February 3, 2022 

How Lauren Jackson’s return could impact the 2022 World Cup

The news of Jackson's return follows Liz Cambage's announcement that she has "zero interest" in competing again with the Opals

Less than six months after becoming the first Australian player to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, former WNBA star Lauren Jackson is returning to competitive basketball.

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The three-time WNBA MVP will join the Albury Wodonga Bandits of Australia’s semi-professional league, NBL1. Jackson – originally from Albury – will be competing in her hometown arena, the Lauren Jackson Sports Centre.

“We’re just over the moon that Lauren’s playing for her hometown and her home club. It’s huge for the Albury Wodonga Bandits and for the Albury Wodonga community,” said Albury Wodonga Bandits President Luke Smith. “I think it’s going to be a really big year and we’re really looking forward to her playing in a stadium named after herself and in front of her friends, family and her two boys.”

Medical cannabis exemption

There isn’t much that Lauren hasn’t accomplished in her illustrious basketball career. Jackson won three silver medals (2000, 2004 and 2008) and a bronze medal (2012) as an Olympian. In addition, she won two WNBA championships (2004 and 2010) with the Seattle Storm. Jackson was also a superstar in her home country’s Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL), a five-time All-Star and four-time MVP.

The Australian basketball icon also won a World Championship gold medal in 2006 and a bronze medal in 1998 and 2002 World Championships. (Note: FIBA renamed the World Championship the “FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup” or simply “World Cup” after the 2014 version).

Could Jackson be aligning her return with the 2022 World Cup? The World Cup, after all, is in Sydney, Australia, in the month following the conclusion of the NBL1 season.

It could depend on whether Jackson is allowed an exemption to use medical cannabis to compete. The retired superstar left the game in 2016 in part because of a chronic knee injury. Jackson has found some relief with medical cannabis as part of her recovery.

“That’s been critical in my ability to recover and come back, just the way I’ve been training has helped me a lot,” Jackson said. “I’m really thankful I got on that trial and I’ll explore my options to get that exemption.”

World Cup Ambitions?

The news of Jackson’s return comes about two months after Australian center Liz Cambage announced that she has “zero interest” in competing again with the Opals. Following an altercation with the Nigerian basketball team during a warm-up game in the days leading up to the Tokyo Olympics; Cambage pulled out of the national team’s roster. She said she would not compete due to mental health concerns; revealing she’d been having panic attacks about going into the Olympic Games bubble.

The Opals, who failed to medal during the Tokyo Olympics, could definitely use a post player with Olympic-caliber experience to replace 6’8 Cambage on their roster.

Time will tell if Jackson will make a return to the international basketball scene as part of the Australian national team. But, for now, the hoops legend is just happy to be back on the court.

“I haven’t played for eight years…I might be terrible; there are so many unknowns at this point and I’m 40 years old,” she said. “The stars have really aligned for me at the moment… to be pain free, get out and move again is what I’m hoping for. I was really drained, basketball had taken a huge toll on me emotionally so it’s going to be a new experience for me and I’m so excited.”

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

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