Australians love to tag one another with endearing, fantastic-sounding nicknames. They call their country Oz. They call their women's basketball team the Opals. They call the rarest of those Opals Loz.
Loz is Lauren Jackson, a 6'4" contraption of arms, legs and offensive savvy who accounts for Australia's status as Olympic cofavorite with the U.S. Though Just 19, Jackson ranks with the world's top centers, including photogenic U.S. star Lisa Leslie, whose avocation Jackson has matched by doing runway work at Melbourne Fashion Week. "She's a once-in-a-lifetime player," Australia's coach, Tom Maher, told SI FOR WOMEN. "Basketball-wise, she's miles ahead of her age."
In the 1970s Jackson's dad, Gary, a 6'5" national team member, had a jump shot sweet enough to catch the eye of Maree Bennie, a 6'2" Opal who would become Lauren's mum. Lauren spent much of her infancy sleeping under bleachers while her parents barnstormed from tournament to tournament. At 14 she made the junior national team and at 16 became the Opals' youngest player ever. In her four seasons in the Women's National Basketball League, Australia's counterpart to the WNBA, she has won two MVP awards.
To train with the Opals for Sydney, Jackson, the certain No. I pick in next year's WNBA draft if she makes herself available, turned down a one-year, $110,000 offer to play in Brazil. She may seem free-spirited, with trappings such as a pierced tongue, a taste for Marilyn Manson and several tattoos, including a red-and-black Chinese character that means "to be different." But that symbol, which graces her midriff, also means "to excel." That's a good omen for Aussies, who know that as Loz goes, so goes Oz.