2012 in Review: Lauren Jackson
Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com | Nov. 21, 2012
For Lauren Jackson, 2012 was a season split between two different worlds. In April 2011, Jackson announced her intention to sit out the first half of the Seattle Storm's season in order to train with the Australian National Team for the London Olympics, possibly her last chance to win the gold medal that is the only major accolade to elude her during a remarkable career.
Jackson's preparation for the Olympics was different than in 2004 and 2008, when she played in the WNBA. (She did leave early to join the National Team in 2008 ahead of the Olympic Break.) It was part of a change in strategy for the Opals as a whole, led by Head Coach Carrie Graf. When Graf cut Indiana Fever guard Erin Phillips from the final roster, it meant no one on the Australian Olympic Team had played in the WNBA this season, giving the group months together for training camp and exhibitions.
At the start of the Olympics, Jackson took center stage when she was chosen by Australian Chef de Mission Nick Green to carry the flag for the Aussie delegation during Opening Ceremony. Jackson was the first female Australian flag bearer since 1992 and joined Andrew Gaze (2000) as the lone basketball players to earn the distinction.
After the pageantry of the Opening Ceremony, Jackson and her teammates focused on winning a medal. They suffered a costly early loss to France in overtime during their second game. While the Opals won their next three games to finish 4-1 in group play, France finished atop the standings, putting Australia on course to face the USA in the semifinals instead of the finals as in the last three Olympics.
During group play, Jackson made more history by surpassing Janeth Arcain to become the all-time leading scorer in Olympic women's basketball competition. What she really wanted was a gold medal. That dream was again denied by the Americans. Though Australia led at halftime, the USA rallied for an 86-73 game that put the Opals in the bronze-medal game. Behind her 25 points and 11 rebounds, Australia defeated Russia 83-74 to claim Jackson's fourth medal (three silvers, one bronze), making her one of just six basketball players of either gender with four Olympic medals.
Because of her important role as flag bearer, Jackson was asked to accompany the rest of the Australian athletes back to Sydney for welcoming celebrations. That delayed Jackson's return to Seattle. She arrived on Aug. 20 and watched the Storm's game against Minnesota the next day from the bench while shaking off jet lag. After one practice, Jackson made her 2012 debut on Aug. 23 against Indiana and showed the inevitable signs of rust from the break in her schedule.
On Aug. 26 against New York, the Storm suited up a full 11-player roster for the first time all season and blew out the Liberty 84-66, getting 16 points from Jackson. As she worked her way back into the lineup, Jackson's play was up and down. Her best game of the season came on Sept. 6 against Tulsa, when she scored 10 points in less than three minutes of game action and finished with 23 on 9-of-12 shooting in a 101-74 win.
After the Storm beat the Shock again and clinched a playoff spot, the team had the opportunity to give Jackson some needed rest for a back nerve injury that affected her hamstring. She sat out three games before returning for limited action during the last two outings of the regular season. In the home finale against San Antonio on Sept. 21, Jackson scored 11 points in as many minutes to reach 6,000 in her WNBA career. Jackson became the youngest player to 6,000 points with two of the other three members of the group (Katie Smith and Tina Thompson) looking on as teammates.
For the Storm's playoff series against Minnesota, Jackson's minutes were no longer so heavily restricted. She played 27 minutes in Game 1, scoring 12 points. Her impact was felt more heavily in Game 2, back at home. While Jackson struggled with her shooting, going 4-of-17 from the field, she came up with the game's biggest shot. Down three in the closing seconds, Jackson got the ball wide open beyond the arc off a Sue Bird feed and drained the shot to force overtime. While Jackson would foul out before the end of the marathon two-overtime affair, her 14 rebounds and key shot were invaluable.
In the deciding Game 3, Jackson again had a tough time getting her shot to fall. She finished 1-of-7 from the field, scoring nine points and grabbing six rebounds in 31 minutes. After her clutch heroics in Game 2, Jackson took the biggest shot of the game, catching an inbounds pass in the post and firing a turnaround jumper at the buzzer. It rimmed out, allowing the Lynx to escape with a 2-1 series win.
Jackson was never fully healthy during 2012 after initially hurting her back and hamstring prior to the Olympics. Since the end of the Storm season, she has taken time off to rehab the injury. Jackson will spend the offseason back home in Australia, returning to the WNBL and the Canberra Capitals. The last time Jackson played in the WNBL, she returned to the Storm in top shape and won WNBA MVP in both the regular season and the WNBA Finals as the Storm won the championship.
In reflecting on 2012, Jackson also felt she underestimated the difficulty of joining the Storm at midseason.
"I'm not sure if I'll play in anymore Olympic Games or anything like that, she said, "but I'm not sure it'll happen like that ever again."
As a result, Jackson is looking forward to being part of the team from day one in 2013. She also hopes to be healthy and put two injury-plagued seasons behind her.
- Joined the Storm after the Olympics and made her season debut on Aug. 23 vs. Indiana.
- Scored a season-high 23 points in just 14 minutes on Sept. 6 vs. Tulsa.
- Became the fourth WNBA player ever to reach 6,000 career points with a layup on Sept. 21 vs. San Antonio.
- Knocked down the tying three-pointer in the closing seconds to force overtime in Game 2 of the Storm's series against Minnesota.
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