Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor (AUS)
Paulo Kennedy's view from Downunder
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Family keeps superstars grounded and strong

MELBOURNE (Paulo Kennedy's View from Downunder) - Anyone who comes across Penny Taylor can't help but notice her sunny disposition.

Walking out after her latest win with the Dandenong Rangers, Taylor stops for numerous photos, interrupts a private phone call to sign a young girl's singlet and breaks off her chat with a friend to arrange an interview with a journo she's never met - all without the slightest hint of complaint.

According to new Opals teammate Tessa Lavey, that is just business as usual for the blonde superstar.

"I roomed with Penny Taylor for two and a half weeks, so I got an insight into a professional athlete and I'll base what I do in the future on her," she said.

"It's just incredible how professional they are on and off the floor, everyone asks for photos and not once were they annoyed."

After the 2013 FIBA Oceania Championship game in Canberra, Lauren Jackson stayed around for what seemed like hours greeting fans. She similarly delighted young fans in Melbourne last weekend after her Caps had beat the Boomers.

Taylor and Jackson are truly superstars of world basketball, but they are also incredibly grounded for athletes who have garnered so much acclaim in Europe and the USA.

I feel very fortunate to have chatted in depth with both players over the past few weeks and find out their touching stories about family.

"A huge part of me coming back was to spend time with my family," Taylor said of her WNBL return. 

"I was really lucky to be here when my dad needed me and to help him through his illness."

In essence, Taylor came home to help her father die in peace and help her family deal with such an immense loss.

"Him passing away in December was devastating, but I'm glad I was able to be here for him," she said.

"He could see me play here in Australia, which he was happy about and he hadn't been able to do for a long time."

Listening to the positive way Penny speaks about such a tragedy is a life lesson in itself, and it turns out it isn't the first time she's had to face this situation.

"They say everything happens for a reason and my injury (in 2012) came at a time when my mum was suffering from cancer and I was able to be here with her at that time because of my ACL," she said.

"I'm really thankful I got that time with both of them and was able to be a help to them and they were able to help me through it too.

"You have to look at that silver lining though and that for me is I'll always cherish those memories from the last few months of their lives."

Jackson hasn't had to face those demons yet, but her parents have had an incredible impact on her life and playing career.

"My parents were awesome, they kept me grounded. Whenever I did act really petulant on court, mum would grab me and say: 'Australian basketballers don't act like that,'" Jackson laughed.

"Mum and dad had that conversation with me a few times because I was a real little so-and-so."

While Jackson's basketball story has been one of globetrotting, it turns out this didn't come easy.

"My whole life when I was younger I had a lot of separation anxiety from my mum. I really struggled going on rep trips," she said candidly.

And all through LJ's remarkable career, her mother Maree has never been too far away.

"My whole career, if anything's gone wrong, my mum's been on the first plane over there, she's been the first person to say your body's (struggling), you've got to stop," she said. 

"To be able to have my parents come, especially when things go wrong, it's just been a Godsend, because there's no way I would have been as successful as I've been without them."

Taylor was introduced to basketball by her parents at age four, and they channelled their kids' competitive streaks into a love of the game.

"I carry a lot of that with me still now when I play, that fun side of it where you're just so excited to play," she said.

"I'd always played basketball, my sister played and my brother played and it was just my passion."

Jackson's competitive streak has always been off the charts, right from when she debuted as a four-year-old in the U10s.

"I wasn't very good because I was so much younger than everyone else, but I did have a chip on my shoulder right from an early age, and I think I got my attitude from my mother," she said.

"When I was really young and I'd just get the ball at any cost, I didn't worry about steamrolling them or anything."

The former WNBA champion and FIBA World Championship for Women title holder in 2006 admits that mean streak still gets the better of her occasionally, but not for long if her parents are around.

"They still pull me into line if they think I'm doing things wrong," she laughed.

But this pair don't really need pulling into line, they are as good a role models as you will ever meet - talented, hard-working, unselfish, with a broad perspective and a genuine care for the game.

If you have young daughters or nieces, I highly recommend taking them to a Canberra or Dandenong game and staying around after the final buzzer.

The experience will stay with your girls long after they've left the stadium, Jackson and Taylor will truly treat them like members of their basketballing family.

Paulo Kennedy


FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.

FIBA takes no responsibility and gives no guarantees, warranties or representations, implied or otherwise, for the content or accuracy of the content and opinion expressed in the above article.

Paulo Kennedy

Paulo Kennedy

Paulo has joined our team of columnists with a weekly column called 'The View from Downunder', where he looks at pertinent issues in the world of basketball from an Oceania perspective, perhaps different to the predominant points of view from columnists in North America and Europe.