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  3. Liz Cambage: International Powerhouse

Liz Cambage: International Powerhouse

ByDani Bar-Lavi|| December 21, 2020If you buy something from a link on our site, Queen Ballers Club may earn a commission.

WNBA All-Star Liz Cambage has been giving opposing defenses around the world nightmares for over a decade now. A professional basketball player from the age of 16, Liz developed an elite array of skills that, when combined with her muscular 6’8″ frame, makes her nigh-impossible to defend.

Today, Liz is among the greatest scorers in the world. Which she has showcased throughout an odyssey of a career, that’s ushered her between China, the United States, and her native Australia.

With the Dallas Wings in 2018, Liz Cambage took home her first WNBA Peak Performer award, leading the league in scoring with 23 points per game, all while finishing second in MVP voting on the season. Liz set the WNBA record for points in a single game during that 2018 campaign, dropping an astonishing 53 points on the New York Liberty in front of a Dallas home crowd. 

“It’s pretty big,” Liz told reporters after her record-breaking game. “I’ve had big numbers in China, I’ve had big numbers in Australia, and I’ve heard a lot of people say I could never have big numbers here in the WNBA.” In true Liz Cambage fashion, she dedicated the game to her haters: “I guess this game is for y’all.”

Off the court, Liz exudes pride, while being well aware of critics who argue that she’s “too much, too loud, too aggressive, too opinionated.” Liz seems to take these comments in stride, continuing to show her confidence not only through her relationship with basketball, but also in her activism and through her modeling career. “If me being me is getting other people to be themselves,” Liz once said, plainly: “Well, that’s pretty cool.”

But how did Elizabeth Cambage learn how to be herself? Today, we’re going to take a look at Liz Cambage’s basketball evolution, from youth basketball in Australia to dropping baskets in the WNBA, and all over the world. We’ll break down Liz Cambage’s personal journey to self-acceptance. While taking a look at how her game has flourished and grown as she’s developed her shooting and ball handling. 

Liz Cambage’s basketball evolution

Elizabeth Cambage was born on August 18th, 1991, in London. Her parents were both immigrants, her father from Nigeria, while her mother, Julie, was from Australia. Her parents separated when Liz was only a few months old, and she moved with her mother back to Australia, settling in Melbourne. Exceptionally tall from a young age, Liz was often teased for her height, with some classmates calling her ‘Big Bird’

“Growing up here in Australia, I didn’t really feel beautiful until I moved to America when was 19,” Liz admitted in a February 2020 interview. “I always thought that, to be beautiful, I had to be white with blue eyes and blonde hair and skinny.” 

When Liz was nine, her and her mother moved again to the Mornington Peninsula, which is where Cambage first laid her hands on a basketball. New in school and struggling to make friends due to her height, she found her niche only after her mother saw an ad in the paper for youth basketball. Even then, at first, Liz didn’t take to it. “I absolutely hated playing basketball because I was such a chubby, lazy kid. But it was a good idea by my mom, I guess.”

Nine-year old Liz wasn’t much for the sport, not really able to dribble, shoot, or even catch the ball. But, the other players were excited when she showed up — finally, she had found a community that celebrated her height instead of mocking it.

By age 10, Lizzie Cambage was already taller than most adults, standing at 182cm (5 foot 9 inches). As she played youth basketball, Liz continued to grow, getting taller and gaining basketball skills. All while making friends and coming into herself socially. Plus, after she scored her first basket in a youth game, her mom gave her $10 and took her to see a movie. You just can’t beat that!

Liz Cambage’s first WNBL seasons

At the age of 16, Liz played her first games as a professional basketball player. After being called up to the Dandenong Rangers’ WNBL squad for the 2007-2008 season, having practiced with the club’s junior division.

Partway through the season, in late 2007, Liz was offered a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport, a performance sports academy under the Australian government’s Sports Commission. At the time, the AIS had a squad competing in the WNBL. Liz accepted the scholarship, training and playing with the AIS squad for the rest of the season. 

During her time at the Institute, Liz continued to develop her physical fitness, while working on fundamentals such as her handle and shooting form. But, in reflection, says she did not put in as much work as she would have liked to.

