The success of the Australian Opals basketball team this year could well be determined over the next two weeks when the squad gathers in Italy for a training camp.
Coach Sandy Brondello, who took up the job last April, will get an in-depth look at the talent she will have to deploy at both the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in April and the World Cup in September.
"It's a real critical time so we won't meet again until just a few days before the Commonwealth Games, so I'm excited to get the campaign underway for 2018," said Brondello, who is based in the US as head coach of the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA.
The squad of 22 features Opals regulars Liz Cambage, Belinda Snell, Suzy Batkovic and Leilani Mitchell, as well as teenage star Ezi Magbegor.
They will be based at the Australian Institute of Sport's training centre at Varese in northern Italy.
New generation of players
Brondello said the group is still working on building a new identity following the disappointment of missing out on a medal at the Rio Olympics.
"It's a different generation, a younger group coming through. We've lost a few to retirement but every sport goes through that," Brondello said.
That being said, rejuvenated star Liz Cambage remains central to Brondello's plans.
The 26-year-old was dominant for the Melbourne Boomers during the recently completed WNBL season, and has declared her intention to return to the WNBA.
"If Liz is playing in the WNBA, the best league in the world, I think that's good for the Opals, I think that's good for Liz," Brondello said.
A number of squad members will not be available for the Commonwealth Games due to club commitments in Europe, but Brondello said that will give some of the newer players a chance to shine.
"It's an opportunity to spend time together, integrating new players in there but also performing at a high level," she said.
"Any kind of times that you can play games is critical."
The Opals — currently ranked fourth in the world — will be among eight teams competing at the Commonwealth Games, including Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Mozambique, Malaysia, India and England.
The only other time basketball was played at the Games was in Melbourne in 2006, when Australia collected gold in both the women's and men's tournaments.