Tess Madgen: The Epitome of What it Means to be an Australian Opal
By Hayley Wildes | The Pick and Roll
Australian Opals captain – and recent Sydney Flames signing – Tess Madgen is putting together a truly superb career and while she’s highly skilled in all facets of the game, there’s no doubt her passion is what has set her apart since she first stepped foot on a WNBL court back in 2008 with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).
Leading the Opals into a home World Cup last year with the added pressure of the program needing to bounce back after a disastrous Tokyo Olympics, Madgen not only played a vital role on the court with her shooting and facilitating on offence, but she also helped re-focus the Opals’ culture off the court.
When you listen to Madgen talk about the Opals and what it means to her to wear the green and gold, it’s no wonder those around her walk taller when she’s leading from the front.
“[Captaining the Opals at a home World Cup] is definitely the highlight of my career without a doubt,” she said. “It was never really a goal of mine and it sometimes still feels surreal, but obviously I’m very honoured, I’m very proud and especially to be able to captain that group of exceptional, women and people was definitely a privilege.”
For Madgen, it’s all about carrying on the Opals’ tradition, respecting and paying homage to those who came before the current day squad. When asked if there was a moment that stood out from the World Cup, big or small, Madgen’s love for the history of the program was evident.
“I think there were so many, sorry I’m going to get emotional,” Madgen said as she choked up. “I loved going out to the last game and having all the former Opals that were available there. They made us a guard of honour and all the interactions with them throughout the tournament, going to the past Opals lunch, it just means so much to so many people.
“To continue that legacy is definitely something I’m obviously very passionate about and it does mean a lot to me.”
Part of that legacy is growing the game and as Madgen explained, that was a focus going into a home World Cup.
“Obviously we wanted to win a gold medal, but we also knew there was a huge responsibility to grow the women’s game and to grow the game of basketball in Australia,” she said. “I think that was just as important to everyone as if we won a medal or not. Luckily, we did win a medal too for all that hard work we had done, but it was equally rewarding seeing the stands full, seeing everything in the media, on social media and then especially hearing from people during the WNBL season saying they bought a membership or they were at a game because of what they saw from us at the World Cup.
“That was definitely a highlight and I’m very, very fortunate and grateful to be able to play Asia Cup again in Sydney this year.”
The chance to represent her country on home soil twice in less than a year is something Madgen isn’t taking for granted. With the 2023 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup tipping off in Sydney next month, she’s doing all she can to be ready.
“I can’t believe I might have the opportunity to [play for Australia at home] twice in a year and we never really got to play here before that, so I’m definitely doing everything I can rehab-wise to make sure I’m 100% ready to go. It will be touch and go, but I’m really looking forward to having the chance.
“The Asia Cup squad is full of young, exciting talent and I’m super excited to see what each player can do both in the camp and then when the games start in June.”
Madgen was forced to sit on the sidelines for all but 18 minutes of the Melbourne Boomers 2022/23 WNBL season due to a knee injury arising from the World Cup, but with the right mindset, she was able to find a positive in the situation.
“It was a very long rehab,” she said. “My muscle had just gotten so weak and wasted from it being so swollen and sore for quite a while. I tried to play that one game but I should’ve never really tried to play it.
“I’m just back on court now doing un-restricted basketball stuff, which is amazing. I think every time I’ve been injured it’s kind of come as a blessing in disguise and being injured lately has helped me refocus on what’s important and that is just being a professional athlete. I think I was filling my bucket way too full with a lot of other things and while I still can be a professional athlete, that’s what I want to focus on first and foremost.
“I’m very grateful to the Sydney Flames to pay me a wage that lets me do that. They really put their money where their mouth is in what they say and what they’re trying to promote, and that was another big reason why I wanted to play for the organisation.”
Setting her sights on another season of WNBL, Madgen is excited to get to work in Sydney and the possibility of playing under Guy Molloy again.
“He’s just been named as the interim head coach at the moment, but obviously I have a great relationship with Guy, and he definitely gets the best out of me,” she said. “I have my sights set on really wanting to do everything I can to make that Paris Olympic team and I think hopefully playing for Guy if he gets announced as the head coach, will set me up well for that.
“Also just being involved with the Sydney Flames organisation and Hoops Capital, all my conversations with them and the people that know them, it was definitely a club that aligns with what I value and I’m excited to – with the right people around – make it one of, if not the best, program in Australia for women’s basketball.”
Putting together a loaded backcourt, led by Opal squad members Madgen, Lauren Nicholson and Tiana Mangakahia, the Flames look set to make a charge up the ladder in season 2023/24. With the Nicholson signing announced earlier this week, Madgen can’t wait for those guard battles at training.
“I’m super excited not only to play alongside her but also training against her every day – I think it’s going to make both of us a lot better,” she said. “Being able to train against someone of that calibre – like Tiffany Mitchell at the Melbourne Boomers as well – definitely makes you improve, and very quickly.”
Having won a WNBL Championship, played in the WNBA, attained individual accolades and of course represented Australia countless times, what motivates Madgen heading into a new WNBL season? It’s simple really.
“I still play basketball because I’m always wanting to be the best that I can and I think I can still become a better basketballer,” she said. “That’s kind of what keeps me motivated. If I thought I couldn’t improve, I would probably have retired by now.
“So first and foremost, just trying to be the best version of myself on and off the court every day. We’ll be looking to build a really strong culture in Sydney and I want to take my game to another level.
“I think before I had that knee injury prior to the World Cup last year was the best that I’d ever played and Sandy [Brondello] had given me that feedback as well. Obviously, I’m looking to get back there, build on that and see what I can do.”