GBW Chantelle Handy 568A year in Turkish basketball has taken Chantelle Handy to a new level and Great Britain are reaping the benefits.

In the Turkish fishing port of Mersin, nature’s treasures are brought onto land before being converted into delicacies which satisfy at home and abroad.

They call it ‘The Pearl of the Mediterranean’, geographically in Asia but a place where travellers have passed through for many centuries, attracted by the resources at hand.

Chantelle Handy went there to play basketball but was similarly enriched. If the Great Britain forward was good in college and improved during a rookie pro season in Greece, it was in this city of almost one million people where she evolved into great. A year spent by the coast has seen her claim her place among Europe’s best players.

GB will target a quarter-final place at EuroBasket Women when they begin their second round charge on Wednesday against the Czech Republic in Vendée. It has been quite a week for the Durham-born performer, who turned 26 during the opening phase and agreed an early deal for next season with nearby French club Nantes.

It will, she hints, be a wrench to leave Turkey and its positive influence. “It was a great experience. The league is very competitive. I think I grew a lot, building my skills and my development. My confidence was huge.”

That particular C-word comes up a lot. Last summer, Handy was up and down, starter then reserve, laden with potential but still unfulfilled. In Mersin, she was challenged to be better but also given the freedom to reveal her best.

Yildizoglu was huge influence (FIBAE)

Yildizoglu was huge influence (FIBAE)

“The coach gave us a lot of confidence, he gave us the green light to be confident in our play,” she reveals. “He never said, don’t shoot or don’t do this. That was great for me. He said: ‘any time you have a shot, take it.’

“My confidence just grew and grew. We didn’t end the season the way we wanted to. We got knocked out in the play-offs. But we had a great year coming through.”

That coach has followed her to France. Ceyhun Yildizoglu is presently guiding Turkey in their own campaign, unbeaten so far in the other side of the draw, fresh from a campaign in which Mersin advanced in Europe (where their British import averaged 13.6 points per game) as well as becoming a force domestically.

They beat Galatasaray. Fenerbahce too. Every game was a battle, Handy recalls. Nothing was predictable. “You just never knew. It was never going to be a 20-point, 30-point blowout.

“In the season before, in Greece, we played and we beat teams and we went undefeated. But last year was great because you got competition every weekend. It makes you better. You don’t get better unless you’re playing against better players.”

GB have responded well to a similar challenge in France. Now they must raise their games still further in a second phase which will also pit them against the might of Belarus as well as a seasoned Croatia.

“We’re excited,” Handy declares. “We’re very familiar with the three teams we’ve about to play. We’ve played them in the last three years. We’re well-prepared and we’re going to go out and fight and take each game as it comes. And try to get into the next round.

“This was the initial target. But we’re all fighters. We don’t want to just settle for the second round. We want to keep going as far as we can. Yeah, we have a win brought through already. But we want to get as many in the second phase as well.”

Jennings: easing off (Ville Vuorinen/BB)

Jennings: easing off (Ville Vuorinen/BB)

There is a familiar look to Britain but also a different flavour. Close observers talk of retaining the rigid tactical barricades erected by previous coach Tom Maher while relishing the extra freedoms afforded by his successor Damian Jennings.

“That’s a fair observation,” Handy states. “Tom did great things for us. Damian’s come in and done some great things too in addition with the help Buck and Nessa on the sidelines. It’s a different mentality this year.

“No knock on Tom or anything but it’s a different chemistry, different players. We have the young ones come in and it was a great preparation camp. They didn’t make the 12 but they were huge for us in practice in the way they competed every day.”

We know now what Handy can accomplish if allowed to express herself. That may bode well for GB as they try to do what no British side has managed and venture into the last eight.

One win might be enough. Two would make it a certainty.

Advancement would be unexpected by most. That is fine with us, Handy adds.

“We are the underdogs. People don’t expect things from us. When we do it, it’s kind of a shock when we do. But we’ll take that. We’ll be the underdogs. We’ll still do what we do.”

One more treasure, near the French coast, might be landed in Handy’s net.

Main pic: Mansoor Ahmed/BB

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