Lauren Jackson's return to the Opals fitting for a squad looking to recapture its culture

Twelve months ago, the Opals were ready to turn a new page.

On the back of a disappointing Olympic campaign that encountered a lack of preparation due to the pandemic and ample distractions, change was not only needed but was going to be forced ahead of the 2022 FIBA Women's World Cup and 2024 Paris Olympics.

With a wave of young talent looking to grab their opportunity, the program focused on culture, following the blueprint for success that allowed the squad to compete for the podium with regularity for over 20 years.

"The Opals legacy piece for the last two decades and longer has been so amazing. Such success has come from the program since the 1996 Olympics. They set the precedent; it's been an amazing legacy," Cayla George told ESPN in June.

"We want that culture piece to be special and for there to be an understanding all the way through. Since Tokyo we've had a reset and re-established a memory of what the legacy was and where it needs to be from here on out. A bit of a no-bulls*** rule. We adhere to the culture and we're all on the same page."

In terms of legacy in Australian basketball, there is no greater piece than Lauren Jackson.

At first a curiosity, Jackson's return is now a reality, with the nation's greatest player officially named in the Opals squad for September's World Cup.

A four-time Olympian, Jackson will lace them up for a fifth World Cup appearance, creating a remarkable full circle moment with head coach Sandy Brondello.

Brondello and Jackson were Opals teammates at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, standing on the podium as silver medallists. 22 years later they will once again join forces in an attempt to claim a medal in the harbour city.

Speaking with ESPN in December 2021, Brondello hinted at the on-court changes that would come in the lead up to this year's World Cup in Sydney.

"It's an opportunity for others. We have to reset the way we want to play, and I think it's exciting," she said. "My focus now is on the talent we do have."

Turns out a very familiar face has become a part of the plan.

Speaking with media on Wednesday morning, Jackson admits she isn't sure what role she will play at the World Cup in her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympic games in London.

The World Cup schedule is brutal, with five group games coming in the space of six days before just one further rest day ahead of the elimination stage. If Australia are to advance to a medal game, they will be playing their eighth game in ten days. "I think I'll be an impact player off the bench. What I can offer the girls off the bench will be pretty good and I feel pretty confident, I think," Jackson told media on Wednesday morning.

"Strength, wise I feel really good, I'm glad my body has held up. Every time I step on the court, I know I'm getting better. I just hope I can give them what we need to be successful."

Regardless of Jackson's ability to play major minutes, the value of her inclusion in the squad goes far beyond box score statistics, with rising star Ezi Magbegor an obvious beneficiary.

Magbegor was one year old when Brondello, Jackson and the Opals claimed silver at those Sydney Olympics. Now 22 and the starting centre of the team, the dynamic two-way player gets an opportunity to learn from one of the greatest to ever play her position.

To add to the connection, Magbegor plays for the Seattle Storm, the franchise that retired the Hall-of-Famer Jackson's jersey in 2016 after a glittering WNBA career that included three MVP awards and two titles among an endless list of accolades.

As vision emerged of Jackson's emotional call with Brondello upon hearing of her inclusion in the squad, the honour and pride of playing for Australia was clear. This is the culture and legacy Cayla George emphasised.

The bookends of the squad from an international experience point of view, the emotional response from Jackson was mirrored by Anneli Maley earlier this year prior to her Opals debut.

The 2022 WNBL MVP admitted she shed more than a few tears in the lead up to the game, with Jackson revealing similar emotions more than two decades after her debut. This is the pride for the green and gold Cayla George emphasised.

For so long, the Opals have been the benchmark for Australian national team basketball success on the biggest stage and after a rollercoaster few years for a myriad of reasons, it feels like they are right back on track.

Jackson's return is the Australian sporting story of the year. Perhaps the only way it will be usurped is the moment she makes her way to the scorer's table to step on the court for the first time.

It turns out the Opals have turned a new page over the last 12 months after all, I'm just not sure how many would have predicted this chapter.

Watch every game from the FIBA Women's World Cup live & exclusive on ESPN, beginning September 22nd.