Tess Madgen put herself first, now the next gen is reaping the rewards

Opals Captain Tess Madgen could only live out the glory of her team's rose gold win for so long before the reality of her physical health took her in a different direction.

In the blink of an eye, the guard had gone from playing an important role for her team at the FIBA Women's World Cup, to the opposite end of the spectrum, pushing through constant pain and unable to play at her best.

Post tournament last year, the skipper underwent surgery to clean out her knee joint which had already been compromised several months prior, delaying the start to her WNBL season with the Melbourne Boomers.

After playing just one game with her team, she made the decision to sit out the remainder of the season. This was not an easy choice, but after hearing from three different specialists who shared the same opinion, she knew it was the right thing to do.

"It was a super hard decision," Madgen told ESPN. "But to be honest, I had gotten quite low mentally and it felt like my body wasn't performing how I wanted it to. So, once I made that decision not to play, even though it was a really, really hard decision, I'm feeling a lot happier, a lot brighter and a lot more myself now.

"I'm showing my body some love, which is sometimes really hard to do as a professional athlete. Obviously, it's devastating [not playing], but I kind of had to take care of my physical self."

After winning the championship with the Boomers last season, it is understandably disappointing for Madgen, who can't be on court to help them go back-to-back this year, but she has no regrets.

"Since I've stopped trying to play it's feeling a lot better. It's looking pretty good, and nobody's concerned about the longevity of my knee joint, it's just that I need to build the strength back up around it, so it's not overloading the bones."

While off the court Madgen, or 'Madge' as she's more affectionately known, has been busy pouring her energy into a different avenue. Her exit from the season may be a loss for her Boomers team, but it is a gain for the wider basketball community.

She is incredibly generous and invests her own passion for basketball into helping others find theirs, running numerous programs for budding basketball stars.

"I think it's super important to give back to the sport that has given me so much. I think a lot of professional athletes forget that we are role models. It's our responsibility to be a really good professional role model, but to also then teach the next generation how to play basketball, or whatever their chosen sport is, but how to play it the right way."

Madgen's focus lies less with how good she makes each individual player, but more on the impact she has on their personal development and self-belief. One of the programs she runs is the Boomers Academy, which puts an emphasis on creating a safe environment that allows young kids to learn and improve their basic basketball skills.

"I think character and culture, those traits that people bring to a team that aren't necessarily skill, are way more important than the actual skills that they bring.... I really love helping the less skilled athletes with a great attitude... Seeing all that hard work you put into teaching the kids new things that they didn't think they could do; I think that's definitely the highlight for me."

Recently, Madgen was involved in the running of a new program, 'Come Train With Us' which provides a special WNBL training experience for players on the rise. Thirty young athletes got direct access to Boomers players and the chance to experience everything a WNBL player has access to, and to gain an insight into what it's like to be a professional athlete on a daily basis.

She is proud to be involved and believes that everyone should get an opportunity to see what it's like - - not just those who are lucky enough to get chosen for the elite pathways.

"We put together a really good program; I think this is the first time a WNBL team has done this for such young ages. It really is to show those young aspiring basketballers, like I was when I was growing up, what it takes to get to that level. I don't think you could do it, if you didn't get to experience it, and I had a lot of really great experiences growing up.

"I was identified quite early as a good basketballer, so I was offered every type of experience under the sun, but I think that should be available more widely; especially to young females, who often give up because they can't see a pathway forward, so that's the whole idea behind it, to show them a path, and you know, you can't be what you can't see."

Her passion for inclusivity doesn't end there. 'Masterclass with Madgen' through She Hoops delivers five free weekly sessions run live by Madgen via zoom. This means that everyone across the country can tune in, eliminating factors that usually stop kids from getting these opportunities.

She Hoops is Lauren Jackson's platform working to break down barriers in women's basketball. It secured federal funding as a legacy program off the back of the World Cup to continue driving growth for the sport, and the online coaching program is an initiative to get young ballers engaged.

"Huge Kudos to Lauren (Jackson), I think what she's doing is great. She Hoops is definitely something that was needed within basketball in Australia, that more intimate availability for female athletes, coaches, admin, referees, and the way she's covering all those is just really commendable."

The masterclass is clearly having an impact already, with approximately 50 attending each session, although spots are unlimited so numbers can continue to grow as more people register. The intimate nature of the program allows Madgen to communicate directly with players, but even if you can't attend live, each session is recorded and available to watch later.

"The questions that they're asking me in the little Q&A that we do after is super insightful, and I love being able to share my knowledge as much as I can, so you know, everyone kind of has that equal opportunity to be the best that they can be."

Australian basketball fans can rest easy knowing the next generation of young female athletes are in such safe hands. You would have a hard time finding anyone to argue that she's not the best person for the job, as Tess Madgen continues to inspire those in her presence on and off the court.