Brooks banks on a brilliant FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournaments roller-coaster
MIES (Switzerland) - Serbian legend Jelena Brooks has revealed the exciting mix of elation and nervous tension that she expects to flow at the FIBA Women's OIympic Qualifying Tournaments 2024.
Having played her part in conducting the draw in at home for her in Sopron, Hungary, the two-time Olympian is acutely aware of the contrast and mix of emotions that are in store - even if she's hung up her international game shoes.
"FANS ARE HAPPY AND EXCITED ABOUT WHICH TEAMS ARE COMING TO THEIR CITIES... BUT ON THE OTHER SIDE FOR PLAYERS, IT CAN BE NERVE-WRACKING." - Jelena Brooks.
"We had USA, Nigeria, and Mozambique and it was really tough. Maybe at the beginning after the draw we thought, okay we have two countries from Africa and we should be fine, but then no, it was not as easy as we thought it would be.
"Now fans are happy and excited about which teams are coming to their cities and who they are going to be able to watch. But on the other side for players, it can be nerve-wracking thinking - 'I am really close to the Olympics but could end up in the one spot in the group who doesn't make it'.
"So it's a big pressure for everybody, but I am really looking forward to watching it," added Brooks.
The forward was one of her nation's leaders in what turned out to be a fairytale story of the struggle to success for Serbia, with Olympic history woven through the main chapters.
"We have some great memories, including winning our first FIBA Women's EuroBasket title in 2015, when that took us directly to the 2016 Rio Olympics so we didn't have to go through the Qualifying Tournaments.
"I remember us going there and being amazed by everything at the Athlete's Village and not focusing on what we had come for and just not thinking much about basketball at all.
"I remember we started 0-3 and then waking up a little bit later, we made it all the way to the bronze medal. But the experience with the team, meeting athletes from all over the world was just really amazing."
A maiden Olympics outing for Serbia was an incredible new achievement in itself for a proud basketball nation. But Brooks was also instrumental in Serbia getting to stand on that third step of the podium and it was a difference-maker in terms of cutting through into the mainstream in her homeland.
"Playing at the Olympics for the first time definitely brought a lot of new things to women's basketball in Serbia," she mused.
"WHOEVER MAKES IT TO PARIS 2024, IT WILL BE GREAT BASKETBALL TO WATCH AND I KNOW PEOPLE ARE GOING TO ENJOY IT." - Jelena Brooks
"Until then, we were barely on the European map, let alone the world map. But after going to Rio all the girls in Serbia started to play basketball, and all the media and all social media followed us. Plus, the fan base went crazy with thousands and thousands of new followers every day.
"We put Serbia on the global map and then we put our names on the list of important people in Serbia and everyone started following and cheering for us."
Retiring from national team duties after Tokyo 2020, it was the Olympics that also ended up being the last page written for Brooks in a Serbia jersey. Although she was honest enough to concede it did feel a little like unfinished business.
"I mean there is a little bit of sadness there because we ended it coming up short, We were almost able to win another bronze, but we ended up fourth," conceded Brooks.
"That was the toughest summer of my entire national team career. It was not easy on anybody and at the end of the day, I am really proud of what we achieved as a team and what I have been through with my teammates for so many years.
"Now looking back there is some sadness as I said, but also happiness that I have friends for life and memories that will forever be in my heart."
Now it's all about looking forward to Paris 2024 from the sidelines as a supporter although some things never change, and that is USA being the runaway favorites.
"Honestly? If the USA shows up with their 'A-Team' as they usually do in women's basketball, I don't think someone can come close to beating them," smiled Brooks.
"But someone can maybe make it an interesting game for 30 minutes. That is how it was with my own experience when playing against them. I remember once we we played in 2014 at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup and we were leading by three points with five minutes to go until the end of the game and yet we lost by 20.
"However, I am still looking forward to firstly seeing who will make it to Paris. Then I want teams not to give up when they play USA, but to go with it and go full force. You never know, maybe you can catch USA on a bad day and not at their best level.
"It will be interesting whoever makes it to the Paris Olympics and it will be great basketball to watch and I know people are going to enjoy it," she concluded.