One player to watch on every team at 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup

Canada forward Natalie Achonwa (11). (Nathan Denette/CP)

Just over a year after the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games, and just days removed from the WNBA Finals, the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 is taking place in Sydney, Australia, with 12 teams competing for the prestigious trophy.

On top of that, the team that wins the title also gains automatic qualification to the Paris 2024 Women’s Olympic Basketball Tournament.

To get viewers ready, here is one player to watch from each of the 12 teams competing in the tournament.

Australia — Lauren Jackson

The greatest Australian women’s basketball player has returned, suiting up for the Aussies for a fifth World Cup event 12 years. In front of the home crowd, Jackson will hope to lead Australia to the top of the podium after it settled for a silver finish in 2018 when the competition took place in Tenerife, Spain.

In her WNBA career playing 317 games with the Seattle Storm, Jackson averaged 18.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, won two WNBA championships and three WNBA MVP awards. In the Olympics, she has three silver medals and one bronze. She’s even won MVP awards and championships in Korea, Russia and Spain.

Jackson’s veteran presence will help an Australian team with its chemistry as four players, who likely idolized the centre growing up, will be making their Opals debut.

Many familiar faces will be on the court alongside LJ, including Steph Talbot, Bec Allen, Ezi Magbegor and Sami Whitcomb, coached by New York Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello. The Opals finished eighth in Tokyo after having to face off against the eventual champion United States in the quarter-finals, but Australia is now ranked third in the world by the FIBA World Rankings.

Belgium — Becky Massey

Taking down the powerhouse of France in the last edition of the Women’s Basketball World Cup, Belgium missed out on a podium finish in a heartbreaking semi-finals loss, as well as suffering a loss to Japan in Tokyo.

They have, however, won a EuroBasket bronze medal, and with the returning talent of players like Julia Allemand and Emma Meesseman, the Belgian Cats have an opportunity to make a run at a podium finish. They’re currently ranked fifth in the world.

One of their top underrated players who will be heavily utilized is Becky Massey, who at just 22 years old is a dual threat for Belgium and showed what she is capable of at the GLOBL JAM showcase this summer, putting up performances like a 12-point, four-rebound and five-assist showing to help Belgium claim third in the round robin. Competing alongside sister Billie, a double-double machine, the chemistry between the six-foot twins will be hard to shut down.

Bosnia and Herzegovina — Jonquel Jones

The 2021 WNBA MVP may be coming off a tough loss from Game 4 of the WNBA Finals, yet to get over the hump for the Connecticut Sun, but Jones was playing like her MVP self through the Finals and averaged 14.9 points and 8.4 rebounds over the span of 12 games, the most Jones has played in the post-season in her five-year career.

She isn’t just a beast in the WNBA – Jones helped Bosnia and Herzegovina to a historic and best-ever fifth-place finish at the 2021 FIBA Women’s EuroBasket in Valencia, Spain, averaging 24.3 points and 16.8 rebounds per game to lead the tournament in both categories.

Jones is a force defensively in the paint, whether she’s playing tough defence averaging over a block per game or offensively dominating the low post while also being able to shoot from anywhere on the floor. Jones will be drawing all defensive attention from other teams as she looks to replicate her EuroBasket performance.

Canada — Natalie Achonwa

As Kia Nurse returns to the court from injury, another Canadian will be looking to bounce back in Minnesota Lynx guard Natalie Achonwa, who played just 22 games for the Lynx averaging 15.1 minutes per game and tallying 5.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in that span.

Achonwa has been dealing with lower-body injuries for the past few seasons, whether it be a hamstring strain, multiple knee injuries or ankle sprains. But her performance at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games proved why she is still a key component for Canada, scoring a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds against Korea and another 11 points and six rebounds against Spain.

Canada suffered heartbreak in Tokyo, not progressing to the quarter-finals after losing out on the “Lucky Loser” spot, but this time around have a talented roster with international experience across the WNBA, EuroLeague, and NCAA. The team also has experience competing at the Women’s AmeriCup and Olympics. Nurse, Bridget Carleton, Kayla Alexander, Shay Collet and Laeticia Amihere are just some of the Canadians returning to get revenge for their Tokyo ending.

China — Han Xu

Another young star at just 22 years old, the 2019 WNBA 14th overall draft pick and centre for the New York Liberty tallied 273 points during the 2022 season playing in 32 games.

She previously took two seasons off from the WNBA to compete for China, competing at the Tokyo Olympic Games as well as winning a silver medal at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup. China will rely on Han’s ability on both sides of the ball.

Averaging 8.5 points and 3.6 rebounds in 16.8 minutes per game this season for the Liberty, Han also was a crucial part of China’s World Cup qualifying, averaging 13 minutes, 9.7 points and three rebounds per game. She will have to compete with Yueru Li for the starting center spot, but that goes to show the talent China has available in this competition.

France — Marine Fauthoux

France will be without one of its main weapons with the loss of Marine Johannes due to a thigh injury, but another young gun who is capable of making an impact on an international stage is Marine Fauthoux.

Fauthoux was one of the key forces to help France secure a silver medal at GLOBL JAM this summer. She was a fourth-quarter comeback force, scored through contact, made space for her teammates to shoot and crashed the boards. Fauthoux was also a member of the bronze medal-winning team in Tokyo, tipping in 12 points in just 13 minutes to help France beat Serbia.