”I really enjoyed the AIS. I was living with all these girls and, with all my friends around me, I wasn’t that focused on basketball all the time,” Liz reflected to the Sydney Morning Herald, “I had great fun, looking back, but if I could go back and live it all again, I’d put in a lot more hard work.”

Despite improvements in Liz’s game, the AIS squad went 8-16 on the season. Earning them a second to last spot in WNBL, followed by a dead last finish in the 2008-2009 season. But Liz had made a statement to the basketball world, and was starting to garner interest from WNBL teams and teams abroad alike. 

Ahead of the 2009-10 season, Liz decided to leave the Australian Institute of Sports, having just put on an impressive performance in the Junior World Championships. Liz, who had just turned 18, was flooded with high-salary offers to play overseas, in China or in Europe.

But, in the end, Liz chose to move home to her childhood hometown in Melbourne, signing with one of the local teams, the Bulleen Boomers. While the Boomers couldn’t offer Liz the same financial incentives organizations abroad could, they did offer the young Liz an opportunity to hone her game with a team of elite coaches, including head coach Tom Maher, who had once led the Australian national squad: the Opals.

Finally, Liz’s game exploded under Maher’s coaching on the Boomers. Liz led the league in scoring and blocks (22.3 and 2.8 blocks per game) as well as shooting percentage (59.6% on the season), earning a spot in the WNBL’s All-Star Five, the Australian equivalent of the All-WNBA team. The addition of Liz propelled the Boomers to the top seed in the WNBL in 2010. Going 21-1 in the regular season, before losing in the Grand Final to the Canberra Capitals, led by none other than WNBA and Australian basketball legend Lauren Jackson.

The 18-year old Liz was devastated by that narrow, 75-70 loss. Having come so close, performed so well all season, only to come up just short in the single game to determine it all. “That feeling was the worst in the world,” Liz told the Sydney Morning Herald, “I never want to feel it again.”

This defeat was possibly made worse by how often Cambage had been compared to Jackson as she began her career. As they were both tall, Australian, physically dominant centers. “A lot of people say I’m the next Lauren, but we’re completely different,” Liz said, laughing off the comparison. “It’s great to be compared to her, and I’d love to have her profile or even bigger.”

“But I want to be me, and not someone compared to Lauren.” Ironically enough, Liz would get the chance to show the world who she is shortly thereafter, playing alongside Lauren Jackson on the international stage.

The 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women

In the midst of this intergenerational clash of the titans, Liz and Lauren were training together as teammates for the Australian Opals. That August, Liz led the Opals at the Salamanca Invitational Tournament to victory over both Spain and the US: the world’s two foremost international basketball powerhouses.

The next month, Liz found herself in Prague, at the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women. By now, Liz had established herself as a cornerstone of Opals head coach Carrie Graf’s squad on both ends of the floor. Liz led the Opals to an undefeated run in the tourney’s preliminary Group Stage. Before taking only one loss in the second round, against a USA team laden with WNBA talent.

The Opals made it to the elimination phase of the World Championship. Facing the host nation Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, Lizzie’s 22 points and 10 rebounds were not enough to lift her Opals over a Czech team that was bolstered by a fervent crowd of locals. 

Liz Cambage’s first WNBL Title

At only 19, Liz had captivated the attention of the entire women’s basketball world with her breakout performance against elite talent at the FIBA World Championships. But she didn’t have much time to rest. The 2010-11 WNBL season tipped off only a few days after the end of the World Championships. By early October, Liz was back with her Bulleen Boomers squad. Gearing up for her last chance to impress WNBA scouts ahead of the 2011 draft.

And impress she did. Liz Cambage once again led her Boomers to the number one seed, going 19-3 for the season. Liz defended her scoring title too, averaging 22.3 points per game to go along with 8.2 rebounds and 58.9% field goal percentage, both good for third in the league.

All this amounted to an MVP campaign for Liz before she was 20 years old. Once again, Liz and the Boomers rode the momentum of their #1 seed to a Grand Finals berth. And once again, the legendary Lauren Jackson and her Capitals squad stood between the young MVP and her first WNBL title. 

Driven by the pain of the previous year’s loss, Liz and the Boomers were able to triumph over Canberra 103-78. With Liz recording 17 points despite two early fouls. Liz would not have to feel that feeling of losing she hated so much the year before.

