The players at the World Cup represented themselves and the game of basketball to the highest degree. Every team had their players’ individualism and personalities on display, leading to ultimate success for the tournament’s heavy hitters.
hether it was Siyu Wang’s lights-out three-point shooting or Xu Han’s catch-and-shoot mid-rangers, China coach Zheng Wei found success with all of the tools in her toolbelt. Through their super athletic backcourt, China was able to find incredible success pressing opposing guards full court, forcing their counterparts to get into their action with 12 on the shot clock.
When other teams tried to replicate this, their press was busted easily and often. China found success as it was a reflection of their personnel and it earned them a silver medal at the tournament. The players bought into the game plan while expressing themselves on the court, which saw them only bested by the U.S.
As for Canada, who placed fourth, self-expression was rife throughout the team. There was no better example of this than the ear-to-ear smile they call Bridget Carleton. Earning a place on the World Cup’s Google All-Star Five, I asked her if her ubiquitous smile had always been the case when she played basketball:
“It has been, people tell me that a lot. I blame it partly on my mouthguard but I do have normally a smiley face and I guess I love the game but also I think it’s just my face.”
That love for the game, blended in with her normally smiley face, was reflected in her performances during the World Cup.
I was courtside for her first half against Mali, which saw her cash out on four out of five threes and finish with 27 on 7-8 from downtown. She wasn’t just out there for her shooting, however, she could also hit the deck and get to a jimmy or all the way to the cup. When a player presses up on her and she still has her dribble she activates her smile card:
“I know when someone’s in me and I still have my dribble that I’m gonna be able to make a move,” she said.
“It’s gonna be nothing special, just two hard dribbles and hopefully get to a pull-up or get to the rim, but, you know, people respect me as a shooter so I have to be able to do a little bit more than just catch and shoot threes.”
It seems as if she licks her lips in these situations, so I had to ask if that’s how it felt for her. To that, she replied, “I mean it’s tough still, it’s not easy, I don’t lick my lips but it is fun.”
Basketball fans around the world can definitely see the way Carleton approaches the game and a lot of it is predicated on fun. Carleton was able to lead Canada to within sniffing distance of a medal on the last day of the tournament and was one of the five best players, all while being herself.
Although she didn’t play in the World Cup, I was within ten metres of French guard Marine Johannes, and if we’re talking about individualism on the basketball court then it doesn’t get better than her:
“I think when I play and I’m having a good game it’s when I’m not thinking too much and I’m just playing free and just enjoying the game.”
I would be remiss if I were to be face-to-face with Marine and not ask her about that pass against the Chicago Sky. She turned the game on its head and the New York Liberty shut out Chicago after that.
“I felt like I had to do it like that so I don’t know. It was just, yeah, a normal play for me,” she said.
That’s not a normal play for anyone, so for her to consider it that way shows just how much success Marine has had by bringing her personality onto the court.
A’ja Wilson was on our turf for all eight days and went home with gold and MVP of the tournament. Your assumption is correct, she’s part of the USA Basketball team, hence the gold.
I got a chance to speak with her after their semi-final win against Canada and although I didn’t ask her anything about her game specifically, she has a swagger and a flow about the way she communicates that she definitely displays while she’s playing. The only thing she doesn’t take onto the court with her is that charming and disarming laugh.
As for the rest of her game, she’s going to get to her flow and there’s no way of stopping her. Speaking of getting things going, Alyssa Thomas’ head is on a swivel after every rebound and steal. Unlike other bigs, she doesn’t look for an outlet pass, rather, she turns and runs. I asked her whether this was part of the gameplan or her being her:
“I think it’s me being me, I think that’s something that’s part of my style of play, I think it’s to my advantage, most times post players are guarding me so when I’m able to get a rebound and push it’s really hard for post players to keep up which causes numbers for us.”
Fans can’t tell if she’s the centre or the point guard, and opposing teams can’t either. She caused disruption and chaos in every game and that ability to go from centre to point guard in the space of one dribble is just her being her.
The bronze medal-winning Australian Opals were running on vibes. One through twelve, each player brought energy and inclusion. It was a real sisterhood built atop a foundation of selflessness and starring in your role. Forward Anneli Maley has humility and appreciation beaming out of her any time she talks. She wasn’t promised game time with the Opals but that didn’t stop her from celebrating harder than everyone else on the bench:
“I mean just being there is a privilege, like being part of the group. Making the squad is a privilege and being in the team is a privilege. It’s hard not to have energy when you’re surrounded by greatness.”
Throughout the rest of our conversation, Anneli’s one-of-a-kind energy was on display. Even in talking to her, I felt as if she was energising me so I couldn’t imagine what being her teammate would feel like.
Every time you turn to the bench you have this person on your side, always up, always smiling, always cheering you on. Maley would never look for her shot in her minutes, in fact, she was doing all the things a great teammate would do. She was boxing out, rebounding, making extra passes, spacing out to the deep corner and lifting when the defence would shift.
In her last four showings, she played a combined twelve minutes and put up two shots total. Dude, if that’s me I’m jackin’ that shit up any time it sees my hand, but that might be the difference between me and someone representing my country, as well as me being infinitely worse at all of the bits of basketball.
Our bronze medal match saw a fairytale finish for Australia’s basketball GOAT. Lauren Jackson finished with 30 points on countless one-dribble right shoulder turnaround jump shots. It wasn’t as though the Opals were spamming LJ post-ups and she went 8/25, the Opals were spamming LJ post-ups and she went 11/13 from inside the arc, as well as 8/9 from the line.
She owned both blocks and there was nothing Canada could do. Sometimes greatness happens and this was one of those times. All you have to do is feel happy for someone to have had such a good game after everything she has done for the game of basketball and Australia.
The FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 was an unmitigated success. Sydney hosted an event that the country should be boasting about for years to come and Australia needs to maintain this momentum moving forward.
Whether it’s Anneli Maley-like selflessness and energy, an A’ja Wilson-like swagger or a Bridget Carleton-like smile, there are basketball players all throughout the country replicating their stars and looking to find their way into an Opals jersey. The best of the best are at their best when they’re being themselves.