20110708_GBR_LAT Damian Jennings 568New Great Britain women’s head coach Damian Jennings has sent out a SOS to the country’s Olympic heroines to urge them to sign up for this summer’s EuroBasket campaign.

With just five weeks until the squad are scheduled to open training camp in Guildford, the Englishman has moved quickly to reach out to his potential recruits since his appointment was confirmed last week.

A number of established internationals, including Natalie Stafford and Kim Butler, have played either sporadically or not at all since London 2012, while others have reduced their commitment.

Their possible absence threatens to leave Jennings with an inexperienced line-up for his first campaign at the helm and the challenge of surviving a first round group that includes Serbia, Latvia and hosts France.

However he has revealed that his initial approaches to GB’s elder stateswomen have not been effort wasted.

“Everyone’s been responsive, not necessarily definitive with their decisions, but certainly responsive and that’s healthy,” he told MVP.

Kim Butler (left) is a question mark (FIBA Europe)

Kim Butler (left) is a question mark (FIBA Europe)

“There are a number of those players: the Kim’s, the Natalie’s. But also Azania (Stewart) and Chantelle (Handy), Stef Collins who came out of (the Olympics) with an injury, Rachel (Vanderwal) as well, they’ve all had long periods of play.

“The Olympics were late so they all went straight into their preparation for the league. But they’ve all been responsive. I’m still waiting for a few to come back with definitive answers. But we’re getting there and by the end of this week, we’ll hope to draw up a long list.”

It is thought that a handful of players had already made their minds up to opt out, their decision eased by the uncertainty over the funding of the national team programme.

That cloud has not gone away, despite UK Sport’s allocation of over £7 million over the next three years. If Britain’s men and women do not pass muster in 2013, the bank will be quickly shut.

That significant point has been not-so-subtly reinforced. “They understand it now,” Jennings adds. “The criticality of what this summer means for the future of British basketball.

Which is why he will give the senior figures every opportunity to opt in. “It’s not just been fobbing me off or saying: ‘I’ll call you in a week.’ It’s been genuinely good dialogue,” he confirms. “And it’s been really good to hear from so many of them. I’ve had a few telling me that me getting the job is a positive and has changed their mindset. From a personal basis, that’s been good to hear.”

Stafford, who has sat out this campaign in Australia, is thought to be undecided about resuming her career. Butler had hinted at complete retirement after the Olympics but made a brief return mid-season in Latvia. Losing one, or both, would be a huge blow.

“I’m not worried that Kim won’t be in physical shape,” Jennings declares.

“We’ll have six weeks which isn’t as much as we’re used to. But we’ve got a good strength and conditioning team who can get them ready.”

Read a full preview of EuroBasket Women in the May issue of MVP Magazine

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