AUSTRALIAN Opals coach Brendan Joyce faces a conundrum when considering newly naturalised forward Kelsey Griffin for the Rio Olympics.
The WNBA forward and Bendigo Spirit star will complete her Australian citizenship this Sunday and be eligible for Opals selection.
But Joyce can pick only one naturalised player and already has point guard Leilani Mitchell, who played an important role in the 2014 FIBA women’s world championships and shapes as a likely selection for the Rio Olympics.
Joyce told Fairfax Media his current advice was Mitchell was counted as a naturalised player as she was first an American citizen then gained an Australia passport through her mother, who was Australian.
Mitchell plays in the WNBL as a local player and Griffin will be able to do the same but FIBA rules allow national teams to select only one naturalised player.
“The challenge for everybody is I can only take one naturalised player and I’m pretty sure that Leilani comes under that rule,” Joyce said.
“But we are still in a very good position and I have no doubt in the past few years if I called Kelsey and invited her to Opals camp she would have been there in a minute, but I couldn’t invite her until she became a citizen.”
Joyce said he had watched Griffin closely for several years as he knew she was applying for citizenship.
“It’s fantastic for her to become a citizen and I’ve always kept an eye on Kelsey, not just here but also in the WNBA where she is a starter who plays big minutes,” he said.
“She is a versatile player who could play the small forward or power forward at international level so we know a lot about her game.”
The Opals have had a number of leading players battling injuries over the past year and Joyce said many of those players were now returning to the court after completing rehabilitation work with Australian Institute of Sport and Opals medical staff.
Penny Taylor and Liz Cambage are back playing in China and have recorded big numbers in the early rounds while Rachel Jarry and Rebecca Allen are back in the WNBL and performing well for South East Queensland Stars.
Joyce said Erin Phillips could be back on court in the next three weeks after a more serious knee injury while centre Marianna Tolo was on track to start some on-court drills in March as she recovered from a knee reconstruction.
But the major problem remains four-time Olympian Lauren Jackson, whose knee injury requires more recovery time after she attempted to boost her training load last week.
“It’s disappointing for us and Canberra but really disappointing for Lauren,” Joyce said.
“We got together with Lauren in the last couple of days to put together a really good rehabilitation program and she will have some more evaluations with the Opals staff to examine her.
“I have to compliment our rehabilitation staff who have helped all these players get back and those girls all have a strong chance [for Rio] after being part of our world championship side in 2014.”
Joyce said the Opals would send a physiotherapist to China in the coming weeks to check up on Taylor and Cambage while he hosted the strength and conditioning coaches from all WNBL clubs last week for an information sharing session on how they can help players prepare for Opals duties.
The Opals will have tours to Europe and Japan next year as part of their pre-Olympics preparation and, as Joyce has said previously, everyone will have a clean slate for selection.
“There is no question, the team is not settled yet,” he said.