Name: Lauren Elizabeth Jackson
Date of Birth: 11 May 1981
From: Albury, NSW, Australia
She is the epitome of women's basketball in Australia, following in the footsteps and carrying on the traditions of grand mentors in the likes of Michele Timms, Rachael Sporn, and her mother Maree. These pioneers paved the way for Australian basketball to excel on the international stage, and Lauren stepped into the spotlight to lead her contemporaries and future generations to come with inspiration.
A leader by example, her work ethic and emotional divulgence into the game she so clearly loves is left on court for all to witness in awe and wonder. From Australia to Korea, to the USA and across Europe, Lauren has left a lasting impression wherever she plays. Her athleticism, ability, attitude, strength, and above all her passion, contribute to the phenomenal player and ambassador that she is for the game worldwide.
The Early Years
The daughter of Australian basketball representatives, Lauren was born with the genes to play the game but ultimately it was her individual desire and mindset to refine her talent that set her apart from others to become the player she is. With strong family bonds, particularly the support of parents Gary and Maree (a former LSU standout and record holder), growing up in a basketball culture did her no harm. From sleeping under the benches and travelling with her mother from a young age, she was exposed to the lifestyle and environment that set in her stead to set lofty dreams of winning Gold for Australia since she was two years old.
However it wasn't all smooth sailing. Cockiness and a brash demeanour at the age twelve saw a shift in perspective that would ultimately influence the rest of her playing career. After a dramatic refusal to return to the court in an under-14s final, a mission statement ensued:
"It has always been an athlete's dream to be in the Olympics and now it is mine. The year 2000 Olympics is six years away and I have six years to show everyone what I am made of, not a bag of wuss like everyone calls me." (1994)
Not your average Rookie
Achieving that dream meant leaving home at the tender age of 15 with a scholarship to attend the Australian Institute of Sport under the tutelage of respected coach Phil Brown. As a group of up and coming development players, the AIS competed in the WNBL to gain experience against their much older counterparts to obtain greater basketball knowledge and physical strength. Lauren quickly excelled, earning Rookie of the Year honours in 1997 - the first of many accolades.
Half a world away, a momentous occasion was taking place with the inauguration of professional women's basketball in the home of the hoops - the WNBA was established. Lauren and the WNBA were on opposite sides of the globe but had parallel visions of success and belief in the game. Unbeknownst to both parties, a collision course was set in place.
Her tall, agile frame and undeniable talent saw her fast-tracked to the national senior team. By 16 she became the youngest to ever don an Opals uniform and the rest of the world began to take notice of this "once-in-a-lifetime player" who Tom Maher spoke of so highly -
"I've never seen anyone like her, for her age, for what she can do ... never seen anyone in Australia or overseas, not close." (Maher, 2000)
Averaging a point per minute off the bench for the Opals at the 1998 World Championships, her natural flair for the game glowed on the international scene, and was able to bring that new-found experience back to the AIS.
The class of 1998/99 was not an average group of teenagers as they outshone the rest of the league to win the AIS' first ever Championship; a feat unheard of considering their developmental aim. Looking back, the team was filled with players that would hold significant roles in defining the proceeding decade of Australian basketball. Lauren headlined the team of gangly teenagers, but was capably supported by the raw talents of Penny Taylor, Kristen Veal, Belinda Snell and Suzy Batkovic in a magical class. Before her 18th birthday, Lauren was the best player in the country, winning her first of a record four MVP titles, and had the team success to back it up.
Domestic Dominance and Olympic Dreams
Graduating from that memorable class, Lauren moved on to begin a stellar career with the Canberra Capitals. In the year the AIS won the Championships, the Capitals were the wooden spooners of the WNBL. Enter Lauren Jackson. Four consecutive grand final appearances and three Championships saw Canberra rise to dominancy. Lauren was promoted as the official face of the league with this domestic success, but whilst the attention and spotlight may not have come naturally to the shy Albury native, the WNBL launched her into the international spotlight of a childhood dream and the whirlwind stage of the WNBA.
Just a few short years earlier, Lauren was a frustrated young player with a vision. That vision became reality when in September of 2000, she braved the world's watchful eyes to proudly represent Australia at the Sydney Olympic Games. Her youth and valour mixed brilliantly with the experienced hands of Timms and Brondello to combine for Australia's first ever silver medal in basketball. Despite falling short in the final to the much-favoured Team USA, Lauren's performance forced even more people to take note of her game by demonstrating she could hold her own against the best the sport had to offer.
In 2001 she packed her white-line fever to the imposing land of basketball's world leaders, the United States. As the first Australian to ever be chosen with the first overall pick in an international and professional draft, Lauren Jackson was headed to the Seattle Storm - an expansion team that saw minimal on-court success in their first year. Named an All-Star in her first season, Lauren braved the physicality and arduous demeanour of the demanding American hooping lifestyle. Furthermore she was away from the unwavering support of her family, an element she relies upon for strength. They were no longer just a few hours down the road from Canberra. Despite tough times, Lauren knew the WNBA provided an unparalleled chance to improve her game.