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Opals, Graf think big

Date

Fleta Page

2nd May 2012, Canberra Times poto by Rohan Thomson, Opals training  Liz Cambageshoots over Mariana Tolo

2nd May 2012, Canberra Times poto by Rohan Thomson, Opals training Liz Cambageshoots over Mariana Tolo Photo: Rohan Thomson

Lauren Jackson may have been busy plying her trade in Europe, but it hasn't stopped her fellow Opals teammates from getting a head start in their quest for Olympic Games gold which has so far eluded the three-time silver medallists.

For the last month, the other four 'bigs' of the Opals squad have been putting in extra preparation for London with special training sessions at the Australian Institute of Sport.

Liz Cambage, the 203-centimetre rising Opals star, has been flying from Melbourne each week to train with the 189cm Abby Bishop, 196cm Marianna Tolo and 192cm Opals veteran and reigning league MVP, Suzy Batkovic.

2nd May 2012, Canberra Times poto by Rohan Thomson, Opals training Coach Carrie Graf

2nd May 2012, Canberra Times poto by Rohan Thomson, Opals training Coach Carrie Graf Photo: Rohan Thomson

The foursome have been working under head coach Carrie Graf ''getting fit, getting together and just working hard on and off the court, getting our bodies right,'' according to Cambage.

While the 195cm Jackson has now arrived back in the country, she is taking a break after back-to-back WNBA and European seasons. While a 'bigs camp' is not unheard of, it's not the norm for Australia's Olympic preparations, but the opportunity of having the four players available was too good for Graf to pass up.

''Abby Bishop and Marianna Tolo were Canberra based and Suzy Batkovic has family here and we've been bringing Liz Cambage up to Canberra numerous times over the last year or two as an emerging Opals talent as part of our high performance program'' Graf said.

''This was a unique [opportunity] that we had - that was certainly cost-effective - to get our young post players together with Suzy Batkovic, one of our veterans, in a good format at the AIS.''

Cambage is no stranger to the AIS, having spent two years as a scholarship holder playing for its WNBL team.

''It's really good getting back and seeing everyone,'' the 20-year-old said.

''It's like nothing's changed, you come back and the same wonderful people are still working here and it's great … just getting back to where it all began.''

Since leaving the institute two years ago, Cambage has won a WNBL championship with the Bulleen Boomers, and joined the WNBA as a No.2 draft pick.

But like Jackson, she has put the Opals and the Olympics ahead of the upcoming WNBA season.

''I'll go back to the States after the Olympics … if I make it,'' Cambage said.

That caveat highlights a dilemma facing Graf and her selectors, who will have to narrow their squad of 23 to a team of 12 to travel to London.

''We've got obviously some veteran talent, some superstar talent like Lauren Jackson who will be going to her fourth Olympics, Suzy Batkovic as a 31-year-old going into her third and then the young posts battling it out for positions,'' Graf said.

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