THE world’s best female basketballer, Lauren Jackson, says pausing her WNBA career to try to win an Olympic gold medal feels more like a compulsion than a sacrifice.
Jackson will skip the first half of next year’s US season to spend three months preparing with the Opals for the July-August London Olympic Games.
Basketball Australia (BA) hope the entire Australian team will follow their captain’s lead, as the Opals try to add a first Olympic gold medal to three consecutive silvers.
Read more: Other Aussie athletes targetting the Olympic Games
It is no small move for Jackson.
She was the WNBA’s most valuable player for the third time last year.
She then capped a stunning team and individual season by also becoming finals MVP as she helped Seattle to a championship for the second time.
But Jackson said while that experience was extremely special, Olympic gold would top it.
“The one thing I really haven’t done in my career is get a gold medal at the Olympic Games. It may be my last opportunity,” the 29-year-old Jackson told AAP.
“Seattle Storm have been my priority for the past 11 years, they’ll be my priority straight after the Olympics for probably the rest of my career.
“But this is something that I had to do.”
While the Storm support her, Jackson said she would not have let the club stand in her way.
“Even if they said to me tomorrow `we don’t want you back,’ it would be like, `well, that’s too bad, I’ll go somewhere else’,” she said.
While Jackson is the first to commit to BA’s preparation plan, she expects her fellow Opals stars to follow.
However, the superstar admitted younger players still establishing themselves overseas would find it tougher.
Fellow Opal Penny Taylor of the Phoenix Mercury is a WNBA star, but youngsters Liz Cambage and Jenna O’Hea will be in the early stages of their American careers in 2012.
The likes of Belinda Snell, Erin Phillips and Tully Bevilaqua could also jeopardise their contracts if they tried to force a similar situation to Jackson.
But Jackson said it would pay off in improvements in the Opals’ team chemistry, physical preparation and freshness.
And while the USA, who have downed Australia in the past three Olympic finals, will again be favourites, she believes the Opals are talented enough to upstage them.
“They’re the best, everybody knows that, we’re the underdogs,” she said.
“But I think that we have a very, very special group of kids coming through and a very special group of older veterans who have been around and that’s quite a scary mix.”