With Olympics postponed, Australia’s Sandy Brondello says team’s goal hasn’t changed

The Australian national women’s basketball team was in full gear to return to the podium at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

After a quarterfinal loss in Rio, the Opals had a new coach in Sandy Brondello, who led them to a silver medal at the 2018 World Cup, and a star center in Liz Cambage, who was entering her prime.

Then came the announcement that the Games would be delayed to the summer of 2021, following the COVID-19 pandemic. The Australian Olympic Committee was the second – after Canada – to withdraw from the Games unless they were postponed.

“It’s always disappointing, but it was the right decision,” Brondello told High Post Hoops. “We’re thankful it wasn’t cancelled because that was the discussion at one point. This is the Olympics, what everyone dreams about, and our goal hasn’t changed, it’s just postponed.”

Brondello added that team members are engaged in home workouts and watching film, while the COVID-19 crisis is forcing them to stay home, and it is a good chance for them to handle adversity. She mentioned that Australians can only leave their homes two people at a time, which is stricter than in the U.S.

In early February, the Opals went 2-1 in their Olympic Qualifying Tournament at Bourges, France, to punch their ticket to a seventh-consecutive Olympics.

“We need more time as a team together,” said Brondello, who won two silver medals and a bronze as a player. “We had only two days to prepare in France. We don’t always have our full team, so it’s about spending quality time together, not the quantity of time. There are so many good opponents and so much parity. I think there are 10 countries that can win.”

Cambage, the 6-foot-8 center, averaged 26 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks and was named to the event’s All-Star team, along with forward Rebecca Allen.

“She keeps getting better,” Brondello said of the 28-year-old Cambage. “She’s an amazing player. Her and BG (Brittney Griner) are just unstoppable. She loves playing for the Opals, and she loves the big and exciting moments.”

One of the consequences of the Olympic postponement is that many athletes will need to prolong their careers another season, such as Justin Gatlin, Carli Lloyd and Allyson Felix. It’s no secret that the backcourt of the U.S. women’s team, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, will now be ages 40 and 39 when the cauldron is lit in Tokyo.

Brondello is in the unique position of being on the opposite sideline in international play, but coaching Taurasi with the Phoenix Mercury during the WNBA season. She also was a former teammate and coach of Bird.

“They are pretty special,” Brondello added of Taurasi and Bird. “If they want to do it, they can, with the experience they have, and they keep their bodies in great shape. They are some of the smartest players, and their age is just a number.”

FIBA also announced last week that the 2022 Basketball World Cup for Women will be held in Australia from Sept. 23 through Oct. 3. It is the first time the event will be in Australia since 1994, a competition Brondello mentioned she played in as the hosts placed fourth.

“We’re ecstatic,” she exclaimed. “In all of this gloom we’ve had, it gives you some excitement and something to look forward to. We’re growing the sport, and we’re bringing world competition back to Australia again because everything has just stopped. You have players at the highest level competing. I played in the Olympics in 2000, and there is nothing better than playing in front of your family and friends.”

The 2022 World Cup will take place at two of the venues from those 2000 Sydney Olympics.

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