I first met Liz Cambage a few weeks ago, at the I Support Women in Sport Awards.
You probably recognise her name – after all, she’s one of the most well-known Australian athletes.
On a global level, she’s also one of the highest paid female athletes in the world. And that’s despite the fact she plays women’s basketball, which goes woefully under the radar in Australia.
Currently, she plays for the Australian Opals, the Tulsa Shock in the Women’s National Basketball Association in the United States (WNBA) and the Zhejiang Golden Bulls in the Chinese Women’s Basketball League. She also took part in the London Olympics, helping the Opals win a bronze medal with an 83-74 win over Russia.
The first thing you notice about her? She is tall. 203cm tall, or six foot, eight inches. Which makes her rather perfect for basketball.
The second thing you notice? She is so incredibly nice. Warm, friendly and so, so keen to chat about the sport she’s so passionate about. When I asked to interview her, it was a Monday afternoon and she was flying to China on the Wednesday morning. On the Tuesday, she’d spend the day at Melbourne Cup.
“We’ll make it work!” she promised me. “Call me at around 10am!”
And so we chat in the car, while she drives to the races. She tells me all about her start in basketball, which was almost inevitable given her height – after all, she was already six ft tall at the age of 10. And while she admits that she absolutely hated it to start, her mum encouraged her to play, in order to make new friends.
“I started in a very basic team and then got picked up and started playing for a very competitive club,” she says. From there, she made it to the top junior club in Melbourne – the Dandenong Rangers – and then accepted a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport, playing for their team during the 2007-08 season.
From there, she also moved to playing for the US and China teams. Understandably, she spends quite a bit of her time overseas. And growing up as an only child means that it’s incredibly challenging to leave her family behind when she goes.
“I’m a mamma’s girl!” Liz Cambage laughs. “It’s hard being away and long distance gets very tough. Skype helps a lot! I just try to stay in contact the best I can. I’m very lucky that they get to come visit.”
Not that she gets a lot of time to spend with visitors. During the season, she does several fitness sessions every day – if it’s not basketball, it’s running or pilates.
Off-season, she tries to take a break from basketball and does a lot of running with a running coach. “To get strong for the next season,” she explains. “But no day is the same!”
These days, basketball experts reckon she’s the next Lauren Jackson (another incredibly well-known professional basketball player). I ask Liz if she feels any pressure, being compared to such a successful player.
“To be honest, it’s pretty annoying being called that,” she admits. “Of course it’s flattering, but we’re very different players. We play completely different positions. There’s a lot of pressure in general – in the end, I just have to be me.”