Australian basketball great Lauren Jackson is baffled by Liz Cambage’s decision to skip a national team camp in favour of a music festival, saying it goes against the Opals’ long-standing culture.
Cambage was on Sunday night dropped from the squad for practice clashes with Japan this week and next month’s 2016 Rio Olympic qualifiers against New Zealand after missing training in Melbourne at the weekend.
Basketball Australia (BA) agreed to give the star centre Saturday off, but needed her to attend Sunday’s session to get medical clearance following her 10-month layoff recovering from a ruptured achilles tendon.
The 23-year-old instead stayed in Byron Bay for Splendour in the Grass.
“I’m baffled,” four-time Olympic medallist and friend Jackson told AAP.
“I’ve played on that team for 20 years and nobody has ever done that.
“I don’t know what the real reason is; I just hope that whatever reason she’s chosen to be there is just as important as what an Olympic gold medal is – because this is preparation for it.
“Is it disrespectful? Maybe. To some of the girls, they may take offence to that and it’s probably letting a lot of people down.”
Cambage was due to arrive back in Melbourne on Monday, the day of the Opals’ first of three warm-ups against Japan across Victoria.
She told News Corp Australia she was at Splendour as a paid “host” for a band and only went because of uncertain timing over the camp and Japan games.
She said she wanted nothing more than to play the Opals’ Rio Games qualifier against the Tall Ferns in her home town on August 15 at a sold-out Rod Laver Arena.
“I’ve been doing everything I can to keep everyone happy,” she told the Herald Sun.
“I am devastated as anyone who knows how much I love representing my country. But I am a person that does not pull out of things, whether it’s a professional commitment, a personal commitment or as a basketballer for my country.”
Jackson, who was at camp continuing rehabilitation on her injured knee, backed BA’s call and said she hoped it provided a steep learning curve for Cambage.
“I don’t think Liz expected them to be this heavy handed on her, but they have to be because there’s other people that would do anything to be on this team,” she said.
“That’s how she’s got to look at it in the future, and who she’s letting down.
“I love Liz, I think she’s an absolutely great person … and I’d do anything for her. But it’s just one of those things where you’ve got these girls training their butts off and they’re really giving their everything.
“No one player is bigger than the sport itself – that’s the culture that we’ve always had, and that’s what’s been so great about the Opals.”
Coach Brendan Joyce said he was both disappointed and surprised by Cambage’s move, given the amount of time and money BA had spent on helping get her back into the national set-up.
It made the call to cut her from the 16-strong squad “pretty easy”.
“We haven’t been emotional about it – it’s a decision that had to be made, not only for Liz but for the team,” he told AAP.
“Liz has been fully abreast of her responsibilities and what’s required, not only from the cultural point of view but also the medical side of it.”