Liz Cambage ready to help Australia hoops medal at Olympics
NEW YORK (AP) It's been a difficult few years for Australia basketball star Liz Cambage, on and off the court.
She says she's grown up while dealing with injuries and an ongoing battle with depression.
''I feel like I'm ready and healthy,'' Cambage told The Associated Press. ''It's been a long road back, but I'm so excited for the Olympics.''
The 24-year-old will be key if Australia is going to continue its streak of medaling in every Olympics since 1996. Her physical problems started when she tore her Achilles before the 2014 world championship and couldn't play in that tournament. Australia finished a disappointing fifth. It was a tough road back from the injury, but Cambage said she's in the best shape she's ever been in.
''I've been working on my fitness and it really shows,'' she said.
She helped Australia go 2-1 in a pre-Olympic tour last week in the U.S. She had 22 points in a loss to the Americans on Sunday despite being saddled by foul trouble. Her size and strength make her a difficult matchup for anyone.
''There's no one in the world like her because of her size and strength,'' U.S. center Sylvia Fowles said. ''She's tough to guard.''
Cambage has also been working on her mental health. She admitted to Australian media last month that she has battled depression since she was a teenager. She confirmed that with the AP.
''It's something that I've been constantly working on,'' Cambage said. ''I've been getting help.''
Cambage admits she has made some mistakes over the last year. She missed an Australian training camp to attend a music concert in 2015 which didn't go over well with the coaching staff and teammates. She was also criticized for being outspoken on social media when a teammate dressed up as Kanye West at a party, complete with blackface.
''She has grown over the last few years and like all athletes gone through her ups and downs and questioned themselves,'' Australia coach Brendan Joyce said. ''
One thing that Joyce doesn't want to see Cambage lose is her playful personality. She still exhibits a youthful exuberance whether she's bounding off the court, or joking with the media in the mix zone. She proudly sports a lion tattoo above her elbow. No, it's not in honor of the Lion King she's quick to point out. It's her Zodiac sign. She'll celebrate her 25th birthday in Rio.
She burst onto the international basketball scene at the 2010 world championship and then was taken at No. 2 by Tulsa in the 2011 WNBA draft. Being nearly 9,500 miles away from Australia didn't help her mentally and left her homesick.
''I was so far from home and was so young it just was a difficult situation,'' she said.
That depression resurfaced after her last Olympics in 2012.
''You're on such a high at the Olympics,'' she said. ''It's the pinnacle of sports and you're representing your country and then when it's finished you drop down to such a low. It's like what's next? I have matured. It is four years later and I am still the same crazy kid deep down inside.''
She made a splash at the London Games, becoming the first woman to dunk in the Olympics. She has bigger goals in Rio.
''It's a pretty cool thing to have done, but there are other goals I want to accomplish,'' Cambage said. ''Winning a gold medal for Australia would be unbelievable.''
Cambage said when the Olympics end she'll take some time off to relax. Unfortunately for WNBA fans she said she wouldn't potentially rejoin the league until maybe 2019.
''I really like Dallas, I talked to coach Fred Williams when we were training there,'' she said. ''I want to relax next year and then in 2018 we have the Commonwealth Games and the world championship again. Australia will always be my No. 1 priority.''
She hopes she can lead Australia to new heights in Rio.
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