WINS MORE THAN HANDY

Chantelle Handy is happy to be front and centre as Great Britain’s women head for Spain to complete their EuroBasket tune-ups.
It’s been the abiding moment of Great Britain’s summer season so far, the tears amid the passion play called by Azania Stewart that summed up the weight of expectation which the national team has placed on its own shoulders ahead of their entrance into the EuroBasket fray in Hungary next month.

Olympic places are on offer. The dozen who will eventually be selected for the tournament will share Stewart’s sentiment. “She speaks for us all,” Chantelle Handy confirms. “She pretty much rounded it up. Everyone has the same passion. We’ve worked so hard to get where we are. We keep developing. We keep getting better to get what we need. That’s the goal, to qualify so we can keep competing and keep winning people over.”

That preparatory process is set to continue in Bilbao, where reigning European champions Spain are first up on Thursday in a four-nation tournament that also sees Pete Buckle’s side take on Canada, then Poland inside 72 hours.

Having emerged from their opening foray to France with a promising 2-1 record, the Australian must contend with an injury that has sidelined Steph Gandy as well as the absence – perhaps eyebrow-raising – of leading scorer Temi Fagbenle, who has flown back to Boston to attend her graduation at Harvard University.

In such moments, others need to step forth and be counted. And Handy, the Durham-born forward, has been asked by Buckle to become a vocal talisman upon her return after a year’s hiatus.

For one of the six holdovers from London 2012, it sits easily. “I’m one of the older players on the team. But we have a lot of players who can take that leadership role, who are experienced, who can step up. That says a lot about the chemistry of this year’s group.

“We have young players. But they’re not afraid. And we have that core group back again. It’s challenged us both as individuals and as a team because you want to take that next step, as a leader.”

With a wealth of experience accumulated overseas, from Sweden, France and notably in Turkey where she has just completed a third tour while at Ormanspor, her insights are precious. GB must, by necessity, be ready to battle to the last at EuroBasket. It is a scrap to which Handy has become accustomed.

“The Turkish league is so competitive and there’s never a game where you go on, knowing you’ll blow the other team out by 30,” she declares. “That’s how it should be.

“I didn’t play on one of the best teams but it gave me that challenge, to be ready mentally every game, because you know you could either win or lose, because even the top teams lost on nights they weren’t expected to. And it will be even more competitive next year when they allow four foreigners on court at the same time.”

Steph Gandy is getting treatment but stays home this week

Steph Gandy is getting treatment but stays home this week

A return would be her first preference. As ever, the waiting game has become. Attention is foremost on national duty and extending momentum in northern Spain with a squad that includes teenage debutant Hannah Peacock, one of three Under-20 call-ups – with at least one set to pull double duty once the final dozen is settled upon.

Victories over Serbia and Slovakia following an initial loss to the French have buoyed the mood.

“It was a great for us,” Handy confirms. “We were throwing off a bit of rust and in the first game, that set us back a little bit. But from game one to game two, there was a big difference.

“It was a huge win for us against Serbia. So we’re excited. But we have to keep on improving and put that behind us. This is a big week. We’ve worked really hard. Now the next step is three teams who we haven’t faced.”

Spain, on their home floor, with a wealth of proven talent backed up by their production line of fresh faces, will be an examination to match Les Bleues.

“They’re one of the best teams in Europe but we’ll take it as a challenge,” Handy adds. “We can’t be backing down and be thinking: ‘they’re the number one team in Europe’. There are a lot of good teams in Europe. You have to take every game as it comes and be prepared for any challenge.

“Spain is definitely going to be one of the hardest of all the preparation games but we can use it to see where we’re at and what we need to improve on so we’re ready for Hungary.

“We’re developing as a team and working to get certain things down. Two solid weeks of practice has helped. We’ve been pounding each other every day. But the goal now is to get better so that we’re ready to compete come tournament time.”

The veterans have been here before. It is not so long since Handy, not yet returned from college in the USA, was pushing open the doors and hoping she would be welcomed inside ahead of her debut back in 2007.

Now, others have moved on and she is closing in on her 100th cap, a wise head with experience to impart.

“It’s flown by. To think that some of the girls here are 19 and I’m about to turn 28. Time zips by but that’s how it is. The young ones who have come in have been great. They’re players who can help this programme and make it better.”

FIXTURES
Spain v GB, Thursday 8pm (BST); GB v Canada, Friday 6pm; GB v Poland, Saturday 9am

Pic: BB/Mansoor Ahmed

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