Friday, August 23, 2013

Jackson and Joyce strike up instant chemistry

New partnership: Opals coach Brenda Joyce offers some encouraging words to star player Lauren Jackson at Canberra last weeknd.

New partnership: Opals coach Brenda Joyce offers some encouraging words to star player Lauren Jackson at Canberra last weeknd. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

His tenure as coach of the Australian Opals is in its fledgling stage, but Brendan Joyce has already formed a mutual admiration society with international superstar Lauren Jackson.

Joyce, who coached the Wollongong Hawks to their only NBL title in 2001, passed his first real test as the national women's coach with last week's Oceania qualifying series win over New Zealand.

The Opals beat the Tall Ferns 66-50 in New Zealand and 84-66 in Canberra to secure a place at next year's world championships in Turkey.

Despite recently coming back from a nine-month layoff caused by ankle and hamstring injuries, Jackson led a largely untested Opals side in both games with 21 and 22 points.

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Joyce seemed to be only half-kidding when he said he would have loved to have had the mercurial Jackson at the Hawks.

"Fitness-wise she struggled after a long layoff, but she's a hell of a player," Joyce said.

"She's the best pick-and-pop player I've ever seen. She's as good as any guy I've ever coached.

"She's got a tremendous understanding of the game and it's obvious she's a real leader - on and off the floor."

Jackson was similarly glowing in her praise of Joyce after the Opals' series victory.

"If I had any other coach, I don't know if I'd have that confidence these last two games," the 32-year-old said.

"I didn't think I'd be scoring, I didn't think I'd be doing anything but running between three-point lines to be honest," she said.

"Brendan's been that positive influence on me and giving me the confidence I needed."

Joyce, who lives in Wollongong, is ecstatic with the progress of the Opals since his appointment in mid-May.

"There's three things that have changed," the former Australian Boomers assistant coach said.

"I've taken huge steps to change the culture of the Opals, the second is structure and style of play, and the third is the building of team chemistry.

"All those three things were ticked off against New Zealand. The players were tremendous. They're really bought into the culture.

"The feedback is they're liking the style of play, which is a lot of penetrating and pitching, and playing off on-balls [screens]. It's a little different to what we've seen in women's basketball in Australia, but a lot of that is incorporated in the US and Europe. I'm looking at a style of play that I think will challenge the Americans," he said.

Joyce is keen to catch up with the Opals playing in the WNBA in the US.


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