PRIDE READY TO BEAM IN WBBL

Bart Sengers gathers his players in a circle and showers them with both praise and admonishment.

Some steps forward, some backwards. Each day, a new idea, a fresh goal. Appropriate for a team that came into life, a few months ago, with an entirely clean slate.

The Caledonia Pride officially take their competitive bow on Sunday in the Women’s British Basketball League with a trip to Leicester Riders, the first Scottish entrant in the semi-pro top flight since it began three years ago.

Days and evenings have been devoted to converting this band of ten Scots and two Americans from near-strangers into a squad capable, at the very least, of holding their own over the next six months as they embark upon a journey of self-improvement and self-awareness.

And the Dutchman, whose other role as Scotland’s lead female performance coach is wholly inter-twined, is determined that progress will be made – results or not.

“The team is working hard and it’s committed to getting better,” he confirms. “They’re learning about becoming a performance athlete, thinking: ‘I need to eat better, I need to get my sleep, I need to organise everything around practice.’ You can’t have excuses. You have to make it happen. You have to look after your own development and not wait for Coach to tell me to train.

“They have to ask: ‘can I work on this? Where can I train more?’ You can give them feedback. But they need to proactive and take ownership of their own development. But they’re starting to do that and that’s something I’m excited about. We’ve got all the material they need so if they put in the effort, I think we can make big strides.”

To bolster their hopes, Sengers has brought in American veteran Natalie Bastian with one other of her compatriots understood to be en route. The foreign legion has been hired to provide benchmarks as much for their potential statistical input, living points of emphasis that their playcaller can point to.

The extra help will be useful though. Despite a win over fellow newcomers Oakland Wolves in their final WBBL warm-up last weekend, the Pride expect to find themselves over-matched on a regular basis. With most of the roster stepping up from the Scottish League, this is a level of regular combat that only Robyn Lewis and Sarah Thomson – lured from Leicester and Northumbria respectively – have known before.

“They’ll get challenged,” Sengers acknowledges. “They know it’s going to be a tough situation for us. The only way they can do that is to grow and push themselves. It will force them to work hard on their game. In the WBBL, if they make a mistake, it will show up whereas in the Scottish League, you get away with it.

“We made mistakes against Northumbria in a practice game. We were full of them. But we were able to show them that they scored because of what we’d done. Here, if you’re a fraction late on defence, it’s a three-pointer for the opponent.”

Hannah Peacock is the Pride's lone GB cap

Hannah Peacock is the Pride’s lone GB cap

Sengers will teach and then re-affirm each point. Whether it is extra conditioning, skills training or scrimmage work, few details have been skipped over at the team’s practice base at Edinburgh University.

Already in situ since 2014, he knew the score when he accepted his enhanced position. The likes of Nottingham Wildcats and Sheffield Hatters have been at this for years. The Pride – who will play their home ties at the impressive new Oriam centre in Edinburgh – may take a few falls before picking themselves up and pushing on.

“I want this team to be competitive,” he underlines. “I want it to win everything. But I have to be realistic and know that’s not going to happen at this time. So if we can be competitive in games against teams stacked with international players, that would be amazing. We have two Scottish players who have been reserves on WBBL teams – the rest have never done this before. So even if we don’t win, and we give them a fight, that would be massive.

“How that stacks up in terms of wins and losses and the standing in the league, I have no idea. I’m sure we’re going to struggle at the beginning to get used to it. It’s not going to happen in a couple of days. But I know we’re going to get better and better. If we can be that team that, by the end of the season, is challenging other teams, I’m going to be happy and we’ll see how many wins we pick up along the way.”

It will be a boon, he knows, if Scotland gains a place at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia. Sengers would be the coach. Caledonia would prove the core of the squad. Embarking on this new adventure in unison now can only make their challenge stronger in 18 months time, should it occur.

But, of greater import, is maintaining the production line of talent into the Great Britain team which had been consistent in recent years until it ground to a halt in 2016.

If the Pride can provide a showcase to those selecting national squads, then doors can more readily be kicked open and send them onward to the European stage.

Give us time and they will be more than ready, Sengers proclaims.

“The Scots are definitely too modest,” the Dutch mastermind underlines. “They spend too much time looking up to everyone else. My view is ‘let’s not aim to get a few Scots into the GB team.’ Let’s try to own GB and have a few English girls join in with us. That should be the attitude.

“It doesn’t mean it will happen but let’s aim or it and go from there. We might end up with 1-2 or perhaps with 3-4. Especially with the set-up we have now, they just need to work. Some of the younger players are still hesitant to make the sacrifices. We have a few more waiting in the wings.

“But the culture isn’t there yet. I’m hoping that will change by showing some of the success if younger players come through and we have a healthy set-up.”

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