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August 14, 2013 at 8:27 AM

Mailbag: Lauren Jackson returns, UW releases nonconference schedule and a TV Alert

LJ2012

Storm center Lauren Jackson
Photo courtesy The Border Mail

Storm All-Star Lauren Jackson returned to the court on Wednesday after a 10-month layoff due to hamstring surgery in January. A three-time WNBA MVP, Jackson joined her native Australian national team to defeat New Zealand 66-50 on Wednesday in the opening round of the Oceania championship.

Jackson, a 6-foot-6 center, scored 22 points and had nine rebounds in her first organized game since Seattle lost 73-72 to Minnesota in the decisive Game 3 of the WNBA playoffs opening-round in October 2012. Jackson finished that road game with nine points on 1-for-7 shooting with six rebounds, missing a possible game-winner with 1.2 seconds left. Immediately following the loss Jackson, 32, wondered if she’d play, again.

“I’m just happy I got that game out of the way. It feels so good to be out there pain free,” Jackson told Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News after Wednesday’s game. “I couldn’t walk before I had the surgery. I’m feeling pretty good about things, now. There was a period where I thought I’d never play, again, but to come out here tonight…New Zealand is our neighbor, so it feels like home a bit and it feels good.”

The Opals face the Tall Ferns on Sunday in Canberra. The teams are vying for slots at the FIBA World Championship in Turkey from September 27 to October 5, 2014.

Jackson told the Storm in February she would not return for the 2013 WNBA season. Storm coach and general manager Brian Agler suspended her contract, Jackson stating she will return for the 2014 Storm season.

But Jackson will not play in Australia as planned this offseason. Her camp couldn’t reach an agreement with her Canberra Capitals, so Jackson is entertaining offers to play in Europe or Asia this fall. She’s also looking to play in her fifth Olympics in 2016. The Opals were disappointed with a bronze-medal finish in London last summer.

“It’s a process with Lauren,” first-year Opals coach Brendan Joyce told reporters in Auckland on Wednesday. “She’s had nine months off after a serious injury, but she’s giving it 100 percent and she knows where she needs to be in a year.”

TWEET THIS: First-year Washington coach Mike Neighbors was busy Tuesday morning. He spent his time at Los Angeles International Airport tweeting the Huskies 2013-14 nonconference schedule. Really the entire lineup is a highlight considering the team UW is expecting to put on the court and the balance of competition it’ll face in preparation for a tough Pac-12 schedule, which won’t be released until Sept. 1 (but the LA schools won’t travel to Hec Ed this season and UW won’t travel to Arizona to play the desert schools).

Aside from the city rivalry with Seattle U. (Nov. 19 at Alaska Airlines Arena) and “Duel in the Desert” tournament in Las Vegas against three opponents (?!) in December, a highlight is Neighbors playing against mentor Gary Blair of Texas A&M fame. The matchup is slated for Dec. 7 in College Station.

TV Alert: The WNBA pegged this season to be one of its best and with 12 games remaining for the Storm, it’s the truth. Only Connecticut (6-15) appears to be out of the playoff race, although not mathematically. The Sun hosts the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday at 4pm (PT) on LiveAccess in an attempt to snap a three-game losing streak. The Dream (11-8) is just as desperate, however, two-games back from Chicago (15-8) for the lead in the Eastern Conference, tied in wins with Indiana (11-11) and Washington (11-13), and having lost seven of its past nine games.

Since things could get mucky at the Mohegan Sun Arena, I suggest flipping on NBA-TV at 7pm (PT) to watch Indiana and Phoenix. Perhaps you’ve heard Mercury coach Corey Gaines was fired last week. Phoenix (12-11) has won its past two games under interim coach Russ Pennell but is still teasing Seattle (10-12) with the possibility of losing its grip on the No. 3 playoff seed in the West. San Antonio (8-15) and Tulsa (7-17) aren’t out of the picture, either, and with LA’s win against Chicago on Tuesday — the Sparks’ fifth overall — LA (17-7) has a chance to usurp Minnesota (17-5) for the conference lead.

Get your popcorn ready!

Comments | More in Mailbag, Olympics, Twitter | Topics: Lauren Jackson, Mike Neighbors

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