Tiana Mangakahia has given Australian Opals coach Sandy Brondello a sharp reminder of her ability in an emotional basketball comeback after a battle with breast cancer.
Playing her first competitive game in almost two years, Mangakahia top-scored with 16 points to lead Syracuse to a 50-39 win over Stony Brook in their NCAA season opener in the US on Monday morning (AEDT).
The 25-year-old Brisbane native also produced seven rebounds, four steals and three assists in 36 minutes' court time.
The impressive return came after Mangakahia was sidelined for all of last season, having undergone eight rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
"I was very emotional and I couldn't believe this day was here," Mangakahia told Syracuse.com.
Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman was thrilled to have Mangakahia - the Orange's all-time assists leader - back in his line-up.
"I'm just so grateful that she has the opportunity to play again," Hillsman said.
"Some people lose their life and she's here and playing for us. I'm very thankful and grateful."
Mangakahia, a former Australian junior national teams representative, spent time at home in Brisbane earlier this year when the coronavirus pandemic first hit.
The point guard used it to build up her strength and endurance before returning to the United States for another crack at college basketball, which could be a springboard to the WNBA and Olympics stages.
Mangakahia shot 4-of-13 from the field and committed five turnovers in her comeback, and admitted it would take time to get back to her best.
"I still feel like there's so much I need to work on," she said.
"I'm still getting used to my body and how it's changed."
Australian Associated Press