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Lauren Jackson named in Australian Opals squad as Liz Cambage and Alice Kunek team up

Departing Canberra Capitals great Lauren Jackson has been named in an extended Australian Opals squad as she races against the clock to recover from a knee injury to keep her Rio Olympic Games dream alive.

Jackson is still in contention to make the trip to Rio after being included in an extended 27-strong squad, bolstered by the return of Liz Cambage, Penny Taylor, Erin Phillips and Marianna Tolo.

Capitals duo Abby Bishop and Stephanie Talbot are also in the mix, despite Canberra's WNBL struggles this year. Bishop won the club's most valuable player prize on Wednesday night while Talbot was named the Kellie Abrams defensive player of the year. 

Jackson is working at the AIS to build strength back in her knee, having contemplated retirement at the end of last year after an infection.

The four-time Olympian has retired from the WNBL and it remains unclear whether she will be fit enough to make it to Rio after playing minimal games in recent years.

Australian Opals coach Brendan Joyce said the side's team chemistry and cultural values would come to the fore ahead of the Rio Olympics.


The Opals' have won medals at the past five Olympics but crave their first gold medal, which would mean breaking the US women's dominance over the competition.

Earlier this week some media outlets claimed the Opals' were in crisis after squad member Alice Kunek posted a picture on social media dressed as artist Kanye West, including painting her face dark brown, for her WNBL side's Silly Sunday dress-up day.

Opals star centre Cambage tweeted her disgust at the picture and for "blackface" makeup. Kunek apologised, saying she had not understood the offence caused by such makeup.

Joyce has picked both players and said he couldn't wait to bring everyone back under the Opals banner.

"We had a meeting with Mitchell Catlin, Liz's manager, this week and it was very positive and productive and we expect she will be at the first camp," Joyce said.

"We are expecting Liz to make a really strong contribution to the Opals just like she did leading into the 2014 world championships before her Achilles injury and during all the rehabilitation work she completed following the injury."

Joyce added he never considered not picking Kunek after she had committed to the Opals when selected in recent years.

"Anyone who knows Alice knows she made a mistake and had no intent, no idea of what it meant," Joyce said. "She admitted her mistake, took responsibility and she doesn't have a racist bone in her body."

Joyce plans to narrow his squad to around 20 players by the start of the Opals' four training camps with the first one at the Australian Institute of Sport in late March then further camps in Gosford, Canberra and Gold Coast in the lead-up to Rio.

He said the Opals would tour Japan and Europe to play lead-up games.

Taylor and Phillips have also signalled their intent to come to the first two camps before joining their WNBA sides for part of the US season.

Hodges, who captained the Opals at last year's Olympic qualifiers, is playing in Europe and won't finish her season until May, so she will join the side for the final two camps.

Joyce has also retained hope that Jackson can recover from her knee problems in time to make the team, but that is far from guaranteed while young guard Lauren Mansfield and centre Elyse Penaluna both made the list despite still recovering from recent surgery.  

Dual Australian-United States passport holder Leilani Mitchell and recent Australian citizen Kelsey Griffin were both picked but under FIBA rules only one nationalised player can make the final 12-player roster.

  – With Roy Ward

Australian Opals extended Rio Olympics squad: Rebecca Allen, Suzy Batkovic, Sara Blicavs, Abby Bishop, Natalie Burton, Elizabeth Cambage, Stephanie Cumming, Katie-Rae Ebzery, Cayla George, Madeleine Garrick, Kelsey Griffin, Laura Hodges, Lauren Jackson, Rachel Jarry, Alice Kunek, Tessa Lavey, Tess Madgen, Lauren Mansfield, Carley Mijovic, Leilani Mitchell, Erin Phillips, Elyse Penaluna, Belinda Snell, Stephanie Talbot, Penny Taylor, Marianna Tolo, Kelly Wilson.