From young-gun Ezi Magbegor, who at 22, is already a veteran of the national team; to the side’s new captain, Sami Whitcomb, who secured her WNBA rookie contract at 29 and is now a star on the international stage; and Bec Allen, whose incredible agility and athleticism has been dominating in European leagues and in the WNBA.
The FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 will feature the world’s top 12 women’s national teams, with 38 games to be played across 10 days from September 22 – October 1, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. Buy your tickets here.
“For anyone who’s chosen to represent the green and gold it’s always a huge honour, but it doesn’t get better then representing your country on home soil with your country right behind you and in the stands. It’s going to be a really special tournament for everyone involved!” Shyla Heal explains to Women’s Health.
“I tend to forget the scale of having a World Cup in your home country. It’s such a rare occurrence so it’s really exciting. I think just having the chance to play in front of your family and family and the rest of Australia is something special. It’s huge for the growth of women’s basketball in Australia,” adds Ezi.
Internationally, 2020 Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart is setting a new standard for the sport that you’ll want to see in action, while the impressive 2021 WNBA MVP, Jonquel Jones, will be on a mission to lead Bosnia & Herzegovina in their first-ever World Cup appearance.
The players to watch
When the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 hits Sydney, 144 of the world’s best players will grace Australian shores.
Here are some of the big names worth familiarising yourself with before the sporting spectacle comes to town.
At 6’4”, Magbegor is an exciting young talent for the Australian Opals with incredible agility and speed. Since commencing her professional career in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) in 2017, she was quickly recognised and awarded the Betty Watson Youth Player of the Year. Now in her fourth season with the Melbourne Boomers, Magbegor has continued to evolve into one of the league’s leading forwards. On the international stage, Magbegor was picked up by the Seattle Storm in the 2019 Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) Draft and, by 2020, became a WNBA Champion.
Off the court, Ezi is known as a wonderfully kind human being, adored by the basketball community in Australia and internationally. As an official ambassador for the Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022, she’s passionate about being an excellent example for the future generation of Australian stars.
The current Opals captain, Sami, is a dynamite guard who can shoot the ball like no tomorrow. Originally from America, Sami moved to Australia wanting to make a name for herself after being cut from WNBA training camps. Persistent, Sami played overseas for six years in three countries while waiting for an opportunity to finally step inside the line and play in the WNBA. Finally taken in as a 29-year-old rookie for the Seattle Storm in 2017, she quickly earned herself Championship titles in 2018 and 2020 and a reputation as a leading guard in the league. Having met her wife, Kate, in WA, Sami now calls Perth home and plays in the WNBL for the Perth Lynx in her WNBA off-season. While she’s currently competing in the WNBL finals, she will return to the WNBA with the New York Liberty soon, playing under the Opals coach, Sandy Brondello.
Off the court, Sami and Kate have a two-year-old son, Nash, who they adore and she hosts a podcast, Shooting the Shot, where she interviews basketball talent from around the world about their personal experiences in the industry.
Allen was born and bred in Melbourne, Australia. She was also known as “Spider” because of her sheer drive, raw talent, and long limbs; she started playing professionally in the WNBL at 16. Bec played her first World Cup in 2014, where the Opals secured Bronze in Turkey. Her outstanding performance earned herself a contract in the WNBA with the New York Liberty, where she still plays now, under Opals coach Sandy Brondello and alongside Opals teammate Sami Whitcomb. In the WNBA off-season, basketball has taken Bec to Spain to compete in the EuroCup, where her long limbs, athleticism and exceptional shooting has seen her excel for three seasons now.
Off the court, Bec enjoys travel and seeing the world – one of the main reasons she loves being a professional player, as it has helped her explore the world. She has a twin brother who she misses dearly while on the road.
2020 Olympic MVP, Breanna Stewart is an absolute trailblazer of the game. At just 27, a few of her many accolades include 2 x Olympic Gold medals, 2 X World Cup gold medals, 4 X NCAA Championships and a hefty amount of MVP and all-star recognitions.
Off the court, Stewart welcomed her daughter, Ruby, into the world two days after Team USA’s most recent, seventh consecutive Olympic Gold medal win, with her fellow basketball champion wife, Marta Cademont.
She’s also a passionate activist who has spoken out about overcoming sexual assault trauma as a child and is now an ambassador for an American National Sexual Assault Hotline. Alongside the Seattle Storm, Stewart also used the 2020 WNBA season to advocate for the Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name movements; Stewart’s storedonates all profits to Black Futures Lab.
At 5’4”, Rui Machida breaks the mould of basketball players’ expected size and skills. While small in stature, Rui Machida and her Japanese teammates have found success in the game by shooting exceptionally well from beyond the three-point line.
