AN emotional Australian Opals co-captain Lauren Jackson has described her joy at being back on the court following a lengthy lay-off with a career-threatening injury.
The Opals qualified for next year’s World Championships with a sharp performance against New Zealand, making the most of a third-quarter burst to claim an 84-66 win at the AIS Arena yesterday.
Jackson played like she had never left, top-scoring with 21 points and hauled down seven boards to go along with her opening game performance of 22 points and nine rebounds.
The Albury native admitted the prospect of never playing again had weighed heavily on her throughout her comeback from a crippling hamstring injury.
“I feel so good, I don’t have any pain any more,” Jackson said.
“It’s great, I actually got a little teary on the bus, thinking about that in January, I didn’t know if I’d be playing again.
“Knowing my family would be here ... it still affects you a lot
“And just to be back out there, knowing your coach has so much confidence in you.
“If I had any other coach in the world, I don’t know if I’d have had the confidence the last two games, I’m very lucky.”
The Opals enjoyed plenty of offensive support for Jackson, with Belinda Snell nailing five triples to finish with 17 points, while Bendigo Spirit star Kelly Wilson, chimed in with 10 points.
For New Zealand, former Albury-Wodonga Lady Bandits star Toni Edmondson top-scored with 26 points in a fine all-around display.
An 18-2 run at the start of the third quarter put paid to any notion the plucky Kiwis had of an upset win and Jackson lauded her team’s stellar defensive efforts.
“For me, I’m just proud to be part of the team and back on court again,” Jackson said.
“It’s going to take some time to get back in the flow of everything but to be honest, I felt I’ve had a really good start.
“Our third quarters have been crucial; we really fought back and I’m just so proud of everyone.
“Personally, I’m happy with how I’m going, although I don’t think I played well.
“But I’m feeling good.”
Jackson couldn’t speak highly enough of Opals mentor Brendan Joyce, acknowledging the positive influence the coach had already had on the squad.
“I didn’t think I’d be scoring, I didn’t think I’d be doing anything but running between three-point lines,” Jackson said.
“But Brendan has been so positive and I really needed a kick up the backside to get going again.
“He’s been such a positive influence and he’s given me the confidence I needed.”
Joyce was just as quick to return the praise, saying he wasn’t shocked at Jackson’s output despite the injury lay-off.
“I guess from the lay-off you might be surprised but I know her talent,” Joyce said.
“I know how good she is and when I was coaching NBL, if I could’ve put a suit of armour on her, she would’ve been playing with (Wollongong) Hawks.
“I haven’t seen too many players — men or women — work off an on-ball screen as well as Lauren.
“Her presence at the defensive end changed shots, so all the credit goes to her.”