‘Local Opal’ eyes Olympics

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Lechelle Earl, owner/editor

‘Local Opal’ eyes Olympics

One of the OneFortyOne Pioneers is set to star as a member of the Australian Opals squad selected in the lead up to the Paris Olympics.

Zitina Aokuso has been selected in the 26-player Australian Opals squad, prior to the games kicking off in July.

Aokuso, who plays for the OneFortyOne Pioneers in the NBL1 South conference, has been selected to participate in training camps, tours and fixtures both domestically and internationally against other Olympic-bound countries in the lead-up to the games.

Affectionately known as “Z”, Aokusa joined the Pioneers last year as a 193cm power forward described as an “excitement machine”.

She grew up in Brisbane and made her international debut for the Gems at the 2016 FIBA Under-018 Oceania Championship in Suva, Fiji.

Australia took home the gold, and Aokuso herself was named MVP for the gold medal game.

Twenty-four-year-old Aokuso is a 2018 WBNL champion with the Townsville Fire, WBNL Sixth Woman of the Year in 2020 and an Asian Cup bronze medallist with the Opals in 2021.

She has been described by The Inner Sanctum as developing to be one of Australia’s “best bigs” and in her NBL1 career with the Melbourne Tigers and Ballarat Miners, Aokuso averaged a solid 16.58 points per game, shooting at 47.17% from the floor and an impressive 9.75 rebounds and 3.61 assists per game.

Head Coach Matt Sutton Aokusa had a “strong interior presence on both ends; she has a lot of high-level experience”.

Basketball Australia last week announced the Seven Consulting Australian Opals squad for this year’s Paris Olympic Games, with Aokuso named in the squad in the lead up to the games which begin on July 26.

The final-12 player team for Paris will be chosen from the extended squad.

The squad features 14 combined Olympic Games appearances, 11 members of the FIBA 2022 World Cup team which won a bronze medal as well as young guns Jade Melbourne and Isobel Borlase who helped the Opals qualify for Paris at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in February.

There are also 17 players who competed in the 2023-24 Cygnett WNBL season and a strong contingent of athletes currently playing in Europe including Tokyo Olympians Marianna Tolo and Ezi Magbegor.

Chloe Bibby was this month crowned Polish League MVP.

The Olympic draw conducted by Opals legend and former Australian captain Penny Taylor in Switzerland has Australia grouped in Pool B alongside host nation France, Canada and Nigeria.

Opals Head Coach Sandy Brondello said selecting the squad was an important step in preparations for Paris.

“It’s always an exciting time to announce an Olympic squad and I congratulate all the athletes. They all know what it means to play for Australia, and they all want the opportunity to represent their country at an Olympics,” Brondello said.

“Our squad is full of exceptional talent, and they will make the decision to pick a final 12 very difficult. We have Canada, Nigeria and France in our pool, so we are focused on that and what is required to get onto the podium.”

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