Australian Opals superstar Lauren Jackson has signed to play for a Chinese club this season in the belief it will provide the best possible preparation for next year's world championships.
Jackson has inked a one-year deal with Women's Chinese Basketball Association side Heilongjiang Shenda after negotiations to play for the WNBL's Canberra Capitals broke down.
The 32-year-old has always harboured an ambition to play in China, and spoke of her relief her future is now resolved after a nightmare year with injury.
The centre made a stunning return in the Opals' 2-0 Oceania championship series win over New Zealand last month, scoring 20-plus points in both games.
Jackson was forced to sit out the entire 2012-13 season with the Capitals due to a chronic hamstring issue, and also bypassed the WNBA season with Seattle Storm. ''For me and my body I think it's one of my best options, other than being at Canberra and the AIS,'' she said. ''I'm going in with a clean slate, I have no preconceived ideas whatsoever. I think it's right for me at this point in time.''
A chat with Opals teammate Liz Cambage helped convince her to play in China after previous stints in Russia, Spain and South Korea.
Cambage averaged 36 points and 11 rebounds for Chinese club Zhejiang last season, and Jackson is tipped to be even more dominant in a league attracting more quality imports including WNBA stars Maya Moore, Brittney Griner and Nneka Ogwumike.
''It's a tough league, some of the foreigners over there are the best in the world,'' she said. ''I've always wondered about playing in China, it's going to be another experience and another challenge.'' Fairfax Media revealed in July that Jackson had terminated talks with Canberra to play this summer, after it failed to meet a contract deadline imposed by her management.
However, the 32-year-old remains committed to returning to the Capitals for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.
The WCBA regular season begins in mid-November and runs for just over two months. Jackson feels the less intense workload compared with the WNBA is ideal before the Opals' world championship tilt in Turkey.
Heilongjiang Shenda finished bottom in last year's WCBA with a 3-19 record, but Jackson's signing and the return from injury of three Chinese internationals is expected to make them title contenders.
''I've got no idea who else is on the team, but I just want to have fun and enjoy it,'' Jackson said.
''Obviously that consists of winning, but I've been playing long enough to know what to expect.''
Basketball Australia chief executive Kristina Keneally hopes Jackson's decision will help the Opals atone for a disappointing fifth place at the last world championships.
''Australian basketball fans were thrilled to see Lauren back in action during the recent FIBA Oceania Championships, and proud to watch her return to winning form with the Opals,'' she said.
''We look forward to continuing to work with her - as we do with all of our Opals both in Australia and abroad - as we build towards the FIBA World Championships.''