The connection? All proud Aussies.
Back in 2001, Lauren Jackson was just the start of a wave of Australians who came crashing down into the WNBA and NBA. Bogut followed and so did Penny Taylor. Eventually ballers got so nice Down Under that we put an Australian on the cover.
Jackson and Taylor didn’t just make waves in the W. With a combined five championships, ten All-Star appearances and three MVPs for LJ, they created a tsunami that went all the way back to the motherland and scooped up the next group of Aussies to make it in America.
Rebecca Allen is the latest to come west. Allen is a 6-2 forward with a canon on her shooting arm and a motor that never stops running when she’s on the court. The 22-year-old says that desire for competition was picked up a long time ago from watching those that came before her.
“As Australians, we’ve always prided ourselves on defense,” Allen says. “That’s always been our mantra. We know that sometimes there’s gonna be teams individually better skilled in some spots on the court, but if we’re good defending all sets individually, help defense, that’ll give us that edge.”
Makes sense when you watch Taylor boxout and take elbows to the dome. Or when you see the way Bogut and Delly never stop fighting for the ball–a part of their game that has gotten them labeled as “dirty” by a few people.
But it’s the way that–with the exception of Simmons and Exum, who were both blessed with a whole lotta bunnies–the Australians have made it to the States. They’re tough, gritty and they refuse to back down.
After Allen spoke with SLAM, she took a nice hit to the face from Connecticut Sun superstar Chiney Ogwumike. She walked away with a bloody nose but got right back out onto the court.
Allen’s not gonna waste her time here. She played six years (she went pro at 16!) in Australia’s WNBL and earned a contract with the Liberty in 2015. After a knee injury shortened her ’15 rookie campaign, Allen joined the Liberty in late June to take full advantage of living out her dream.
“As a 16-year-old, to play WNBL, that was massive,” Allen says. “Then you realize, ‘Ok, I’ve done that.’ Now I wanna make the WNBA, I wanna play for Australia. All those. Of course, this is definitely a big goal.”
Allen did play for Australia in 2014, which is where she watched Taylor and Erin Phillips everyday, seeing firsthand just how hard she had to worked.
“All three of them are really hard workers,” the youngin’ says about vets Jackson, Taylor and Phillips. “Whenever you’re training against them, you need to bring your A-game. That’s how you get better.
“It’s funny because I always knew of Penny, I knew how amazing she was but it wasn’t really until I was playing with her about two years ago at world’s, where I was like, ‘Wow, she’s just a smart player.’”
Allen says she soaked up as much knowledge as she could from the older Opals that summer. The Opals are big on being together as a team, a culture driven by the vets. She says she see that same camaraderie and unity in her Liberty squad this year.
“The thing that I find similar is that we all get on really well,” Allen says about her two teams. “That’s what makes the Opals such a great team, is that everyone at the moment in that culture really clicks.
“Here it’s the same. When you’ve got a team that really gets on well on and off the court, that’s when something really special can happen in terms of a championship. That’s why I’m really enjoying coming here.”
Adding to that enjoyment has been the rise in that list of Aussie players coming over.
“We’re all here! That’s the thing that’s really exciting, is that it’s becoming bigger for Australians to get a spot on a team over here,” Allen says.
“As a young kid, my mom, for my birthday, asked [Jackson] to sign a photo,” Allen says. “That was on my wall for years.”
If all goes well, some kid is gonna say the same thing about Allen one day.