At just 21 years old, Fauthoux has quickly risen to become a leader for France, elevating her game when her team needs it most, as shown a 13-point performance against Japan in Tokyo. She’ll also be guided by the help of players like Gabby Williams, who had a standout competition in Tokyo averaging 10.7 points and 6.2 rebounds, with a 17-point performance in France’s bronze medal win.

Japan — Stephanie Mawuli

After a massively successful Tokyo 2020 three-on-three campaign, where Mawuli helped Japan finish fifth in the competition, she solidified her place on the national team. She also led Japan in both scoring and rebounding during the FIBA under-19 Women’s World Cup in 2017.

Mawuli had another breakout in Amman, Jordan, securing the gold medal at the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup, scoring 11 points in the semi-finals against Australia and another 13 points in the final showdown against rival team China. Only continuing her ascent in Osaka during the World Cup qualifying tournament, Mawuli put on an 18-point performance against Canada, proving why she is one of the more dynamic players on the team.

Japan will have many other players that provide the “X-Factor” like Himawari Akaho, who can stretch the floor as well as be a force defensively, or Ramu Tokashiki, a two-time FIBA Women’s Asia Cup MVP who missed out on playing in Tokyo and the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.

Korea — Danbi Kim

With no Jisu Park on the roster, Korea will rely on veteran forward Danbi Kim to step up and fill in during her absence. Park has been one of Korea’s leading contributors on the national side and will be a big presence missed.

Kim has also confirmed she will not play in the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup, and that this competition may be the last time she plays in a Korean jersey. Korea went winless in the 2014 and 2018 editions of the competition, she’ll have to play a key role to change that in her possible farewell.

Korea is one of the lower-ranked teams heading into the tournament due to their lack of shooting accuracy as well as lack of grit, and Kim’s input of 6.3 points and three rebounds in the last edition of the competition is going to need to be put into overdrive to compensate for losing Park.

Mali — Maimouna Haidara

Mali initially did not qualify for the competition, but with the news of Nigeria’s withdrawal from the World Cup after it was unable to confirm participation, Mali collected the spot as the next ranked team from Group B.

While the country may be ranked 37th in the world, Mali is a young team with an average age of just 24 years old and is ready to burst onto the scene with Haidara as a leader despite being one of the youngest players in the competition.

Named the FIBA under-18 African Women’s Championship MVP this year, Haidara’s 22-point, 12-rebound double-double in the final proved exactly why she would be a star for the senior national team, helping Mali to the under-18 title.

Double-double machine Sika Kone returns for Mali after averaging 16.7 points and 10.3 rebounds during the qualifying tournament in Belgrade, Serbia, and forward Kankou Coulibaly will also be a force in the paint denying anyone who tries to get to the rim.

Puerto Rico — Isalys Quinones

Puerto Rico had a historic showing at the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup in 2021, finishing with a best-ever second-place finish falling to one of the most dominant teams in women’s basketball: the United States.

While veterans like Pamela Rosado were part of the history Puerto Rico made on its home court, Isalys Quinones defined herself as one of the star talents for her country, averaging 8.4 points and 7.8 rebounds during the competition, including a 13-point performance in the AmeriCup final.

During the World Cup qualifying tournament in Washington, D.C., Quinones tapped into another level of scoring, averaging 10.7 points per game on 54.5 per cent shooting, behind only Jazmon Gwathmey in percentage. Arella Guirantes is another young star that will bolster Puerto Rico’s roster, but as a team with a lot of returning chemistry from the AmeriCup and Tokyo Olympic games, it will be an underdog to watch for.

Serbia — Tina Krajisnik

Serbia is another team suffering from the loss of multiple impact players. The country will be without Sonja Vasic, Jelena Brooks, Ana Dabovic and Aleksandra Crvendakic in this competition. Brooks was a key part of Serbia’s fourth-place finish in Tokyo, but so was Tina Krajisnik. She tipped in an average of 8.7 points and five rebounds per game.

Now, much of the responsibility will fall onto Krajisnik’s shoulders. She will need to be defensively sound, but can be a walking double-double for Serbia and should help catapult it to the top of the group stage. Krajisnik pulled 13 rebounds against France in 2021 as Serbia topped the podium in Valencia, taking its second FIBA Women’s EuroBasket title, but with much of Serbia’s offence absent, she will have to pick up some of the scoring load.

Yvonne Anderson will also be a player that Serbia will rely on for scoring production with Vasic and Brooks gone. The dynamic point guard averaged 14 points per game in Tokyo and 14 points per game during Serbia’s triumph at EuroBasket, including an 18-point performance in a gold medal win. She also put up a 30 points during World Cup qualifying, earning MVP.

United States — Shakira Austin

Being on a team with seven WNBA champions at 22 years old says a lot. Not to mention being in the mix as one of the best up-and-coming players USA has to offer. But Shakira Austin is just that. The Washington Mystics centre and WNBA All-Rookie team member made the final roster for the competition.

The third overall pick in the 2022 WNBA draft averaged 8.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks per game during her rookie season for the Mystics and even finished second in Rookie of the Year voting behind winner Rhyne Howard. Austin led the Mystics in rebounding and finished top five in minutes, points, blocks, and field goal percentage.

The USA senior women’s national team is one of, if not the best in basketball, with WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson, WNBA champion and three-point specialist Kelsey Plum and WNBA Finals MVP Chelsea Gray on its roster. Jewell Loyd, Ariel Atkins, Breanna Stewart and Kahleah Copper only round it out. Oh, we forgot WNBA Finals runner-ups Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones … and New York Liberty stars Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney. There’s usually never an answer to stop Team USA, and this roster looks like it will be unforgiving to play against.

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