By ZAC STANDISH
THE meteoric rise of emerging Traralgon basketball star Jade Melbourne hit its crescendo last week, as the 18-year-old was selected for her first national squad ahead of the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup in Jordan next month.
This follows a string of outstanding performances at the recent FIBA Under-19 Women’s World Cup, where she averaged 12.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game to lead the Gems to a silver medal.
Now back in Australia completing a stint of hotel quarantine in Sydney, Melbourne said it is an honour to be selected in her first Opals squad.
“It is a dream come true really, I have worked and dreamt of being an Opal ever since I can remember – so to be picked in the squad it is the start of the journey and I can’t wait to get amongst it all and represent my country at the highest level,” Melbourne told The Express.
“It has been quite a journey (to get this point), I am constantly working on my game and looking to get to different stadiums to get shots up and get in the gym to work on my strengths – it has been a lot and a lot of sacrifices made, but I am willing to do it so I am super happy that hard work is paying off now.”
Coming into the Opals squad for the first time, she highlighted what she will bring to a squad looking to bounce back from an underwhelming Olympic campaign.
“I have just always brought heaps of energy and positivity – my game is full of energy, I love to dive on loose balls, get after people on defence and create on fast break which I think will suit the way the Opals play,” she said.
“Any role I get given I will happily take and do to the best of my ability as I try to put my best foot forward on the camp and hopefully get selected in the final team.”
Melbourne said being able to rub shoulders with the nation’s best basketballers will be huge for her development moving forward.
“I think just being part of such a high level squad (will be super exciting), I have looked up to these girls for such a long time so to be amongst them now is just a dream come true to be honest,” she said.
“So really I am just looking forward to playing with and learning off them and to represent Australia is the highest honour and the pinnacle for basketball so to be in that position where I am in the national squad it is really humbling.”
Joining Melbourne in this latest Opals squad is fellow Latrobe Valley basketball export Jaz Shelley, who hails from Newborough.
Being two years younger Melbourne never got the chance to play against her new teammate growing up, but said Shelley was always a fantastic role model to emulate coming up through the junior ranks.
“I never got to actually play against her but she was always involved in the local programs growing up, so watching her do everything I wanted to do was really inspiring and really paved the way for me as I looked to progressed my game,” she said.
“We talk every now again about the game and what she has been able to accomplish to date is very impressive.
“She is a great player and has been picked in the Opals squad too so it would be really awesome to represent the Gippsland area together on the national stage one day.”
Recently returning from national duties with the Under 19’s team in Hungary, she described the experience of competing in a World Cup.
“It was unbelievable, we didn’t know until around a week before if we were going to go or not because flights were getting cancelled left right and centre, so once we got on a plane and were over there it was a massive relief,” she said.
“I think what was special about our group was just the teamwork and the cohesion, we played defence as a pack of five and we moved the ball well, so it was a really great team to be part of and to only just fall shy of the USA in the Gold Medal match was a fantastic achievement.”
The tournament would also see her land an incredible personal accolade, being named the sole Australian in the All Star Five.
“I obviously don’t play for individual accolades, but to be recognised in the top five at the tournament was a pretty special feeling and I was quite shocked when my name was called,” she said.
“That doesn’t happen without the support of my coaching staff and teammates as they put me in those positions to be successful – so it was a real honour to be selected and recognition of the hard work I have put in.”
With her maiden stint with the Opals now just around the corner, she outlined her hopes for the future.
“For me playing for the Opals would be the ultimate goal, but all I want to do is play at the highest level possible really,” she said.
“I am super excited to be playing in the WNBL once again and it has always been a goal of mine to push on further and play in the WNBA along with those top leagues in Europe – so I will be continuing to work hard and hopefully one day I will be doing that.”