Australian captain Tess Madgen says the Opals' team culture has gone to "another level" in the lead-up to the Women's Basketball World Cup, where they will look to bounce back from a turbulent 2021 once and for all.
Centre Liz Cambage's decision to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics a week from the opening ceremony cast a long shadow over the Opals' campaign, which ended in the quarter-finals with a 1-3 record.
The Opals distanced themselves from Cambage when it was revealed her exit came after she directed racial comments at Nigerian players during an Olympic practice match, a claim she has denied.
But with an impressive squad, the return of Australia's greatest female basketballer Lauren Jackson and home court advantage to their name, the Opals are a serious chance to reach the World Cup podium in Sydney and prove they are once again a united front.
Appointed sole captain for the tournament, Madgen said restoring positivity in the playing group had been a major focus at camps in New York and on the Gold Coast as well as in the countdown to Thursday's tip-off.
"We've done a lot of work over the last eight months and this week especially to really shift the culture," Madgen told AAP.
"We always had it there but it's been taken to another level. Everyone that was around the group then (last year) and those who have been injected in, can really feel that.
"It's something I'm super proud of."
Jackson's return to international basketball after an absence of almost 10 years has given the group another lift.
The 41-year-old played off the bench as the Opals won both their practice matches and impressed her skipper.
"She's fierce, tough and competitive. None of that has gone away," Madgen said.
"She's still an amazing basketballer and a super impressive human being."
Australia's rivals are similarly excited for Jackson's comeback.
As an 18-year-old, French captain Sarah Michel faced off against Jackson in the EuroLeague while the Australian was contracted with Spartak Moscow Region.
The pair will reunite after 15 years when Australia and France meet in the tournament opener on Thursday night.
"I'm sure she doesn't remember me because I was 18 but I remember she was a really tough player," Michel told AAP.
"To come back at this level, it's really impressive.
"For our young players who didn't get the chance to see her play before, it's really exciting."