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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Sport
Guardian sport and agencies

Lauren Jackson defies odds to return once more to Australia’s WNBL

Lauren Jackson watches a Flyers game from the sideline
Lauren Jackson will return to the Southside Flyers in the WNBL after recovering from an achilles injury sustained in February. Photograph: Morgan Hancock/AAP

Australian basketball great Lauren Jackson has defied the odds to extend her remarkable career for at least one more WNBL season.

The 42-year-old has recovered from an achilles injury sustained in February and two surgeries and will suit up again for the Melbourne-based Southside Flyers when the season starts on 1 November.

A record crowd of 7,681 filled John Cain Arena earlier this year to see Jackson play in her WNBL tribute match between the Flyers and Sydney Flames, with her retirement at the end of that season on the horizon.

Just two minutes into the game Jackson clashed with Flames forward Jocelyn Wolloughby and twisted her leg awkwardly. She was forced to come off, her unrivalled basketball career seemingly ending in heart break.

But after surgery and months of rehab, the two-time WNBA champion is back again.

“I’ve worked hard on rehab and feeling ready to get on court again, so I’m really excited about being out there with a great group of players and a fantastic club,” Jackson said in a statement.

“I honestly didn’t know if I would be ready for the WNBL this season, but I am fitter than I was last year, it’s the best I have felt in a long time … the club has seen me on court, and they know I am ready. That’s why we’re here again.”

In her role as head of women in basketball at Basketball Australia Jackson supports women and girls to play, coach, referee and administer the game, including through the She Hoops program.

She said the increased focus on women’s sport in Australia – largely on the back of the Matildas’ Women’s World Cup performances – had played a role in her decision to return to the court.

“If me being part of the WNBL again inspires even one girl or woman to play, or to get involved in basketball, or to come along to see a game, I’ll be really happy,” Jackson said.

Lauren Jackson is carried by her teammates after her last game with the Opals
Lauren Jackson ended her international career on a high with a bronze medal at the 2022 Fiba World Cup. Photograph: William West/AFP/Getty Images

The Flyers Coach, Cheryl Chambers, credited Jackson’s unwavering determination that has enabled her to return to the professional game.

“Lauren is not only an incredible athlete but also a true leader on and off the court and her return is a testament to her resilience and love for the game,” Chambers said.

“We saw the impact she had last season, and once again her experience and mentorship will be invaluable to the team.”

The WNBL boss, Christy Collier-Hill, said she was “beyond excited to have her back”.

“It’s just incredible to think she won her first WNBL title 24 years ago,” Collier-Hill said. “She is such an inspiration, not just to women and girls but to the entire basketball community.”

This won’t be the first time Jackson has made an incredible comeback from injury.

After retiring from basketball due to injury in 2016, Jackson took up her role at Basketball Australia, had two children and with the help of medical marijuana, she was eventually able to return to the court for social basketball.

But as she played more, a return to the domestic league beckoned, then to the Opals training camp and finally a call-up to the 2022 World Cup squad – culminating in a bronze medal with Australia in October.

Jackson is a four-time Olympian, and a four-time MVP and five-time championship winner in the WNBL.

She also made a huge mark in the US, where she was a seven-time WNBA All-Star, led Seattle Storm to two WNBA championships and was a three-time MVP in the world’s best league.

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