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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | LOOKING AHEAD
/ WOMEN'S BASKETBALL U.S. VS. AUSTRALIA; TV: NOON-6
P.M. TODAY CHANNEL 4

Aussie Is Simply Awesome

Women's basketball: Jackson, a stellar 19-year-old, will get to show it against U.S. in gold-medal game.

September 30, 2000|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — Someday, Lauren Jackson will be one of them.

It might not be as soon as some expect, and it certainly wasn't going to be today, with Australia and the U.S. playing for the women's basketball gold medal.

But Australia's victory over Brazil on Friday and the U.S. team's 78-65 victory over South Korea set up the game so many wanted--these teams meeting on Australian soil for the Olympic title.

The WNBA is waiting for Jackson, the presumed No. 1 pick in the next draft.

She is 19. She is 6 feet 5. She is a pretty terrific shooter. And she can put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop in a way that--sorry, folks--Lisa Leslie cannot.

But she is an Australian girl to the core, and she says the WNBA might be waiting a bit longer.

"I'd like to spend the last few months of my teenage life being a teenager," Jackson said after the victory over Brazil, explaining that for the moment she is leaning against playing in the WNBA next season.

"I want to get away from it for a while. But after another season playing ball, you never know. I might want to come to the WNBA. But I'm in no hurry at all."

She is a charming mix, Jackson--part demure Aussie, part smack-talking kid.

She calls the Americans "the Yanks."

She even said before the Olympic Games began that the Opals, as the Australian women are known, could beat them.

Truth be told, Jackson is not sure what she thinks about Americans.

"People in Australia are different from Americans," she said. "People in Australia are so beautiful. I don't mean to say Americans are not. I don't know anything about Americans. I'll tell you about my culture. Australian people are really cool and easy to get along with. I really love Australians. I don't want to leave here."

She is born to this career, the daughter of two former national team players and already a pro for the Canberra team.

But is she ready to dominate in the WNBA?

"I think she's a really nice player," U.S. Coach Nell Fortner said. "For her to be 19 years old and playing at this level is pretty incredible."

Dawn Staley is more circumspect.

"I think the potential is there for Lauren Jackson, but right now, Lisa Leslie is the best player in the world," Staley said. "You take her off our team and it would be very different. I'm not saying we would lose, but it would be different."

Different. That's Jackson.

She is, of all things, a huge fan of the late Wilt Chamberlain, and said she was devastated when he died.

"My Mum rang me and told me, and I said, 'Oh my God, how can I deal?' " Jackson said. "He was just so huge and so awesome."

She will be too, many believe.

"I think Lauren Jackson is a good player," Leslie said. "A good young player. She has more talent probably than any other 19-year-old playing in the world right now."

Michele Timms, a Phoenix Mercury guard who plays for Australia, said it won't take her long to adjust to the WNBA, though she needs to hit the weights.

"Knowing Lauren Jackson's ability, I'd say she'll be an all-star, probably even her first season," Timms said.

She also never lacks for spirit.

She and Leslie went at it a bit in a pre-Olympic exhibition.

"I came back to her and said, 'What do you want, do you want a piece of me?' " Jackson said. "She ran off."

Jackson is not always so tough.

"Three weeks before the Olympics, I just collapsed in a crying fit," she said.

"It was everything, I guess, the Olympics and everything. I was worried I wasn't playing well."

She played well when she got here, but she knows what she wants.

"I want to be a kid again."

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