- Olympic focus
London 2012 just the start for GB basketballJo Carter June 12, 2012 « Shogun headlines UFC on Fox 4 against Vera | Chartbeat test »
The likes of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are global superstars, yet members of the British basketball team could walk down the street largely unrecognised. That is something that Julie Page and Chantelle Handy hope will change after London 2012.
Britain's women may be making their Olympic debut by virtue of being awarded automatic qualification as hosts, but they will not be going just to make up the numbers.
Having qualified for last year's European Championships for the first time, Team GB lost by a single point to Lithuania and were beaten by three points by Russia, who went on to win the title.
Under Australian coach Tom Maher, who will be heading to his fifth Olympic Games after guiding hosts China to a fourth-placed finish at Beijing 2008, the team have made giant leaps forward.
"We have made a huge amount of progress over the last four or five years," forward Handy told ESPN. "At the end of the day Great Britain is not a huge basketball nation, but Tom has done a lot of development since he came in, building the team up.
"We did really well at the Europeans last year, we only lost to Russia by a couple of points and there were games we probably should have won that we just didn't finish."
Julie Page, who was named Olympic Athlete of the Year for basketball last year after her impressive performance at last year's EuroBasket Finals, believes Britain can build on a successful Games and qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics by right.
Surrey Sports Park
- Surrey Sports Park, located at The University of Surrey in Guildford is one of Europe's elite training facilities
- It will host 16 Olympic and Paralympic teams pre-Games, including GB women's Basketball, Nigeria, Singapore, USA Triathlon and Chinese Synchronised Swimming
- For further information go to www.surreysportspark.co.uk
"London 2012 will be the best experience of a lifetime for sure, but it hopefully it is not going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said. "Some of the older players are getting to retirement but GB as a whole are striving to reach Rio in four years time and qualify in our own right. We are not just looking to make up the numbers right now we are looking to build on a programme and make basketball part of our culture."
Handy added: "We are hoping this is the start of something, but you never know so we are going to treat [London] as a one-off. Everyone is super excited about it. We want it to be the start of something because we want people to back us, support us because basketball is not a huge sport here."
After graduating from East Washington University in 2006, Page has played all over Europe; in France, Italy, Germany and most recently Poland. Handy, meanwhile, who moved to the USA at the age of 16 to pursue her basketball career, spent her rookie season in Greece.
Most of the players in the British squad moved to the States to play college basketball, and many have spent time abroad, playing professionally around Europe, something London 2012 could change.
"When we were younger the opportunities just weren't there and that's why people leave to go to the States," Handy said. "But I think now there are stronger coaches around and they are developing programmes to keep players based in England. But it is difficult because you need the financial support and we just don't have that yet."
When the Olympic schedule was announced last month, the squad breathed a collective sigh of relief as Britain avoided four-time defending champions USA in the group stages. However, they will face silver medallists Australia - the team Maher guided to their first Olympic medal in 1996 and then onto silver on home turf at the 2000 Sydney Games.
"I am sure he will be out there to get a win against [Australia] but we are just going to stay focused and every game is as important as the next," Page said. "We will just play our best and see what we can do.
"I think it is good that we are not in the same group as the USA to start with so then when we cross over we have a better chance of hopefully continuing through the tournament. As a team it is our first Olympics and we are just going out there to be the best that we can be.
"I do believe we can beat any team on any given night but it is a case of stacking up those wins and seeing how far that can take us."
Julie Page and Chantelle Handy were speaking at the University of Surrey owned Surrey Sports Park, one of Europe's leading events and training venues. www.surreysportspark.co.uk