Opals hit road for world title lead-up
By James Dampney
11:35 AEST Wed Jun 30 2010

The Opals have begun the countdown to their world women's basketball title defence, flying out on Wednesday for a crucial tour of China, the United States and Europe.

Coach Carrie Graf has assembled a strong squad led by Kristi Harrower, Belinda Snell, Laura Summerton and teenaged 203cm centre Liz Cambage as they start with a three-match series against China.

It's an especially valuable series with China also in the Opals' group for the opening round of the world championships in the Czech Republic starting on September 23.

US-based stars Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor, veteran Tully Bevilaqua and youngster Abby Bishop will join the squad for a four-day training camp in Connecticut and a one-off match against arch-rivals USA on July 11.

The Opals then head to Hungary for a tournament including Romania, Slovakia and the host nation.

Harrower stressed the importance of the trip as preparation, especially with the Australian league having finished back in March.

She also indicated the Opals would be looking for plenty from their WNBA stars in the match against the US, who will be desperate to reclaim the world championship tag from Australia in the Czech Republic.

"Playing China in three games, they're probably the best Asian team, and then we play the US which will obviously be a great test," Harrower told AAP.

"A lot of us aren't playing right now and all of the Americans are so they might be a little bit sharper than us, but at least our main players Penny and Lauren will be sharp.

"And then we go to Europe and any games at this point in time will be great for us."

Jackson is having a stand-out season with Seattle in the WNBA, extending her own record after receiving her 17th overall player-of-the-week award on Tuesday.

It was the third time she had received the award in the opening six weeks of the campaign, leaving her well on track for a third MVP award and second championship with the Storm.

Seattle had the league's best record at 13-2 heading into Wednesday's match against San Antonio and Jackson is currently the league's second highest score at 20.8 points per game.

"You don't even know how to put into words anymore what Lauren has accomplished," Storm chief executive Karen Bryant told the Seattle Times.

"It's just milestone after milestone. We're witnessing a legacy here."

Graf, who is preparing for her first major tournament at the helm acknowledges the importance of the upcoming tour.

"It's a big part of our world championship campaign," she said.

"It's ten weeks from when we depart for the worlds, so it's a great opportunity for us to play some great opponents."

Opals Squad for tour to China, USA and Hungary: Elizabeth Cambage, Hollie Grima, Kristi Harrower, Jenna O'Hea, Erin Phillips, Alicia Poto, Samantha Richards, Jennifer Screen, Belinda Snell, Laura Summerton, Marianna Tolo, Hanna Zavecz.

Additional players for US section: Tully Bevilaqua, Abby Bishop, Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor.

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