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Former Canberra Capitals boss says LJ ‘worth the punt’ as new era begins

Lauren Jackson has left a legacy in Canberra, says former Canberra Capitals boss Mark Cartwright. Photo: Matt BedfordHarrower backs Jackson to make cut for Rio OlympicsCapitals release Jackson from contract early

The man who helped orchestrate Lauren Jackson’s landmark Canberra Capitals deal says it was “worth the punt” despite injury limiting her court time, and the four-time Olympian should be remembered for her “significant” legacy.

The Capitals and Jackson declined to comment on Fairfax Media’s revelations Jackson had been released from the final months of her five-year, $1 million deal after another injury setback, with an official announcement planned for next week.

Mark Cartwright was at the helm of the Capitals and Basketball ACT when the richest player deal in an Australian women’s domestic sports league was reached.

The deal was made up by third party sponsorship from ActewAGL, TransACT, Basketball Australia and the ACT government to play three seasons from 2012 to 2016.

Jackson only managed six games, all of which were last season, but Cartwright said he’d push all his chips into the middle of the table again.

“At the time Lauren was the preeminent basketball player in the world and when you have an opportunity to help keep Australia’s great female sporting export in town, you do everything you can to make it work,” he said.

“Sport is fickle and there was always the chance of injury, but the Lauren Jackson brand and the fact she can dominate at both ends [of the court] made it too good an opportunity to not pursue.

“It took effort and energy but it was well worth the punt. Unfortunately injuries have not allowed the optimum result to be achieved, but Lauren will still leave a very strong legacy in this town.

“We achieved a first and hopefully made the public and the corporate sector think differently about investment in women’s sport in Australia.

“Her legacy will be significant.”

Jackson’s release gives her the opportunity to focus on regaining her fitness in time for the Olympics in Brazil in August.

It is understood she holds out some hope she may return to the Capitals if she makes a successful Olympic return.

The 34-year-old helped the Capitals to a string of WNBL titles in her heyday, but has been powerless to help the team through the worst season in its proud history. It has not won in 15 games.

The Jackson decision gives the franchise more clarity on how to rebuild as it embarks on an all-encompassing review into its performance.

“We haven’t had a focus on Lauren for quite a while, it’s been such an unknown,” coach Carrie Graf said on Thursday.

“I don’t think that will impact us, the group is soldiering on as we are.

“We know we’re locked down into this group, fingers crossed we don’t have any more major injuries.”

Capitals skipper Carly Wilson said the players have already been given a chance to express their opinion in the early stages of the review.

“We’ve all filled out a survey at this stage, I expect they’ll probably want to ask some questions which will come out of that,” Wilson said.

“I know on mine I said I’m happy to discuss anything they want, because I imagine we’ll have a meeting at some point.

“The players are an important part of this, [but] the players have to take responsibility for what is going on, as well as having our opinions.

“I think the club is doing a good job of that, making sure everyone gets a chance to be heard.”

Recruitment strategy is expected to be a major focus of the review, with Canberra’s depth off the bench exposed badly by opponents this season.

Graf, who has won six championships in 14 seasons at the Capitals, is off contract at the end of this campaign.

So too is Australian Opals youngster Stephanie Talbot, who is certain to attract strong interest from other clubs.

WNBL games record holder Jess Bibby is retiring and Wilson will decide at the end of the season if she plays on.

Former Capitals skipper Narelle Fletcher said the club should look at recruiting two or three high-quality players going forward.

“I don’t think you can put all your eggs in one basket any more,” she said.

“If they can keep a hold of [last season’s WNBL Most Valuable Player Abby Bishop], but they also need a point guard.

“They need more depth in their roster, it goes without saying.”

The Capitals play their next game on the road at Bendigo on Saturday night.

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