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Basketball - 30. April 2008.

Australia - Jackson a star in Russia

From www.abc.net.au
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The Australian, who stands just under two metres tall, has been one of the big names not only at home but also in the US, South Korea, and now Russia.

Jackson has been playing in a star-studded team in Moscow, and has just helped the side clinch the championship in a major European competition.
She has been earning big money and huge praise in Russia.

But her real desire is gold - Olympic gold, as she prepares to lead Australia's women's basketball team in Beijing.

On a bitterly cold Tuesday evening, around 1,000 people made their way to a stadium on the fringe of Moscow to cheer on their team.

Spartak Moscow was playing a side from Lithuania and as the points mounted for the home team, there seemed to be one name more than any other on everyone's lips, Lauren Jackson.

Jackson says playing it has taken time to acclimatise to playing in Russia.

"Every experience is a life experience, and you have to take everything as it comes, but Russia is definitely a different culture to Australia," she said.

After a brief stint playing for Spartak the previous season and helping the team win the Russian championship, Lauren Jackson returned to Moscow around the same time as winter did late last year.

Since then, she has been playing for Spartak in both Russian and European women's basketball competitions, which has meant constant travel across a vast country and a big continent, pounding the court in two games a week.

"I think it was last night I was sitting on the couch, we were watching a movie and I was sitting going how did I get here?" she said.

"How did my life get me into Russia watching this movie on this couch right now? Sore and achey but loving it. I honestly, I don't know."

Lauren Jackson got to Russia by standing out through her height and ability on courts around the world. She grew up in Albury, the daughter of two basketballers, and was playing professionally in Australia as a teenager.

For the past seven years, she has been playing for the Seattle Storm in the Women's National Basketball Association competition in the United States, and she's won the WNBA'S Most Valuable Player award twice.

Among those who noticed and admired Jackson's ability was the co-owner of Spartak, Shabtai von Kalmanovic.

"I lover her... as a player as a daughter. We have relations, she calls me Papa. I call her my Australian daughter," he said.

Earning potential

Mr von Kalmanovic says Jackson is central to the team's success but she does not act like it.

"No intrigues. No star-sickness. You know? She never gave an impression that she is more important or she should be treated different," he said.

"She is first for practice, last going home. She doesn't play for money."

But Jackson is playing for big money and she says it is far more than she could earn in Australia or even the US.

"It's so much better here I can earn... I've probably earned this season maybe goodness, probably what I could earn in five seasons in America, or six seasons. So it's a lot better," Jackson said.

The big money in Russia has drawn name players from across the globe.

There are five nationalities in Spartak Moscow alone. And the result, according to those on the court, is that the competition is extraordinary.

Yet, team-mate and friend, Diana Taurasi from the United States, says they do not come any better than Lauren Jackson.

"I guess you don't really understand how good she is until you're on the court with her," she said.

"Let me tell you I'd rather be on the same team than playing against her, that's for sure."

But Taurasi will be almost certainly playing against Jackson in just a few months at the Beijing Olympics.

As soon as she finishes playing in Russia, Jackson will head to the US to compete in part of the WNBA season, before preparing to lead Australia's Opals to China.

And with the Australian team securing a silver medal in the past two Olympics, Jackson has only one colour on her mind.

"I'm really excited about Beijing, I can't wait. And to lead the Opals with Penny Taylor, it's gonna be great," she said.

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