These 2011 Grand Finals symbolized a changing of the guard in Australian women’s basketball. As Liz defeated Jackson, who she had garnered so many comparisons too throughout her career. With this, Liz Cambage had established herself as one of the foremost ballers in Australia—and the world. 

Liz Cambage’s rookie WNBA Season with the Tulsa Shock

Liz Cambage was taken second overall in the 2011 WNBA Draft. Landing with a struggling Tulsa Shock squad that was desperately in need of a new direction. “They want to make me a franchise player,” Liz told Melbourne’s Herald Sun, “but I’m not going to the WNBA for that. I’m going to learn and improve my game.”

The new face of the Tulsa franchise, and a name who had significant pre-draft buzz, Liz Cambage enjoyed immediate celebrity in the WNBA. Particularly from a Shock fanbase that looked to her as their savior. But, this notoriety, combined with the fact that Liz was already the tallest player in the league as a rookie, painted a huge target on the back of her jersey. 

Liz was the center of attention for opposing defenses throughout her rookie campaign — the subject of constant, brutal double teams. The WNBA features a more physical style of play, and despite her height, Liz was only 19, and still working on her conditioning. The defensive pressure was unrelenting, constant.

Despite these hurdles, Liz did earn her first WNBA All-Star appearance during her rookie year. “Maybe it was a good thing I was thrown into the deep end first,” Liz told ESPN, finally embracing the pressure put on her by her role in Tulsa.

The Shock went through two coaches in Liz’s first season. And finished the year last in the league with only three wins. But Liz Cambage, between her game and her personality, had made a mark on an American audience. With a chip on her shoulder, and several bruises, Liz headed home to Australia, to prepare for her first Olympic games.

Liz Cambage’s 2012 Olympic Games in London — and the dunk

Liz rejoined her Bulleen Boomers for another WNBL season in late 2011. Leading them on yet another Grand Finals run before coming up short in the championship game. Liz’s focus, however, remained on the Olympics.

She practiced rigorously alongside her Opals teammates during an arduous six month regimen. During these practices, Liz improved immensely. And came to be recognized as a cornerstone of the national team by veterans such as Lauren Jackson. Liz and Lauren together were able to lead the Australian Opals to a great showing at the2012 Olympic games.

They made it into the elimination stage of the tournament. Only to be knocked out by the United States, eventual gold medalists, in the semi-finals. Australia ended the Olympics taking home the bronze. Earned by besting Russia 83-74, with the win largely fueled by a monster dunk from Liz. Incredibly it was the first, and only, dunk from a women’s basketball player in the Olympics.

Liz left it all on the court for the Opals, emerging from the Olympic campaign physically exhausted. Despite having previously indicated that she would join the Shock for the back end of the 2012, Liz and her agent decided it would be best for Liz to rest her body, and her mind. 

Liz Cambage in China and the 2014 injury

That summer, Liz signed a $40,000 contract with Zhejiang Chouzhou, a team in the Chinese CBA. This contract, above the maximum salary for both the WNBA and WNBL, made Liz one of the highest paid women’s athletes in the world. Liz earned that money, too, averaging an eye-popping 36 points on 79% shooting.

Liz followed her wild campaign in China by returning to the Shock for her second WNBA season in 2013. This time, Liz averaged 16 points per game on a season, where she missed 16 games to injury. The rigors of year-round basketball were catching up to her body.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t all the ‘basketball gods’ had in store for her. While playing an exhibition game against Team USA with the Opals in 2014, Liz Cambage fell to the ground clutching her leg in pain. She had ruptured her Achilles, one of the most devastating injuries in professional sports. Liz would not be able to play professional basketball for the remainder of the year. Meaning she would miss the 2014 WNBA season entirely.

When Liz did recover, she had had time to reexamine her priorities. While she admired the competitive basketball played in the WNBA, playing in China paid better. “I’ve said this many times: [The WNBA] doesn’t pay my bills,” Liz later told ESPN.

Fittingly, Liz returned to China, now playing for the Shanghai Swordfish. She balanced her CBA commitments with training with the Australian Opals. Who once again made it to the elimination round of the 2016 Olympics, without placing for a medal.

In 2017, Liz Cambage briefly returned to the Boomers, her first WNBL stint in five years. Liz once again led the Boomers to the Grand Finals. But, in what must have been a flash of deja vu, once again fell just one game short of a WNBL title.

