Paul Mulvey, London July 19, 2012
Liz Cambage (right) against Team GB last week. Photo: Getty Images
LIZ Cambage hated basketball as a kid and her opponents could well be wishing she still did.
The once chubby, unco-ordinated girl has transformed into one of the world's most promising basketballers who is on the verge of taking the next step towards superstar at the London Olympics. The second pick at last year's WNBA draft, Cambage, 20, will be one of the keys to Australia's bid to convert three consecutive Olympic silver medals to gold.
She already has shown how important she'll be in London by top-scoring in each of the three matches in the Opals' clean sweep of last week's pre-Games tournament in Sheffield. Cambage dominated the tournament with 28 points against France, 29 against Britain and 21 against Angola.
''This is a dream … all my dreams are coming true,'' she said as she collected her Australian Olympic uniform. ''I'm feeling really good on the court. I think I found my groove.''
But it wasn't always the case. The woman Opals coach Carrie Graf described as the ''most exciting prospect Australian basketball has ever seen'' was a reluctant basketballer.
As a new girl at school on Melbourne's Mornington Peninsula, the 10-year-old Cambage's height and her Nigerian heritage made her different to the other kids. ''Mum thought basketball would be a good way to make friends,'' she says.
''Sport didn't really interest me when I was younger, I was into arts and crafts. I hated basketball when I started, I was unco-ordinated. But the coaches saw talent in me and they pushed me and I only kept going back for the social side, and now it's my life and it's what I do every day.
''As soon as I started making friends, I started enjoying it.''
A decade later, she cuts an imposing 203-centimetre figure and is in demand around the world, drafted by Tulsa in the WNBA and signed to a $400,000 deal to play four months in China later this year.
But she is unfazed by the attention and predictions of greatness and says she doesn't feel any pressure.
''It's a lovely compliment that people say that about me, but I just go out every day and do the best that I can.''