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‘On borrowed time’: Lauren Jackson opens up ahead of stunning return to Opals team

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Australian basketball legend Lauren Jackson has opened up on her remarkable comeback to the Opals ahead of the FIBA Women’s World Cup beginning on September 22 in Sydney.

Jackson, at 41-years-old, says her return to the national team has been ‘a whirlwind’ and ‘mind boggling’, but is embracing the opportunity to play in front of a home crowd including her two children.

“I feel like I’m on borrowed time a little bit and I just want to make every moment last,” Jackson said.

“I just don’t know how long it’s going to last … I’m pretty sure the whole time I was just like, there’s no way I can do that or compete at that level again.

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“I’m just going to take it day by day, keep working and keep trying to get better and you know, when that final day hits, it’s still good, at least I had a crack.

“For me it’s just enjoying it … my kids being able to see me represent Australia, I think that’s so incredible.”

Taking it for granted in early years

Jackson’s journey to return to the Opals came just six months after signing to play for her hometown Albury-Wodonga Bandits in NBL1.

After she retired from basketball in 2016 due to chronic knee injuries, ‘LJ’ picked up where she left off more than half a decade later.

Jackson was thrust into the Opals squad at just 16-years old, something she says she’s reflected on more recently in her comeback this year at 41.(Getty Images: Adam Pretty)

In her first game back, she scored 21 points and pulled in five rebounds in just over half a game.

By the end of the season she averaged 31.9 points per game and 12.6 rebounds on the court, clearly a cut above the rest, and has now signed with Southside Flyers in the WNBL.

But pulling on the green and gold is something that is even more important to the four-time Olympian, three-time WNBA MVP, two-time WNBA champion, four-time WNBL MVP, five-time WNBL champion, seven-time WNBA All-Star, and the first Australian player to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

It will be Jackson’s first time with the Opals in nine years, and the first World Championships since Australia missed out on medals in 2010 at Czech Republic.

“Representing Australia means a whole lot more to me now than it did when I didn’t know anything else,” Jackson said.

“I often look back now and I think — did I take it for granted? — I must have.”

“The amount of emotions that I’ve had the last couple of months just wearing the green and gold, again representing Australia, it has really made me sort of think, wow, it really did mean a lot to you and you do take it for granted.”

Three women from the Australian Opals basketball squad, in blue shirts that read 'Australia' smile and laugh, holding a ball.
Jackson says her role in the Opals squad will be a mixture of experience, perspective and “just to be myself”.(ABC Sport: Damien Peck)

What’s old is new again in rebuilding Opals culture

At 41, Jackson is the most experienced player in the team, and 18 years older than the youngest member, Ezi Magbegor at 23, and said she ‘was old enough to be their mother’ on the day she was announced in her return to the squad.

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Jackson said while she’s feeling good about her body, the rebuild of the Opals off the court was just as important after the controversial departure of star centre Liz Cambage.

“For me it’s a bit of a ‘look after your body’ game at the moment and make sure that I don’t do anything that could jeopardise my physical presence or health,” she said.

“I think my role in that is probably just to be myself. I think bringing my experiences from like way back when, but also my perspective, I think that is probably more beneficial for the girls now than it would have been back then.

“And then also share mindset and different things. My input is more around who I am as an athlete and a person and hopefully I can help them. I just want to do what I can to help the girls win.

“I understand that I’m not the player that I used to be. I’m not as athletic, but I think that the minutes that I will play, they’ll be good minutes.”

Being able to share her wisdom from her time at the Opals, and assist new captain Tess Madgen, is a key element to passing on knowledge to younger players.

“I had so much anxiety when I was young and now just looking back on it, I wish that I had have just really embraced every single moment.

“I would say to myself to just embrace every moment like, don’t be afraid. Like everything works out, just go for it.

“I think just knowing how much of an incredible opportunity this is and being able to share that.

“I was really lucky I had such a successful career and to be back here is just mind boggling.”

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Lauren Jackson says there’s still a lot of stigma around medicinal cannabis

Medicinal cannabis could be beneficial for other athletes

Jackson said medicinal cannabis has “been incredible” for her chronic pain management, attributing an exemption as a way of returning to the court competitively.

It is currently prohibited from use while athletes are in competition in sport.

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