Meet Anneli Maley – the rebounding machine and genuine WNBL MVP candidate who can fill a vital gap for the Opals at this year’s World Cup following Liz Cambage’s exit.
Australia coach Sandy Brondello has confirmed Maley is in contention to make her senior national debut following a standout WNBL season with the Bendigo Spirit.
Maley, who has won a bronze and two gold at the junior national level, scored a whopping 316 points, averaging 19.8 a game for the Spirit in 16 games.
The 185cm forward is also a rebounding machine having averaged a league-high 15.7 rebounds this season, which is exactly what the Opals will need in the absence of Cambage.
Brondello is a big fan of 23-year-old Maley, saying she was in the mix for Australian World Cup selection.
“Yeah, definitely, she brings something different,” Brondello said.
“She tends to play outside on the perimeter a little bit, but I liked what I saw from her in the first camp and then it is about getting a little bit more exposure.
“She is as good as anyone and is right there in the mix.”
Brondello also confirmed the Australia’s plans to unleash a bomb squad set to help avenge Cambage’s exit at this year’s women’s Basketball World Cup in Sydney.
The Opals will look vastly different without the powerful presence of Cambage, but in her absence the Aussies possess a host of potent shooters.
The likes of Sami Whitcomb, Bec Allen, Shyla Heal and Steph Talbot can all shoot the lights out, which brings a beaming smile to the face of Opals coach Sandy Brondello.
“We’ve got versatility on the offensive end,” Brondello told News Corp.
“Sami (Whitcomb) coming back with a lot of scoring and Bec Allen will continue to get better and better.
“Then our post players have a good inside outside attack, which I think is going to be important with eight games in 10 days.
“So, we need to make sure that we have players putting the ball in the hole, both starting and coming off the bench.”
The Opals face Canada, France, Japan, Nigeria, and Serbia in their draw, which has been described as the “group of death”.
Ranked No. 3 in the world, Australia are favoured to progress from the group stage, but nothing is guaranteed after their quarter-final exit at last year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Brondello knows the No.4-ranked Canada and world No. 6 France will challenge her side, but she remains confident.
“We’ve got a tough group, but there are only 12 teams, so every team is going to be tough, and we’ve got to embrace that,” she said.
“Under their new coach, France are always going to be dangerous, Serbia is tough, and Canada also have a new coach.
“We just have to focus on ourselves to make sure we are peaking at the right time, and we have a really good rhythm.”
Brondello revealed the core base of the team for the World Cup is locked in and it’s now about selecting the final key pieces.
The Opals are in the process of finalising a pre-World Cup camp and warm-up games, most likely in New York.
The camp abroad is to cater for Brondello living and working in America, having recently picked up the New York Liberty’s head WNBA coaching job.
The Opals will also conduct training and games in Australia.
Defending champions, the United States, headline the second group, which includes China, Belgium, South Korea, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Opals will be doing everything in their power to avoid the almighty US in a quarter-final by finishing as high in their group as possible.
The top four teams from each group will advance to the quarterfinals, with each nation seeded accordingly.
Australia claimed the silver medal at the 2018 tournament, winning gold in 2006 and taking home bronze on three other occasions.
The 2022 FIBA Women‘s World Cup will take place in Sydney from September 22 to October 1.
Tickets for the World Cup go on sale from Tuesday and are available at Ticketek.