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Lauren Jackson officially back in international basketball

FILE - Australia's Lauren Jackson (15) drives to the basket as Russia's Irina Osipova (12) defends during a women's bronze medal basketball game at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012, in London. Jackson is savoring every minute of her basketball comeback, in 2022, even though the battle-tested Australian hoops icon knows she can't do things that once captivated fans before retiring from the sport in 2016. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

SYDNEY (AP) — As expected, Lauren Jackson has been named on her fifth FIBA World Cup roster for Australia in her comeback to international basketball.

Not so expected were the tears that came when the 41-year-old Jackson was officially informed of her place in the 12-player team by head coach Sandy Brondello. It came 10 months after a comeback to the sport and as a mother of two boys.

“There were a lot of emotions when Sandy rang me, I had a bit of a cry to be honest,” Jackson said Wednesday. “I have been working my body hard, and I didn’t honestly know if it was going to hold up to my intense training regime, but it has and I’m feeling good.”

Bec Allen and Cayla George will return for their third World Cup appearance, Marianna Tolo, Steph Talbot, Sami Whitcomb, Tess Madgen and Ezi Magbegor will return for their second and Sara Blicavs, Darcee Garbin, Anneli Maley and Kristy Wallace will make their debuts.

The team is filled with international experience, with Allen (New York Liberty), Magbegor (Seattle Storm), Whitcomb (New York Liberty), Wallace (Atlanta Dream) and Talbot (Seattle) all currently playing in the WNBA.

The Opals are aiming to add to their past stellar World Cup performances, having won silver in 2018, bronze in 2014 and gold in 2006.

The third-ranked Opals have been drawn in Group C, with pool matches against France, Serbia, Japan, Mali and Canada in the tournament scheduled for Sept. 22-Oct. 1 in Sydney.

Brondello will lead the Opals for the second time as head coach after guiding the team to its silver in 2018. She said she was faced with some tough selection decisions.

“Making the final cut to 12 is always difficult with so many great athletes pushing for selection” Brondello said. “The training camp in New York demonstrated how much each of these athletes wanted to compete on home soil, the competition for a spot on the team was fierce.”

“Of course, the inclusion of Lauren is the talking point but from my perspective, she has put in the work and deserves to be here, she will add another dimension to our team dynamic.”

Jackson, a four-time WNBA MVP, said she is stronger than when she played for Seattle and helped the the Storm win two championships. She also won league titles in Australia, Spain and Russia as well as three Olympic silver medals and one bronze,

She retired from playing in 2016 after knee injuries derailed her career. She had hoped to compete in the Olympics that year, but an ACL injury ended that dream. She stopped playing in the WNBA in 2012, walking away as one of the best players in league history.

Jackson had no intentions of playing again competitively after having a partial replacement of her right knee and dealing with the ACL tear that was followed by a staph infection.

“I get so emotional talking about this,” Jackson told The Associated Press during the training camp in New York. “I never thought I’d represent Australia again.”

On Wednesday, Jackson said she felt “at home” with the current team.

“The age difference disappears as soon as I step onto the court,” Jackson said. “I believe in this team and what we can achieve, if I can play a part if getting us onto the podium then the hard work is all worthwhile.”