FRENCH DELIGHT ON MINDS AS CAMP OPENS

Standard Life GB Women v Cuba - 20th May 2011Great Britain’s women open training camp in Guildford on Saturday. Success at EuroBasket, says Stef Collins, is foremost on everyone’s minds.

It is the start of a new era with Damian Jennings at the helm and the euphoria of the Olympics now replaced by the reality of achieving a good enough return in France to justify further funding in the national team programme. That well-worn chestnut of ‘getting ready for London’ is old news. GB are now just like any other international side, eager to prove their worth each summer and ensure they figure regularly at major tournaments.

Jennings has chosen 20 players in his initial pool (although a number, including Erin McGarrachan, will miss the initial phase due to either university commitments or injury). 12 will go to France next month, whittled down over a six-week preparation period which is a great deal shorter than in past years.

No bad thing, claims Collins, the country’s record cap-holder. “I think camp will be the perfect amount of time, just because most of us have played together for a long time,” she states.

“We know how to play. Going in, we don’t need as long. It might even be better to have it short and sharp.”

Two years ago in Poland, Britain – under Tom Maher – reached the second round, picked up one victory (over Israel) and ran eventual champions Russia close.

Last summer, there were several notable scalps in the build-up to London and a narrow reverse to France during the Games. Ultimately, the hosts left winless. But among the nine Olympians who have returned this summer, there will be a lingering benefit from that prolonged tour by the time they reach an opening round that features clashes with Serbia, France and Latvia.

Jennings: taking over

Jennings: taking over

“The Olympics itself was just an amazing experience and I think we learnt a lot from it,” Collins states. “Even though we didn’t get the wins we needed, performance-wise what we showed around the world was monumental.

“We showed our brand of basketball, what British Basketball can be. Now, with the funding being reinstated, and having that bit of pressure to live up to some performance indicators going into the European Championships, it’s exciting for us.

“Now, we have that bit of experience playing at this level, going up against that calibre of team, Hopefully we’ll have a good summer.”

The American-born guard believes she has made strides forward too, enough to retain her spot under pressure from some of Jennings’ generation next, led by Georgia Jones.

At least three places will be up for grabs, perhaps more. Having succeeded the Englishman as coach at Cardiff Archers, Collins has spent the last season juggling the dual demands for excellence on the court with management from the sidelines.

It was a tough induction, she concedes. But, en route, she has acquired a few new tricks which might just keep her ahead of the chasing pack.

“It’s given me a new experience, to recognise those moments in the game when there are runs, and how you ride that out and deal with adversity. You learn to cope with when that happens. Basketball is up-tempo anyway with changes of possession so you have to stay composed in every situation.”

The initial stages of camp will see fitness pushed to the fore. But it is not that long until GB’s three home friendlies in Guildford later this month, when Greece, Germany and Israel pay a visit.

But all season-long, the players have counted down the weeks to their big reunion. Now it has arrived, it is time for everyone to slot back into place.

“Everyone stays in contact throughout the year,” Collins reveals. “What we’ve done the past few summers and building up to the Olympics, we’ve got quite a bond between us all. There’s been calls about people’s health, how their club season’s going. But everyone’s been keen to get involved.”

The gang is back together. Watch out.

Read a full preview of EuroBasket Women in the new issue of MVP Magazine – out on May 9

Pics: Dan Wooller/BB

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