A lot of big names didn’t turn up when FIBA’s World Championship for Men began in Turkey last month, opting instead to get the rest they needed ahead of the new NBA season. As for their female counterparts? All present and correct in the Czech Republic.

And that’s despite a gruelling summer schedule that has seen some of the more recognisable stars arrive directly from the WNBA Finals – only linking up with their compatriots 24 hours before the tournament began on Thursday.

Some didn’t even land with their luggage in tow. But that baggage calamity didn’t affect Australia’s Lauren Jackson who grabbed 13 points and 7 rebounds as the Opals began the defence of the Women’s World Championship title they lifted in Brazil four years ago with a 72-47 rout of Canada.

(FIBA Archive)

The best player on the planet isn’t going to just be satisfied with the WNBA title she picked up last week. But Aussie coach Carrie Graf is clearly going to pick her moments on the floor in order to keep her star in prime condition.

“We’ve got to have a long-term view here,” said Graf. “In a perfect world, we’d have our players in every single game of the championships but we won’t risk key people early if we don’t need to.

“We’ll suit everybody up for every game, but if we get a chance to rest players in certain games, we will.”

Jackon’s club colleagues, Sue Bird and Swin Cash, have similar wear-and-tear issues on a United States team which lost to the short-handed Australians in the lead-up to the event. Minus the injured Candace Parker, the USA looks vulnerable two years after grinding out an Olympic gold medal. Transition, rather than domination, may be their challenge.

“The next four years could see a turnaround,” Hall of Famer Cheryl Miller told MVP. “The USA have been at the top for a while now but that gap is closing. Australia feel that they’ve been at the top for a while now and that they have the best shot. There are going to be some battles to see who the number one team will be.”

The USA has some impressive new blood in the post-Lisa Leslie era. Angel McCoughtry, who helped the States to gold in the 2007 Pan American Games, was stellar in the Atlanta Dream’s shock run to the WNBA Finals. Taurasi has two more years of experience to her name since Beijing even if the absence of Parker is a big loss.

“There’s people where you say, ‘Boy, I wish they were here’,” said USA head coach Geno Auriemma “But they’re not.

“That’s going to give some other players an opportunity that they might not have gotten if those other players were here. So, we have a good group. I like my team, and I think we’re going to be really good.”

Others, such as 2006 runners-up Russia, Brazil and the Czech hosts, will hope to contend as well. But just two weeks after the USA’s men won the ‘other’ world championships, the sister show wants to make some noise of its own.

“It’s just really taken off,” argues Miller. “When I played collegiately and internationally, there were in only a few universities that stood out. Now there’s parity. The media coverage for women’s basketball has been sensational.

“From 1996 onwards there’s been an explosion. There are so many talented women, not just from the US, but internationally.”

Fatigued or not, this is their time to shine.

Watch every game from the FIBA World Championships. Click here for more information.

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