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Darcee Garbin lines up for Opals in FIBA Women’s World Cup … – Code

After 12 seasons and almost 250 WNBL games, Darcee Garbin – aka ‘Sophie Garbin’s sister’ – is preparing for her first major international basketball tournament, writes LINDA PEARCE.
Darcee Garbin is an Australian basketballer preparing for her first FIBA Women’s World Cup, a dual Asia Cup medallist and two-time WNBL championship winner with the Townsville Fire, who was also this year’s grand final captain for Perth Lynx.
But, given that this Opal has tended to be outshone, at least in a profile sense, by a social-media-minded Diamond, Garbin sees the humour in also describing herself in a different way.
“I just call myself Sophie Garbin’s sister. It’s how I’m more commonly known,’’ Darcee says of the Swift-turned-Magpie and Australian squad member who will try to add to her three-Test tally in the Diamonds’ upcoming series against England.
Given that Darcee is the elder sibling, this is not the way it’s supposed to be, though, surely? “It’s really not, but apparently it’s Sophie’s world. We’re just living in it.’’
Perhaps that might change after a home World Cup in Sydney, starting next Thursday, with the third-ranked Opals keen to atone for that 2021 Olympics horror show. Or, actually, probably not.
“Look, I’m really hoping,’’ says Darcee, who was one of the last cut from both the Tokyo squad of 15 and the previous world championships team in 2018. “I don’t know about my chances, but it’s so funny.’’
Amusing for others, too, given the banter that coexists with a closeness that has developed more recently between an outgoing pair who, with brother Marin, grew up in the red dirt and dust of the small mining town of Kambalda, near Kalgoorlie, before the family moved to Perth.
“They’ve both grown up but when they’re around each other, they’re both children again,’’ says Opals and Lynx shooting guard Sami Whitcomb.
“They’re those kids from Rockingham that make fun of each other, even though they’re both phenomenal athletes, and they support the hell out of each other, which is really special.
“Like, when Darcee made the team she’s FaceTiming them and they’re crying together. They support each other but they’re never gonna let each other get too big. They’re the first to be like, ‘What’d you do there, mate? You stuffed that play up’.’’
Perhaps it’s just as well, then, that the highly competitive pair is not playing the same sport.
“That would be shocking, I think,’’ Whitcomb says.
This is primarily a basketball story, though. One about a player who is preparing for her first major international tournament at the age of 28.
One who left home at 16 to go to the AIS in Canberra, and in 2015 relocated the 5,000km to north Queensland to further her game and absorb the up-close lessons from Suzy Batkovic and Cayla George.
“They were the two star Opal bigs up in Townsville and my expectations were that I wasn’t even gonna get on the court, but I knew that I was gonna learn from them every single day at training,’’ Garbin says. “And that’s definitely played a massive part in my progression not only in the WNBL but in this Opals program.’’
Yet the fact that it has taken 12 seasons and almost 250 WNBL games to get here helps to validate Garbin’s description of her path to the national team, before and after her 2018 debut against China, “a bit of a grind’’.
As to why it’s come later and taken longer than many, the 188cm forward refers to the enduring quality of the Opals’ talls, including the best of all, Lauren Jackson.
Hence the need to evolve and develop, with the improved consistency of her three-point shooting and ability to stretch the floor among the factors Garbin believes have helped her to finally break in.
“Definitely in these last couple of years I’ve realised that my role in this Opals team is that I can be a versatile big defensively; I can switch onto smaller guards and I can still guard a post inside,’’ Garbin says.
“So making sure that if that’s gonna be my role I’m gonna do it well, and just I think I’m a pretty high IQ player, so just making sure that when I’m coming into these sort of camps and even in games that I’m being aware of that and trying to make the right decisions.’’
Whitcomb, her long-time teammate in WA and now internationally, has been thrilled for her friend on the selection front given multiple past disappointments, while also noting the volume of work the smart player has put in over an extended period to earn her Opals spot.
That includes becoming tougher and more physical defensively, while limiting the foul count, plus honing her offensive instincts and finishing skills.
“From what I’ve seen, it’s her confidence and her aggression and her just asserting herself at the right times,’’ says Whitcomb.
“Not being passive is really important for her, because I think it’s easy, especially when you play with the Opals, you want to pass the ball, you want to move, you want to find whoever it is, but often times you do the team a disservice if you’re not aggressive yourself, if you’re not recognising when you’re actually the best option.
“And so I think really owning those moments when, ‘I’m open, I’m shooting this’, or ‘I’ve actually got the advantage here I’m gonna be aggressive here’, I think she’s been really, really good in that and then I think again just continuing to make the right plays. I think at this level that’s really important: just making the right plays.’’
Garbin, who had a short-term stint in Germany in 2019 and will play a full season for Hungarian league team DVTK-Hun-Therm in 2022-23, is resigned to never reaching the WNBA — “I’m just a realist,’’ she laughs — but insists she had never given up hope of becoming an Opals regular, even as she sat with her thoughts in locked-down Melbourne watching her friends at that disastrous Tokyo Games.
