March 13, 2021
Liz Cambage re-signs with Aces, sets sights on a WNBA championship
Cambage: 'This last year made me appreciate the game so much more'
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As sport shut down around the globe and Australia announced one of the strictest lockdowns of any country last spring, Liz Cambage felt her psychological battery teetering toward empty. It was a familiar feeling when basketball began to fall down her priority list.
Cambage eventually opted out of the WNBA bubble season but committed to playing for the Southside Flyers in Australia’s WNBL in the fall, ultimately winning the league championship as her team’s leading scorer. After that, Cambage returned to the United States to keep honing her craft, discovering a group of hoops junkies in Los Angeles who would keep her focused on her journey back to a love of the game.
People such as NBA veteran J.R. Smith provided the type of competition and camaraderie that Cambage needed. Getting away from Australia helped, too, not only to avoid the country’s incredibly strict public health measures but also to venture out on her own a bit more and leave behind the difficult memories of childhood. These days, she lives “the best life,” working out three days a week and crashing on the couch of her agent, Allison Galer of Disrupt the Game, where she studies NBA games all evening.
It all put her in a headspace to feel comfortable returning to the WNBA, a decision that was made official on Friday with a press conference as well as a lunch meeting with new Aces team governor Mark Davis.
“I don’t know what’s changed,” Cambage told reporters Friday, “if it’s getting older and being more appreciative of the game and my life, but I live the best life. I wake up and I’m surrounded by people and I go to work with people who push me and want me to be the best and want the best of me, not only for them, but for all of us.
“As soon as I started being true to me, that energy, it pulls in people who are on the same wave as you, so I’ve been just true to me, doing what makes me happy, which is just being fit and healthy.”
Though there wasn’t much of a courtship for Cambage’s return—she was cored by Las Vegas and always planned that any return to the WNBA would go through the desert—the socially distant nature of COVID free agency meant that Aces head coach and president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer was hearing many of these stories for the first time, too. The press conference, for coach and player, was a reunion of two close confidantes and increasingly, two people who are driven only by winning.
“Before, she was Liz Cambage playing basketball,” Laimbeer said. “Now, you listen to her talk, she’s (all) about basketball right now.”
After Laimbeer noted that he’s “so old” that titles are his only goal in life, he acknowledged a similar tenor in Cambage’s answers, crediting the WNBL championship with potentially changing her perspective. Another busy offseason for Las Vegas has created potentially the most talented roster in the WNBA, and after a disappointing loss to Seattle in the 2020 Finals, the goal in 2021 will clearly be a championship.
But when she was asked whether she looked at 2021 as “championship or bust,” Cambage denied the premise of the question.
“I don’t really think like that,” she said.
Instead, Las Vegas will simply look to build on what was a dominant 2020 regular season, with A’ja Wilson winning the MVP award in her third season. The Aces can count on a strong defense, lineup versatility and, with the return of Cambage, enough firepower to counter the best teams.
Looking back on a sweep at the hands of the Storm, Laimbeer said he knew the team couldn’t win the Finals without Cambage. If anything, the result reinforced how important it would be to get her back for 2021. Laimbeer is also content knowing that with Wilson, Cambage and others such as Dearica Hamby and free agent signee Chelsea Gray locked in long-term, the team is set up for the long haul as well.
As for Cambage, this year is a reset from 2020, and while she’s in a better place both geographically and psychologically, the road ahead will still be difficult. On her agenda are a WNBA title as well as an Olympic gold medal with the Australian Opals in Tokyo this summer.
“I’m locked in for the hardest year of my life,” she said.