Alice Kunek (L) and Jenna O’Hea will team up together for the Opals at the Commonwealth Games. (ABC News: Damian McIver)
It was an email that moved Jenna O’Hea to tears.
After six years on the outer of the national team, the Victorian basketballer was recalled to the Opals line-up to play at next month’s Commonwealth Games.
“I cried when I got the email, it’s been six years since I last represented Australia,” said O’Hea, whose most recent Opals appearance was the bronze medal game at the 2012 London Olympics.
“It surprised me how emotional I got … and now I’m just really looking forward to putting on the green and gold jersey.”
O’Hea made her debut for the national side in 2009 and quickly became a fixture of the side with her all-round shooting and defensive play.
Her performances soon led to stints playing professionally in the United States and France, but these overseas commitments often came at the expense of national representation.
After moving back home last year, and captaining the Melbourne Boomers to the WNBL grand final, O’Hea is thrilled to be back in the Opals squad.
Her selection was made even more special by the inclusion of her long-time friend Alice Kunek.
Jenna O’Hea and Alice Kunek helped Bulleen Boomers win the 2010/2011 WNBL Championship. (Supplied)
The pair first crossed paths at school at Melbourne’s Caulfield Grammar, where O’Hea was a few grades above Kunek. They later became teammates at Bulleen (now Melbourne) Boomers, winning a WNBL championship in the 2010/2011 season.
The pair have since played overseas and represented their country, but never at the same time.
“It’s so great to be back playing together,” Kunek said.
“I’ve had so many great memories playing with Jen on the basketball court and learnt so much from her, so it’s really special.”
O’Hea cannot wait to team up again with Kunek at the international level.
“The friendship off the court means a lot more to me,” O’Hea said.
“But now to be teammates again, and representing our country, it’s pretty exciting.”
Opals relishing working under Brondello
The Commonwealth Games will be the first time the team has played under Sandy Brondello, a former Opals great who is balancing her national duties alongside her role as coach of the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA.
“I’m really excited about the path that Sandy’s taking, she’s a really terrific coach, she’s coached all over the world, I’m just really excited that a past Opal is now a head coach,” O’Hea said.
Brondello will have a big year guiding the Opals at the Commonwealth Games and then the world championships in September. With that in mind, she took the unprecedented step of gathering an extended squad of 22 players for an intensive training camp in Italy in February.
The squad included players who are unavailable for the Games due to their commitments with European clubs.
“Italy was the only time that the group will really be together, so that’s why it was so big to have everyone come in to the camp, even if the girls weren’t doing the Commonwealth Games,” Kunek said.
“It’ll be a huge year for the Opals.”
O’Hea and Kunek have been training with the Victoria-based Opals in and around Melbourne under the guidance of assistant coach Cheryl Chambers in the lead-up to the Games. The squad will gather as a whole in Mackay on April 1, before their first game against Mozambique five days later.
The preliminary rounds of the men’s and women’s tournaments will be played in Cairns and Townsville, before the finals on the Gold Coast.