Opals give up big money for Olympic dream

So fierce is competition for spots in the Australian women’s basketball team that some players are preparing to give up big-money deals in the US to help them get to the Rio Olympics.

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The Opals will make their sixth straight Games appearance in 2016, secured with a 2-0 qualifying series win over New Zealand last week.

But coach Brendan Joyce’s job has only just begun.

He’ll have to pick just 12 from a squad of 34, which includes the likes of Liz Cambage, Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor.

One of his biggest challenges is keeping an eye on all of them across three continents – with most either playing in Europe, America’s WNBA or at home in the WNBL.

“Which makes it difficult for us to develop cohesion and also to be together for periods of time,” he told AAP.

“But I can tell you this – a lot of the girls have told me that they’re probably going to sit out the WNBA to give themselves the best shot at playing for Australia.

“I won’t go into names, but there’ve been a few girls that have said to me they’re going to take a year off in the WNBA to solely focus on making the team to go to the Olympic Games.”

Joyce insisted there was no pressure from him to make such a commitment, saying he was happy for them to play in the US.

“It’s something I haven’t stressed because I think it created some real pressure on players staying out of the WNBA for the 2012 London Olympics,” he added.

“It makes me feel good about the fact that they’re proud to make a commitment to play for the green and gold. It really is special and we, as Australians, value that.

“It doesn’t mean that if they go to the WNBA they don’t value it, but I think it’s more about most of the girls that haven’t been to an Olympic Games realise they’ve probably got to do that to make the team.”

The world No.2 Opals have won an Olympic medal at every Games since Atlanta in 1996, including three silvers and two bronze.

America’s women’s team have claimed gold at seven of the last eight Olympics.