Cayla George says Opals are on the same page with World Cup podium in reach after Liz Cambage saga
With just over 100 days until the FIBA Women’s World Cup tips off in Sydney the mood within the Australian Opals camp is overwhelmingly positive, in a turning-of-the-page moment for the program.
The Opals continued to unearth young talent across the weekend in a competitive three-game series against World Cup pool rival Japan, with Anneli Maley, Jade Melbourne and Shyla Heal just a few of the rising stars to suit up.
Although she is one of the mainstays in the national team, Opal’s veteran Cayla George admits the introduction of youth brought emotion and pride, more than a decade on from her first appearance in the green and gold.
“It brings me back to never taking it for granted,” George told ESPN’s Ball and the Real World podcast.
“Before the game Anneli told me she had a big cry during the day and it’s just huge, the green and gold, what an honour. When I was younger, I wanted to be an Opal and do great things. This is so special; I got a bit emotional after she told me that.”
Off the court the Opals held several meetings across the 10-day minicamp, with culture and awareness for the past a reoccurring theme.
“The Opals legacy piece for the last two decades and longer has been so amazing. Such success has come from the program since the 1996 Olympics. They set the precedent; it’s been an amazing legacy. I’m just so humbled to be in the green and gold and be a part of the legacy piece from the past, the current and then the ones to come.
“We want that culture piece to be special and for there to be an understanding all the way through. Since Tokyo we’ve had a reset and re-established a memory of what the legacy was and where it needs to be from here on out . A bit of a no-bulls*** rule. We adhere to the culture and we’re all on the same page.”
With several WNBA stars set to return to the squad for the World Cup, the Opals’ expectation is to compete for the podium in what has been the a frequent position for the team over the previous three decades.
Part of the process is avoiding the off-court noise that has hung over the team since the Tokyo games, with the Liz Cambage saga surfacing once again while the team attempted to turn the page on the court.
“Bit over it to be honest, it’s all come up again recently,” Goerge said. “It was really traumatic, everyone dealt with it in their own way, and we’ve just been so ready to move on and have a narrative of whoever is in the squad wants to be there, they love wearing the green and gold, they know what it represents.
“It’s an honour, they respect it, and they want to keep the legacy alive. It’s not just about the current Opals, it’s about the past and the ones to come. There is a lot of respect that goes with the sisterhood. Where we ‘re at now and moving forward is where we want to be and not looking back. The look back is not only unnecessary but not needed for our mentals because it was a really traumatic time.”
While George generally carries a bubbly and energetic personality, a seriousness is evident when she discusses the past, yet the overwhelming sense of pride and excitement for the Opals program moving forward shines through, with a fresh start, new faces and the lure of more medals the path ahead.
Cayla George in action for the Opals against Japan. Kelly Defina/Getty Images
“We’re in a really great spot. There are always lessons learned from low moments and we’ve taken a lot from that, and we move forward and we’re looking really good culturally. We’ve never been as sound, we ‘re all on the same page which is so refreshing. We all want to be there and are happy for each other’s successes.
“To hype up your sisters, to wear the green and gold together, it’s such a big meaning and to be proud to do it. That’s the Opals, we support, we respect, and we love. That’s been there for the majority of us but now all of us are about it, that’s the rule.
“You can be a superstar but unless you come in and respect the sisterhood and you show love then you can’t move forward. We just want people that are about that. That’s what the Opals have always been about, and we need to bring it back to that point because we got a bit lost there for a second.”
To reach the medal bracket, the Opals will have to navigate an insane schedule of five games in six days, against Japan, Canada, France, Nigeria and Serbia.
“The schedule for this upcoming World Cup is crazy but there’s not much we can do about it other than come in as fit as possible, as ready as possible. This week was a bit of a test, 10 days, fitness testing, few days of camp and then three games. It gave us a taste, it was very busy.
“I’m excited about what’s to come. We all want a podium finish, especially at home. Whatever that looks like, I just want to be on the podium and ideally gold. I think we’re more than capable.”
Catch the full conversation with Cayla George on the Ball and the Real World podcast – available wherever you get your podcasts.