“There was obviously times around selection where I was super disappointed, initially, and you kind of feel like you don’t want to do it anymore,’’ she says.
“Even at the start of this year we lost the WNBL (championship, to the Melbourne Boomers) in a very tight grand final series and I had the same sort of emotions for nearly a good month after that: ‘Do I really want to do this sport where I’m being cut or I’m losing?’
“But I think that’s just the competitor in me, that I want to compete at the highest level and I want to give it every chance I can to make this team and make a major tournament.’’
The elation of finally doing so followed last month’s call came from Opals’ coach Sandy Brondello, and even as Garbin prepared to pack her bags for the recent pre-Sydney camp on the Gold Coast it still seemed almost hard to believe.
“I kind of looked at my boyfriend Nick and I was like, ‘Nick, remember I got selected, like this is crazy’. He was like, ‘Yeeaaaahhhh’. And I was like, ‘I’m about to go to the World Cup!’.
“It still was just so surreal, and the fact that it’s on home soil, I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen again in my lifetime, for sure, let alone my basketball career, so it’s something that’s so special, and it’s goosebump sort of stuff when you talk about it.’’
Adding to the pinch-me factor is the fact that 41-year-old Jackson, her childhood idol, will be a teammate at world championship No.5.
Note to self: Try to dial down the fan-girling.
“This is so embarrassing, but as a 16-year-old I went to the AIS and the first day I had a physio screening I rolled over and Lauren was on the bed next to me, and I’m this kid from a town of 2000 people, so as soon as I left that physio room I called everyone I knew to tell them that I saw Lauren Jackson,” Garbin recalls.
“I think I was too nervous to actually talk to her. I was just like, ‘OH. MY. GOSH’. This kid from a tiny little town and Lauren Jackson on the table next to you, it was amazing.’’
Team Garbin in the stands at the Sydney Superdome will include Darcee’s partner, extended family including parents Lyn and Glenn, Marin jetting in from his job in the Alaskan mines, and Sophie, of course.
“My sister always jokes that mum doesn’t like me. It’s so funny, because I moved out of home so long to go to the AIS, so I’m quite independent,’’ says Darcee.
“Then my brother’s the next, and just with mums and their boys, mum’s favourite is clearly him, and then it’s Sophie, because she’s the baby of the family. Any time mum has to say goodbye to Sophie it’s just waterworks; she just gets so upset.’’
Barely three years separates the Garbin siblings, who grew up in the Kambalda “dust bowl’’, as Sophie has described the oval at their primary school, yet a big relationship change came when the sisters spent part of the Covid period back together at the family home.
“It was the first time all five of us had been living under the same roof in a long time, and since then we have been the best of friends, Sophie and I. As much as Covid and all the lockdowns sucked, we’ve really become a lot closer and I guess as our careers go on and we have similar experiences, we have kind of leaned on each other with that as well, which has been great.
“If you told me 10 years ago that we’d be the sort of sisters that talk on the phone almost every day I wouldn’t believe you, but now we’re super, super, super, super close.’’
Sophie played both sports growing up, before dumping basketball when forced to choose one after moving to Rockingham – a shift made in part so that Lyn could avoid the 14-hour round trip for her elder daughter’s weekend hoops commitments in Perth.
More recently, Darcee played some social netball during one of her off-seasons in Townsville, and enjoyed it so much that she has mentioned to her Opals teammates that she would like to share the court with her sister, at some level, at some stage.
Which could be interesting.
“I think mum’s thankful that Sophie chose netball and I went to basketball,’’ says Darcee. “We are super, super competitive. We cannot play a game of cards at the dinner table without some sort of fight. Like, it’s almost embarrassing, so I think for mum’s sake she’s glad that we’re doing different sports.’’
One as Sophie Garbin. The other as Sophie Garbin’s sister.
Playing in a World Cup the proud Opal doubts will change anything.
“She’s everywhere, Sophie. My boyfriend works on a mine site and he mentioned her name to someone he works with, and the next minute he got a half and hour lecture about netball and Sophie Garbin, so …
“Look, I’m very happy with this low profile. I am not Sophie Garbin, I do not love my TikToks and my Instagram as much as that girl and I think we’ve both picked the right career path in terms of the profile.’’
A finalist in the 2021 Harry Gordon Australian Sports Journalist of the Year Award, Linda Pearce is a Melbourne-based sportswriter with more than three decades experience across newspapers, magazines and digital media, including 23 years at The Age. One of the first women in Australia to cover VFL/AFL and cricket, she has won media awards across a range of sports – including internationally, as the recipient of the ATP’s 2015 Ron Bookman Media Excellence Award. A tennis specialist who has reported from over 50 major tournaments, including 13 Wimbledons, Linda has also covered two Olympic and two Commonwealth Games, plus multiple world championships in gymnastics and aquatics and five Netball World Cups.
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