28 Jul
    11 Aug 2024

    Penny Taylor: Talking through a near 20-year FIBA journey

    MIES (Switzerland) - A legend of Australian basketball and the women's global game, FIBA Hall of Fame member Penny Taylor spent almost two decades balling in FIBA competition.

    MIES (Switzerland) - A legend of Australian basketball and the women's global game, FIBA Hall of Fame member Penny Taylor spent almost two decades balling in FIBA competition.

    Her trademark basketball IQ, skills and uber-competitiveness were on show from the late 1990's until Rio 2016. A three-time Olympian, she was MVP of the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup on the Opals' greatest ever night.

    Fresh from conducting the prestigious draw for the Women's Olympic Basketball Tournament Paris 2024 at the Patrick Baumann House of Basketball recently, Taylor has been taking us through her compelling FIBA journey. 

    Brazil 1997: Precious first steps on a global stage

    It's fair to say that Taylor's first global footsteps on the court in an Australia national team vest were a surprise to say the least. She had not even anticipated a potential selection for the FIBA World Championship for Junior Women in 1997 - let alone getting the call to go to Natal, Brazil, playing with ballers several years older and coming home with a silver medal. 

    She recalled: "My first FIBA experience in that Junior Championship was a whirlwind for me. I had not been part of the team. They had been preparing for three and a half years when I was added to my first camp.

    "I had been at the Australian Institute of Sport. It was my first year had I had been away from home and it was my first time with a really new experience. Then I was brought into this final camp. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just got there and did my best."

    "I REMEMBER CALLING MY PARENTS AND IT WAS LIKE - I HAVE MADE THIS TEAM AND WE'RE GOING TO BRAZIL."

     

    "I was naturally really competitive. I fought really hard. I remember being added to the team and I remember thinking I didn’t even know I was eligible. It had not even been a thought for me.

    "It was a really wild experience and I remember calling my parents and it was like 'I have made this team and we are going to Brazil'. It was all very exciting. It was mind blowing in a way as it had not been an option or even on my radar until that one camp."

    Even if she didn't make a huge splash numbers-wise in that debut competition, it was a FIBA youth event that played a significant role in helping to shape a young baller into a high-performing athlete. There's no doubt in Taylor's mind that the investment made in young players is a huge difference-maker in developing the next generation of global stars. 

    "MY GOAL SINCE I WAS JUST 4 YEARS OLD WAS TO PLAY FOR AUSTRALIA... HERE I WAS WEARING THE GREEN AND GOLD. I COULDN'T EVEN BELIEVE IT." - Penny Taylor-


    Taylor stressed: "I think that it is so important as those are the foundations of our entire program. The effort that the coaches give in developing those players for these events is invaluable going forward to them one day competing at the Olympics. It is exposure to the pressure.  It is exposure to the world. It is a great lesson in team building and goal setting and ways that you achieve those goals.

    "It is such and intense process. There is so much money and effort that goes into it. I think that the younger you are exposing people to that, the more it becomes normal and you have more experience going forward."

    She added: "Plus, the excitement of course. My goal since I was just four years old was to play for Australia and all of a sudden, here I was wearing the green and gold, I couldn’t even believe it. I had so many players that helped me through that process. We did so well. We were really competitive and had a well-rounded team. I just loved every part of it and it taught me so much."

    China 2002: Making a Splash on her FIBA Worlds debut

    If anyone had missed a super young Taylor treading the boards at youth level, nobody would miss her arrival and debut at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2002 in China.

    Still only 21-years-old, the forward helped the Opals land on the third podium step with a super haul of more than 13 points per game. She dropped a spectacular 29 points on the host nation and was one of only two Australian players to post a double-digit scoring return, the other being Lauren Jackson.  

    "I remember being a part of that team and just being so happy because Sandy (Brondello) had been somebody I had admired for so long, while Rachael Sporn was just the best leader," said Taylor. 

    When Taylor debuted at the 2002 Worlds it was alongside current Opals' coach Sandy Brondello

    "We had so many talented players and players who had played in the WNBA before I had even been drafted. It was an iconic moment for me to be surrounded by these players."

    "There was no pressure as I was young and nobody expected anything from me. I was just one of a great group of players. It was very unique to that one Worlds, because after that it quickly became more about expectations on mine and Lauren’s shoulders."

    Her first FIBA global competition at senior level and the performances she posted on Chinese soil also served as an awakening that she really was a top athlete and baller, ready to do great things.

    Australia and Taylor won the bronze medal at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2002

    "It was pretty special and it was a culmination of a lot of sacrifice throughout my childhood and throughout my teenage years," mused Taylor.

    "I was at that point in my early twenties where I had moved overseas permanently and all those things seemed to be worth it at that moment.

    "Basketball was now my career and it seems silly now but it was not always that option. It was special that we had represented our country and come so close to being the best in the world. It was something that was very humbling."

    Athens 2004: An Olympic silver debut to remember

    There was a sense of dejavu when Taylor was able to walk out at her first Olympic Games as she delivered another sparkling major tournament debut. Amazingly she scored double-digits in every single outing and dropped 16 points in the title game against USA as the Opals were edged out 74-63.

    "It was just so much fun. It was a joyous Olympics for me," smiled Taylor.