During this season, “Cambage was repeatedly frustrated with her treatment at the hands of opponents, referees, and the league itself,” feeling targeted and improperly officiated due to her size and play style. Because of this, Liz swore off the WNBL at the end of the season, pledging to never play in the league again. 

Liz Cambage’s second WNBA stint (2018-present) 

In 2018, Liz Cambage returned to the WNBA franchise that drafted her. Having since relocated and rebranded, as the Dallas Wings. Liz signed a two-year deal with the Wings for $114 thousand a year. Wings president Greg Bibb celebrated the signing, referring to her as, “one of the greatest players in the world”.

This much was confirmed by Liz’s dominant 2018 campaign. During which she led the league in scoring and claimed the WNBA record for points in a game. The Wings won the fourth seed that year, but were knocked out by the Phoenix Mercury in the first round. 

Dissatisfied with the Wing’s finish, reports emerged that Liz Cambage was once again unsure if she would return to the WNBA. Ultimately, however, she decided to play WNBA basketball in 2019, just not with Dallas.

In January, she requested a trade to a contender. Which was honored that May, with a trade that sent Liz to the Las Vegas Aces. There, Liz joined young center A’ja Wilson to form one of the most physically imposing front court duos in the league.

While both players saw decreased production sharing the paint, the Aces improved with the addition of Liz. Finishing the season with the fourth seed overall and a 21-13 record. The Aces narrowly defeated the Chicago Sky for a semi-finals berth. Before losing to the eventual champion Washington Mystics in four games. Liz averaged a remarkable 23.6 points and 11.4 rebounds during these 2019 playoffs.

Liz was granted a medical exemption from the 2020 season. Opting to miss the ‘Wubble’ season out of concern for the effects of contracting the Coronavirus. Which she had already battled while playing in China.

Liz, changing her mind amidst changing circumstances, returned to the WNBL. Where she is currently leading the Southside Flyers, a rebrand of the same Dandenong Rangers franchise Liz first signed with when she was only 16. Liz is averaging 23.6 points per game for the Flyers, who have just clinched the #1 seed overall. And she claimed All-WNBL First Team honors. Basically, nothing is new, in the best of ways.

Elizabeth Cambage’s go-to moves

A dominant post-player from a young age, Liz Cambage prides herself on marrying her physical boons (such as her height and strengths) with a wide array of skills. Including masterful ball-handling, agility, and footwork in the post. Plus, an ever-improving jump shot.

While listed as a Center and traditionally playing at the five, Liz’s ball-handling skills make her something of a unicorn. She’s even joked before that her ideal position is actually point guard! Here we’ll explore some of her go-to moves.

1. Back to basket lay-up

Liz catches the ball in the high post and keeps her back to her defender, posting them up. Dribbling, Liz side-steps away from the basket, giving her room to spin around her defender. And get an open drive or low post shot using immaculate footwork. What’s really amazing is Liz’s ability to accelerate on her pivot. Blindsiding her opponents with a sudden move to the basket when she was just a moment ago facing away from it. 

2. Punishing backdowns

Something that makes Liz difficult to defend in the post is how many options she has when she receives the ball there. It’s hard to predict whether she’ll attempt to go around you, as described above. Or simply post you up, press her back into you, and back you down until she’s practically under the basket. Fried chicken! Liz is one of the biggest, and strongest centers in the league. Sometimes you don’t need to be fancy with it: sometimes you just outmuscle them down-low. 

3. Face-up runner

When Liz finds herself up against a player that can rival her in size, she busts out her agility to help her finish. In this move, Liz doesn’t post-up, instead turning face-up toward the basket. In one variation, Liz will hold the ball up high, lightly faking a pass before putting the ball on the floor. She drives to the basket, using her shoulder opposite her dribbling hand to force defenders where she wants them. This gives her enough room to hook it over them into the bucket.

4. Emphatic blocks

Liz Cambage’s final signature move comes on the other end of the floor: her aggressive and physical shot blocking. With hops like a kangaroo (sorry, not sorry!), Liz is known for her ruthless, lethal rejections. Check out this WNBL highlight, where Cambage denies a player unlucky enough to be caught under the basket with her. 

Liz Cambage’s strengths

Let’s take a look at the strengths that help make Liz such a scoring threat.

