By Hayley Wildes
When the Australian Gems tip off their 2019 FIBA under-19 Women’s World Cup campaign in Thailand next month, Jaz Shelley will be calling the shots.
The classy 19-year-old point guard, who attended Berwick College and is regarded as one of the world’s best up-and-coming guards, knows what to expect on the interntational stage – having represented Australia on many occasions – and she hopes to use this experience to help the Gems make some noise.
“There are only two of us who have been to an under-19 world championship before so now we can play more of a leadership role,” Shelley said.
“We’ve experienced all of it before and we can kind of pass down that knowledge and experience to the younger players.
“I really like being a leader and leading by example. It’s going to be a really good challenge for me, because I’ve always sort of been one of the youngest in the Australian campaigns I’ve been a part of.”
The most memorable Australian campaign that Shelley has been a part of was at the 2016 FIBA under-17 World Championships.
The Australians entered the tournament as an unknown quantity, but left as world champions and handed USA their first ever loss at the tournament in the semi-final.
Shelley, who is currently playing for Geelong in the NBL1 competition, reflected on that campaign fondly.
“That’s still so surreal for all of us,” she said.
“For a lot of us, that was our first ever world championships so we weren’t expecting anything.
“We didn’t know if we were strong, if we were weak, but we came in against the USA and none of us were like ‘oh, we’re so scared of the USA, we don’t want to play them’; everyone was so excited and we knew we were good enough.”
Shelley’s basketball resume already includes such highlights as a World Championship gold medal, many national titles and accolades, and 2019 WNBL Rookie of the Year honours.
Her ability to shoot from distance and handle the ball with care and precision is what makes her such a tough defensive assignment, while her willingness to fight tooth and nail on defence is what sets her apart.
Make no mistake; Shelley possesses a flashy and eye-catching game, but her enthusiasm and want to shut down opponents on defence is just as scary for opposition players and coaches.
The Australian team will be relying heavily on Shelley and she’s hoping to add another medal next month.
“The aim is definitely a medal – I think we’re definitely a top-three, top-four team,” she said.
“Obviously gold would be great, but the smaller goal of aiming for a medal would be ideal.”
With her eyes firmly set on bringing home another medal for Australia, the eyes of the college basketball world will be transfixed on her University of Oregon team in 2020.
Having committed to Oregon in October last year, Shelley heads off to the USA in August. She will be joining the number one ranked team in the nation and playing alongside triple-double machine Sabrina Ionescu, who is currently projected as the number one pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft.
“I’m super excited and I’m going to learn so much from Sabrina,” she said.
“I think my first year I’m going to be learning so much from her and just trying to get a foot in the door with that team because it’s going to be so strong.”
The decision to move to the other side of the world wasn’t an easy one, but Shelley knew it was now or never.
“It was a tough decision because I was in the WNBL at the time and college or the WNBL are the two pathways you can kind of go down, so the biggest decision was trying to figure out which pathway I wanted to choose,” she said.
“Once I went over and did my college visits, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity – if you go over and don’t like it, you can always come back again, but if you turn it down originally, you can’t go back on that.
“I just definitely want to try it, see if it’s for me and hopefully it is and I can stay there and get a degree in four years, but if it’s not, I can always come back to the WNBL pathway.”
While college basketball will be her next focus after the World Cup, Shelley has major goals further down the track.
“I have so much pride in playing for Australia and I wouldn’t give it up for anything – that’s definitely my biggest goal; to be a part of the Opals squad one day.”
Jaz Shelley has already achieved so much on the basketball court, but stay tuned in the years to come to hear plenty more of that name.