Australian basketballer Liz Cambage will be playing for her second title in as many years as a professional in the WNBL with Bulleen this weekend. The Boomers, current defending champions, are taking on the Dandenong Rangers in the league's Grand Final (Saturday at 11 p.m. ET, Sunday at 3 p.m. AEDT) at the Cage in Melbourne.
The Boomers bring the Thunder
In her down time in competing with the Boomers, Cambage takes in some NBA basketball during the day when she's at home. She has an eye on one team in particular, that she happened to be in close proximity to during her WNBA season in Tulsa.
"They're going for the big one, they're going for the championship," Cambage said via Skype this week. "They're going to handle it. This season has been so full on and they've got those young limbs unlike some of the old ones running around out there."
If you haven't figured out what young limbed team she is referring to, it's the West-leading Oklahoma City Thunder. Perhaps it's no coincidence that this is the team she likes to make a run in the NBA. Her own Boomer team is has quite a few young limbs on it, too. So is Bulleen the WNBL's version of the Thunder?
"I like to think so - the young guns of the league, learning and up coming," Cambage said to cap off our interview.
From champions to young guns in the course of a calendar year isn't usually a recipe for success. But although her team is defending champs, it doesn't feel quite like the same juggernaut that ran through the 2011 season after a roster overhaul. With multiple players retiring, Bulleen only has four women back from their title team (Cambage, Alice Kunek, Rachel Jarry, Lauren Pearce) - with Cambage being one of the young, but seasoned players.
Age is just a number
This transition season made for lessened expectations of another championship due to the personnel changes, or at least as a team.
"I feel personally there's always expectations on me. But as a team, not really," Cambage said. "I think 90 percent of our team retired and moved on after the season last year. You know, it was a really special thing and this season we've got such a new group and young girls, it's really just been a development year. Just learning and playing hard."
That development year has resulted in a 15-7 record and a run back to the Grand Final after knocking off the leader of the ladder, Adelaide, in the semis. In that game Cambage played a big role to the victory, dropping in 29 points on 13-of-18 shooting, and adding nine rebounds and three blocks. Some might even say she played the role of a veteran, despite her youth.
"Some days I forget (my age)," Cambage said. "When people think I'm 25 or 26 I'm like whoa hold up. Still just a pup. But that's how I kind of look at myself as one of the vets in the squad.
"I think our average age in our team is 22 and having the second most experience behind our point guard Sammi Richards. But if I'm not having a good game Sammi or Rachel (Jarry) will step up. Alice Kunek will step up and have a good game. There hasn't been always that pressure on me because someone else will always have a good game."
But against the Rangers, Bulleen hasn't needed another player to step up yet this season as Liz is averaging 23 points and 13 rebounds in three contests. Bulleen has finished as the victors each of their three meetings, but that doesn't mean Cambage is taking this one easy.
"Finals are completely different than season games and you've just got to take it - it's a normal game, but it's still do or die. You've got to put it all out on the floor and walk away knowing that you've done that. We have beat them three times, but it means nothing.
"We've had a few losses this season, but being such a young group they didn't really feel like losses. They felt like learning curves. Losses is what teaches you how to win I guess, because you see everything you need to improve on."
For the Americans out there, this Grand Final is close to home for Cambage, literally. The all-Melbourne final is something that hasn't been seen in the league since 1987 when current Bulleen head coach Tom Maher earned his first WNBL coach of the year award and his wife Robyn was playing. These two sides apparently have quite a rivalry going on, despite the fact that they're facing off with friends and national team teammates on the other bench.
"I guess it would be like a New York - the Knicks vs. Nets grand final," Cambage said as an example. "Yeah, it's hard because Jenna O'Hea's in Dandenong and she's my good friend. I played my juniors at Dendenong but just something deep down inside just makes you hate the rival city team.
"We do agility training and we lift together, so I saw her yesterday and I saw one of her teammates this morning at the gym. You can't escape each other. I felt so awkward together. I pass Jenna's house all the time and our families are close. Our parents will be sitting together at the Grand Final and that's just awkward."
Practice with the opposition, you say with a start? Well, after this season is over O'Hea and Cambage along with 22 others will be competing with the Opals, and from there vying for a spot on the 2012 London Olympic team. And as you can see, the Opals are already preparing for the summer games.
"We do running out on the track," Cambage said. "We do agility and fitness together and then we get into the gym and we do weights together and fitness sessions together. We're already in the swing of things and our first camp is in a couple of weeks. We're off and to the races.
"I'm not really sure what Team USA does but we're still missing a few of our girls to Europe. Our first camp they weren't back I don't think, but it's good that we get so much time together this season. We get to gel and just really get to know each other on and off the court."
If Cambage makes the final Olympic roster, she'll be heading back to her birthplace for the Olympics. London, a place that she loves for the people and places, is not high on her list when it comes to the weather.
"I can think of a couple other places I would like to have it. London is cold. And even though it's the summer Olympics I'm not expecting too much (from the weather)," Cambage said. "I feel like once you've been to London you've seen it all. I can't wait to go back. London is so much fun and the people are great. They're like Australia's second cousins."
The Aussie side will have a tough test if they hope to unseat the four-time defending champions from the USA and a sneak attack might be their modus operandi.
"You Americans, when you get together you're pretty unbeatable," she said of the US team. "We've got to work really hard together and try and be sneaky Australians at the Olympics, I guess."
WNBA in 2012?
And after the Olympics, Cambage will yet again have a big decision to make regarding the WNBA. After being drafted by the Tulsa Shock less than a calendar year ago, she'll yet again be making a big decision about the second half of the WNBA season.
"We'll just see how my body heals up after the Olympics and then I'll make a decision. I hope to come back too. I'm missing the WNBA and everyone in Tulsa."