    "I felt like we had what it takes to win - especially that one. We had all those great players, we had the leadership, we had the youth, we had really skilled players, we had people willing to sacrifice for the team. I felt like we had that perfect recipe."

    "But obviously the United States were the pinnacle of what everyone wants to be. In that game we lost by 20 points (laughing) but we gave our best and maybe I was naive thinking we could win, but it was one of our best."

    Brazil 2006: An MVP delivering glorious Opals' gold 

    Any mention of what happened at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2006 and Taylor's eyes light up. It's palpable and understandably so. Unstoppable, she was on fire and catapulted Australia to their greatest moment as they captured the title for the first time.

    Crowned MVP, Taylor left her brilliant best until down the tournament stretch. She lit it up in spectacular fashion with 26 points in the Semi-Final success against Brazil, before sinking a stellar 28 points against Russia in the Final. 

    "It was incredibly special. It was everything I had always wanted," said Taylor.

    "To me winning is everything. I just remember thinking how we represented our country in the best way possible. It wasn’t really about anything other than winning for everyone. The team had that mindset.

    "We didn't have a lot of time to prepare, but it all just came together in the right way at the right time. We had a lot of luck obviously. I felt I was at the top of my game at that point having played multiple WNBA seasons and I had been in Europe for a couple of years. For me I felt I gained so much from international competition and I got to show it wearing my home country's colors."

    Beijing 2008: Another Olympic silver rush

    The 2008 Beijing Olympics proved to be bitter-sweet for Taylor, who had to pause for a note of frustration and regret at how things unfolded. Even if Australia landed another Final appearance and silver medal, it wasn't something to be enjoyed as she experienced a major personal setback for the first time on the big stage. 

    "That was pretty heart-breaking for me," confessed Taylor.

    "I rolled my ankle against Russia in the Quarter-Final and it was broken - like it was so broken. I had multiple fractures and ligaments and tendons all over the place.

    "I had been feeling great in that tournament, but it just didn’t plan out. Basketball has a lot to do with luck but I had bad luck in that tournament."

    Czech Republic 2010: Leaving empty handed, but no regrets

    There was a slight irony in that having actually won a medal in Beijing but not enjoyed it, the first time not taking a podium finish at a major event for Taylor didn't then feel quite as painful as it might have done so in other circumstances. 

    Australia endured the rare experience of being left empty-handed at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2010 in Czech Republic. An inspired host nation made their run to the title game against USA and knocked out the Opals' in the Quarter-Finals.

    "We still had a great team and maybe even had a better team that we had ever had," said Taylor.

    "With Liz (Cambage) and Lauren (Jackson) and myself, we had players coming through like Jenna O’Hea and we still had Kristi Harrower, but it just didn’t work out. We played  a really good team on that night who were playing their best game ever in front of their home crowd and it all went right for them.

    "I mean I was devastated about it and upset for our coaching staff and everything but I didn’t think we weren’t a good team or didn’t play well. They just played out of their minds better than us on that night. I can probably resolve that better now than I did at the time because I was so disappointed. But nobody missed for them, so credit to them."

    Turkey 2014: Bouncing back on the big stage

    After the agony of missing the London 2012 Olympics with an ACL injury, Taylor returned to prominence and top gear with a sublime display at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2014. Back to her brilliant best, she guided the Opals to a bronze medal and landed herself a place in the Tournament All-Star Five. 

    “We had a funny lead-up to that when Lauren (Jackson) wasn’t playing and Liz (Cambage) tore her ACL a week or two before the tournament," recalled Taylor.

    "So, we had to all of a sudden change the way we played and ours plays. We had to look at things completely different because we were missing our 6ft 8in center all of a sudden. I think that really brought the team together with a lot of resolve to fight for each other.

    "I had come back from a devastating ACL injury and I didn’t even think I would ever get back to this level. I had four surgeries and was really struggling. But here I was at the Worlds and really determined to lead the team and to help get the best possible result we could.

    "We had such great contributions across the board. I remember (Marianna) Tolo really stepping up and taking on the role that Liz had missed out on. We had some great up and coming contributions as well.

    "It was a big turn of the page for us but I am as proud of that team as I am of any others. Maybe it wasn’t a silver or a gold, but that tournament was just as rewarding," insisted Taylor.

    Rio 2016: A FIBA Farewell



    At the Rio 2016 Olympics, it was time for Taylor to step out for her swansong and by her own admission, it wasn't quite the fairytale ending that she might have hoped for as the Opals exited to newcomers Serbia in the Quarter-Finals with a 73-71 heartbreaker.  Although she did still show her elite level skills and influence with a stunning 31 points in an earlier matchup against France.

    "That was a tough tournament and I feel like we weren’t at our best," she confessed.

    "We almost lost our first three games except for that one against France. We were trailing to Japan and struggled against Brazil. We were having a really hard tournament and finding ourselves and getting to the level we needed to be at."

    "So in a lot of ways it wasn’t surprising that we ended up losing to Serbia as we weren’t as good as we should have been. For whatever reason it just felt like we weren't as 'Opals' as we had been in the past," concluded Taylor.

    Yet despite Australia missing out on a medal and Taylor's own reflections on falling short, there were many fans globally who were paying homage to one of the true women's basketball greats as the curtain came down on her awesome career.

    You can check out Penny Taylor's FIBA Hall of Fame Entry last year here.

     FIBA

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