Machida made waves in world basketball at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, with her record-breaking 18 assists in Japan’s Semi-Final match against France. Her performance not only helped Japan win their first-ever medal at the Olympics, but it has opened the door for Japanese players in the WNBA.
In 2022 Machida will become the fourth ever Japanese women to play in the WNBA. In a league dominated by Americans, Machida will be able to bring her unique style of basketball to the world’s best league.
Debuting for Canada’s national team at just 16, Kia showed talent beyond years that appealed University of Connecticut (UCONN) – America’s best women’s basketball college program.
After a successful college career, Kia explored her international options and made her way to Australia’s WNBL, where she spent two seasons with the Canberra Capitals. Quickly making an impression on the league, Nurse helped secure back-to-back championships and was unstoppable in 2020, claiming the league’s MVP award.
A devastating ACL rupture in 2021 ended Nurse’s WNBA, just when her team, the Phoenix Mercury (which was being coached by Opals head coach Sandy Brondello), were making a finals run. While it was a devastating blow, Nurse has found new ways to stay involved with the sport while managing her rehab. In 2021, Nurse was a part of the historic first all-female NBA broadcast team. They called the Toronto Raptors game against the Denver Nuggets, making history and cementing the importance and strength of female representation in sports broadcasting. She continues to call basketball games for ESPN.
With Nurse’s injury sustained in October of 2021, she will be fighting against the clock to be a part of Canada’s globally 5th ranked national team competing in Sydney.
Standing at 6’7” tall, Han Xu is the second tallest WNBA player of all time. At 22, is she one of the brightest and most unique young stars in world basketball. Xu was raised in Beijing to two parents who played basketball professionally in China.
When she was scouted to China’s NBA academy, she became the first – male or female –a member of the academy to be drafted to the WNBA with New York Liberty in 2019. AT just 20, she was the youngest, yet tallest in the league.
The young Chinese player caused plenty of trouble for Team USA at the last Women’s Basketball World Cup in 2018 and will be looking to build on her success when China faces the USA again, in the Group Phase of Sydney event.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Named WNBA MVP in 2021, Jonquel Jones is a powerhouse of women’s basketball and her journey to the top has been unique. Born and raised in the Bahamas, Jones moved to Maryland, USA, when she was 14 to pursue basketball. While her parents were concerned about their available funds for her pursuit, a high school coach took a chance and offered her a scholarship to live abroad.
A natural talent, Jones was eventually drafted into the WNBA in 2016. It was a gradual rise for Jones, who went from a bench player in 2016 to the best player in the league seven years later when she earned her MVP title in 2021.
Wanting to compete on the international stage, but knowing the Bahamas national team wasn’t very strong, Jones managed to secure a dual citizenship with Bosnia and Herzegovina, so she could compete for their national team and compete in the EuroBasket (a FIBA organised Continental Cup. The Opals compete in the Asia Cup). Her impact has been historical since joining Bosnia and Herzegovina’s national team. They’ve secured their best EuroBasket results – upsetting the continent’s top teams such as Spain and Belgium – and have now qualified for the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 for the first time in their history.
It will be incredible to see Jones lead the team again when they hit Sydney this September.
2020 Belgian Sportswoman of the year Emma Meesseman is a true star in the basketball world and adored in her home country, Belgium. The 6’3” centre has become one of the most recognisable names and faces in women’s international basketball after a string of impressive performances in the WNBA and when representing the Belgium Cats.
The versatile Centre has claimed a WNBA Championship and MVP title in 2019, four EuroLeague Championships and helped Belgium qualify for their first Olympics in 2020 and FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in 2018.
Meesseman’s time in the WNBA has impacted her abilities on the court and opened her to the vital role female athletes can play in social justice. Speaking out in 2021, Meesseman took a stand against inequality after witnessing the struggles of her teammates in the WNBA.
Sandrine Gruda is a true legend and veteran of the women’s game. The 34-year-old is a two-time Olympic medallist and has played professionally since 2005. Other accolades include a handful of EuroBasket medals and a WNBA Championship with the Los Angeles Sparks.
Born and raised in Martinique, a French island in the Caribbean, her upbringing combined a distinctive blend of French and West Indian influences. Gruda is incredibly proud of her heritage and is passionate about supporting the youth from the area. She has founded and is president of Jeux Enjeux, which provides pathways and internships for the Caribbean Island of Martinique youth. Gruda draws on her experience as an athlete to allow children from the island to maximise their potential and prioritise their personal development.
Gruda also enjoys modelling when away from the court.