1. Her size

The obvious factor contributing to Liz’s basketball success is the one that’s made her stand out since she first stepped onto a court when she was 10. Standing at 6’8″, Liz is among the tallest basketball players in the world, and currently weighs in at 216 pounds. Having spent years building strength, and conditioning her body, Liz is able to use it to exert her will on opposing players. Easily creating space for herself, as well as her teammates with hard screens.

2. Her hands

Part of what makes Liz so hard to guard inside is that it’s extremely difficult to deny her the ball when she’s in the post. Between her height, wingspan, and dexterity, Liz can grab almost any pass thrown into the post over opposing defenders. And quickly turn it into two points using one of her signature post moves.

3. Ball handling

For a player of her size, Liz Cambage’s ability to handle the ball while in motion is downright unfair. While many of her signature plays involve post ups, Liz is just as comfortable dribbling right at a defender, picking up the ball and scoring. She’s even been known to break out the crossover when she has the ball at the top of the key.

4. Defense

Having a player of Liz’s size on the floor dynamically changes an opposing team’s defense. Making it much harder to score with her on the floor. Liz’s defense goes beyond her size, however. Her quick reactions, and quick feet, help her stay in front of scorers and contest shots.

After adding Liz, the Aces went from the league’s third-worst defense to one of its best. Allowing the fewest points in the paint and leading the league in defensive rating, allowing 95 points per 100 possessions. This number only got better when Liz was on the floor. As she only allowed opposing offenses to score 93 points per 100 possessions throughout the season.

Liz Cambage’s weaknesses 

Even Supergirl has kryptonite: Here are some areas of Liz Cambage’s game that could use improvement.

1. The three-point shot

Probably the biggest hole in Liz Cambage’s game currently is her lack of a consistent three-point shot. While her stroke passes the eye test, and there are some games that Liz finds her rhythm from outside, on the whole Liz’s outside shot cannot be relied on.

In her last full WNBA season, Liz averaged 0.4 three point attempts per game. Only taking one every 2 to three games. She only hit 16.7% of these attempts, explaining her hesitance to fire from outside. This is down from over 30% in 2018. So unfortunately, Liz’s outside shot seems to be trending in the wrong direction.

2. Getting to the free-throw line 

While Liz makes her free throws at a decent clip, hitting 74.8% of them for the Aces in 2019, she could work on getting more attempts. For a player that operates inside as much as Liz, she only shot just under five free throw attempts per game during the 2019 season. Though she did shoot a few more per game during the playoffs. If Liz could draw the foul and make it to the line a few more times per game, her scoring would go off the charts. 

3. Look to create for others more on offense

For much of Liz Cambage’s career, especially her years in China and Australia, she has been the unequivocal best offensive option for her team. While this has helped Liz develop a much-deserved confidence in her scoring, Liz does not always look for open teammates, assisting on just 11% of her possessions in 2019.

While Liz is not meant to be a pass-first player, becoming a more willing passer would help Liz become even harder to predict. And thus, even more dangerous on offense.

Everything else you want to know about Liz Cambage

Liz Cambage Twitter & Instagram

Elizabeth Cambage can be found on Twitter and Instagram under her handle @ecambage. In addition to posting about her exploits on the floor around the world, Liz posts photos from her modeling career, as well as important messages about protest, social justice, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Liz recently went viral across Twitter and Instagram after this video of her workout:

Liz Cambage’s stats

Check out Liz Cambage’s most recent WNBA and WNBL stats to see the crazy numbers she continues to put up year after year:

2019 WNBA Regular Season

2019 WNBA Playoffs

2020 WNBL Regular Season

Liz Cambage’s career benchmarks and awards:

What’s next for Liz Cambage?

Oh, you mean after winning the ‘ship with the Southside Flyers?! Liz Cambage was last under contract in the WNBA for the Las Vegas Aces, who she signed a one-year extension with in April before opting out of the 2020 season. Liz is currently set to enter unrestricted free agency when markets open in 2021. Which would mean she’d be free to negotiate a contract with any team in the WNBA.

However, Las Vegas could use the WNBA’s core designation on Liz, meaning they would effectively be the only party who could negotiate with her. Liz could still be on the move if Las Vegas “cores” her, in the event of a sign-and-trade. Stay tuned!

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