There was once a time, as recently as last year, when Liz Cambage irritated her teammates with her lack of on-court knowledge, but the influence of NBA legend Kobe Bryant has the Southside Flyers superstar in the form of her life.
As brilliant as Cambage is as one of the world’s best women’s basketballers, she could fall into the trap of being confused with team schemes in offence and defence.
Just ask her Opals and Southside captain Jenna O’Hea, who often felt frustrated with Liz’s lack of technical competence.
According to O’Hea, though, Cambage has improved out of sight with the Flyers in the WNBL this season – thanks largely to Bryant.
The Los Angeles Lakers legend, who tragically died in a helicopter crash in late January, had built a close relationship with Liz.
Bryant first met Cambage in 2019 when he attended her first game of the WNBA season with the Las Vegas Aces in Vegas, and from there the pair developed a special relationship.
O’Hea credits this one-on-one time with one of the NBA’s greatest players for helping her star Southside teammate reach her full potential.
Elizabeth Cambage of the Flyers.Source:Getty Images
“With Kobe’s influence, Liz has become more of a student of the game,” O’Hea revealed.
“They had watched film together and I know she really took that to heart, and it is something that she did want to improve.
“So, I think Kobe was a really great influence and I think she wants to continue to learn and grow with the game.
“But I’ve played with Liz for a long time and I think in the past I’ve got quite frustrated with her not knowing offences and all that type of stuff.
“She has played a lot of time in China, where the communication would have been difficult with the language barrier.
“But playing in America and Australia she has built that confidence and I feel like this year she has improved so much.”
Cambage’s enhanced technical knowledge came to the fore on the big stage during Wednesday’s major semi-final against the Townsville Fire.
The Flyers were trying to execute a defensive scheme, but it wasn’t working so Liz showed the initiative to change the plan on the run.
It was a move that equally shocked and pleased O’Hea.
“I was on the bench and thinking, ‘Why are we switching? We are not supposed to be’,” she said.
“But on the defence end – that was great self-awareness from Liz, that she knew she couldn’t get out to our specific scheme that we were trying to do.
“She changed it up on the court, so we could get the win.”
Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers.Source:AFP
O’Hea says Cambage has also benefited from extra video this season, given the WNBL’s shortened season has meant less time for training.
This has seen the Flyers star centre devote enormous hours to studying her opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
“A lot of it is learning off the video, so it is all above the shoulders and is mental not physical on how to learn this year,” she said.
“Liz has been extremely focused and engaged in meetings trying to learn as much as she can.
“Because even when there is training, it is not as if we are going 100 per cent as there are just too many games in a shorter period.”
The WNBL’s condensed schedule, some 60 games inside six weeks in a North Queensland hub, hasn’t stopped Cambage from training even harder.
O’Hea revealed the 2011 WNBL MVP has regularly spent days off in the gym to hone her fitness.
“We had a day off on Thursday, but she went to the gym because she knows that she needs that,” she said.
“It was just Liz in the gym, so she puts in the hours off the court to be the best on the court and it is definitely showing.
“Body wise, it is the best I’ve seen Liz.”
O’Hea believes the 2020 WNBL season is perfect preparation for Cambage heading into next year’s Tokyo Olympics – and a warning shot at the rest of the basketball world.
“I think Liz will be great at the Olympics,” she said.
“She is in good form and this season has only helped her.
“I think the Olympics was part of the reason why she wanted to play in Australia this season.
“Also, to play under (Flyers coach) Cheryl Chambers, who is the Opals assistant coach, and a lot of our offences are like what the Opals run.”
There is no question Cambage was disappointed not to win the WNBL MVP, especially after such a strong season, but her focus is on winning a championship.
O’Hea claimed the 2011 WNBL title alongside Liz with the Melbourne Boomers, so the pair are determined to win Sunday’s grand final.
“We won together with the Boomers and it has been a long time between drinks for the both of us,” she said.
“I think everyone knows that Liz is the MVP of the league, whether she was voted or not.
“But at the end of the day it is the championship that you want and that is absolutely her focus.
“To finish this year with a title would be pretty amazing given the year that everyone has had, especially with lockdown in Melbourne, so that is our goal.”
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