Looking at Jenna O’Hea, you’d be forgiven for not realising she is one of Australia’s most successful basketballers. Seemingly always smiling, she exudes a fun-loving, down-to-earth attitude steeped in humility.
But put her on a basketball court and she is lethal, merciless and a genuine clutch performer. In a controversial loss to China at the Tokyo Olympics, O’Hea scored six of her eleven points in the final minute, draining two three-point shots to keep the Opals in the game.
But that’s what you expect from your captain, I suppose. The ability to deliver when it counts the most. O’Hea has proven this on many occasions throughout her career. It’s part of the reason she was named Opals captain.
O’Hea’s career is littered with achievements. She is a three-time WNBL champion, has an Olympic bronze medal and a silver from the FIBA World Cup. At the 2018 Commonwealth Games she won a gold medal. She has played in the WNBA with the Los Angeles Sparks and the Seattle Storm.
As her career has progressed O’Hea has become a basketball Swiss Army knife, providing whatever her team needs at any moment. She doesn’t often put up big scoring numbers anymore but always produces a bucket when it matters. She hustles down loose balls, creates turnovers and does all the one-percenters that don’t appear on stat sheets but often mean the difference between winning and losing. Her mentality is always team-first. She puts her body on the line and leads by example.
It is this team-first approach that has seen much of her career fly under the radar. O’Hea has never received the same spotlight as some of her countrywomen yet she has achieved more than most.
On top of that, O’Hea’s personality makes her a great role model and an ideal candidate for honours such as national captaincy. Her infectiously warm smile, positive outlook and tendency to praise her teammates over her own achievements all give the impression of a woman who loves what she does and is very down-to-earth. There appears to be no ego with O’Hea, just a hard-working, no excuses attitude from a woman who approaches everything with a smile.
Jenna O’Hea really epitomises everything Australian’s demand from our sporting heroes: humility, good humour, good sportsmanship and – perhaps most of all – success. We expect a lot from those who represent our nation, perhaps as a consequence of our long history of sporting achievements that exceed what a nation of our size should be able to accomplish. Historically we have over-achieved and this seems to set the bar higher and higher for each generation.
Part of the reason for this is people like O’Hea, who put the team first and don’t play for personal accolades or statistics. It is national pride and recognising the privilege of representing your country that turns great athletes into great role models. The same attributes that have seen praised heaped upon Patty Mills following the Boomers bronze medal in Tokyo are present in players like Jenna O’Hea. Both she and Mills are representative of what makes an athlete a deserving role model.
Regardless of the disappointing end to the Opals campaign at Tokyo we should be grateful to have Jenna O’Hea at the helm of our national team. The preparation for the Games was far from ideal, particularly with the late departure of Liz Cambage, leaving the team little time to make major adjustments to their game plan.
At 34, O’Hea is unlikely to be part of the Opals next Olympic campaign. Hopefully the class and determination she has demonstrated throughout her career with remain ingrained with the national team long after she has called it a day.
(Speaking of the Paris Games in 2024, hopefully by then the Opals brass will come to their senses and put the players back into proper basketball uniforms instead of those silly, outdated body suits.)
Whatever the uniform style, we should hope to see Jenna O’Hea on the court representing Australia for as long as possible and inspiring the next generations of Opals.