Laura Hodges: “This is the Ultimate”

When Laura Hodges says every spot on the Opals roster is important she isn’t speaking in platitudes, she is talking from experience.

In almost 14 years with the Opals program, Hodges has played near every role in the team from being a young role player off the bench to being the team’s sixth man and in more recent years a starting forward and lynchpin of the side.

“I’ve played on a lot of different teams and there is always the unknown but that’s the fun about it, learning what your role is and being able to adapt to a role,” Hodges said.

“Every role in a team is important whether you’re that main player who plays all the minutes or the last player on the bench - everyone has a vital role in the team because it’s a team game.

“That’s 12 players and all the staff - they are all really, really important.”

The 31 year old forward made her Opals debut as a teenager and has remained ever present.

With each coach and each generation of players the team changes in good and bad ways and in this current group she sees plenty of drive and potential, especially after the team’s bronze medal win at the 2014 FIBA women’s world championship which came after the team lost Lauren Jackson and Liz Cambage to injury before they reached the tournament.

“I’m 31 now but I’m still setting goals and trying to improve my game and there has been so many new girls who I have got to play with when I’m usually playing against them,” Hodges said.

“When you work with a variety of different people it keeps you motivated and keeps you young even when you are getting older - I just feel very fortunate because you don’t know how long you can play for your country or even play the sport you love at the elite level.”

After playing in three Olympics, the WNBA, Europe and the WNBL - Hodges has seen almost everything in basketball.

But she will get another new experience on Saturday night when the Opals and Boomers play New Zealand in a double-header of Olympic qualifying games at Rod Laver Arena.

The game is close to a sell out so near 15,000 supporters should be packed into the stadium to watch both national teams play.

For someone who saw the bright lights at Olympic basketball in Athens, Beijing and London, Hodges said playing in front of a bumper Australian crowd would be major career highlight.

“For their first time it will be an amazing opportunity for the younger girls to experience this sort of atmosphere,” Hodges said.

“And for myself this is the ultimate - playing for your country in front of your family and friends and people that are cheering for you.

“It’s really rare and for us it’s pretty special.

“Even playing the three games against Japan [in Melbourne earlier this month] was so nice because we could go out to Frankston, to Dandenong and Ballarat and have those great crowds and atmosphere.”

Since taking charge of the Opals after the London Olympics, Opals coach Brendan Joyce was quickly won over by Hodges’ smarts at both ends of the court and used her prominently in last year’s world championships as she has the athleticism to get up and down the court along with the experience to execute offences and make key plays.

Hodges said each coach has taught her something new and working under new orders refreshed her.

“When you get a new coach they give you little thing they think you can work on,” Hodges said.

“I love being able to adapt to new things and have been enjoying my basketball in the last few years.

“I really enjoy training still and getting out to play - that’s the key because if you enjoy it then you can still improve.”Hodges has kept reminding her younger teammates that despite the Tall Ferns fielding a young, little known side, they still had to be treated with the utmost respect.

“I think whenever you go out there against any national team then you have to respect them and with New Zealand we have always had great games against them,” Hodges said.

“We will have to be focused the whole team, they have a lot of young talent but so do we.

“You can’t let a minute go past and relax - you can’t think of the end result before you go through the process.

“We have been doing a lot of hard work and playing practise games, mentally we have to be there for every second of the game.”

Hodges doesn’t want to talk too much about the prospects of playing at the Rio Olympics although if as expected the Opals seal their place in Rio sometime on Monday night, her tune will change rather quickly.

“The most important thing is to qualify,” Hodges said.

“We have always had players who play in the qualifying series and then miss out on the Olympics or world championships but I classify this as just as important as that because if you don’t get there then 34 girls don’t get to try out for the Olympic team next year.”

The Opals play New Zealand Tall Ferns at Rod Laver Arena tonight and then the return leg in New Zealand on Monday night.

Author of the article

After leading my under-18 side in baldness and bench minutes I realised my basketball talents were best outside the court. I’ve covered basketball and other sports for Fairfax Media and Rural Press, I’m proud to have met and told the stories of many of Australia’s best basketballers both in country and overseas. I love basketball in all forms and all levels. Follow me on twitter: @downtownball

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