SAMUELSON A WELCOME RECRUIT TO GB SISTERHOOD

Being the middle child is an exercise in fighting for position. Karlie Samuelson wears the battle scars with a mixture of pride and prejudice.

“Because I was younger than Bonnie, I wanted to beat up on her,” Great Britain’s new recruit recounts. “Then my baby sister started getting taller than me – so I had to prove myself there right? It got pretty competitive.”

Bonnie is the former Stanford standout who passed through the GB squad ahead of the London 2012 Olympics but has since pursued a career outside of basketball.

The younger of the three Samuelson siblings is Katie Lou, current University of Connecticut star and already, at the age of 20, summoned into the senior United States national team

Two years her senior, sandwiched in between, is Karlie, newly-signed up for next summer with the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks following a spell in the Italian League, but of greatest immediate import, recruited as a naturalised addition as the British side prepare for two critical EuroBasket Women qualifiers against Portugal and Israel.

The UK connection? Their mother Karen was once a England netball international who was spirited to America when she met and married Jon when their father was an imported hire for the Gateshead Vikings in the pre-BBL English top flight.

Growing up in California, their trio of little apples did eventually not fall far from the tree. “We actually did end up playing a lot of sports when we were really little,” Karlie recalls. “Soccer. A little bit of baseball. My parents, I think, were hoping we’d play basketball.

“And my older sister chose it as her main sport and we kind of followed suit. We were really competitive. That’s maybe why my baby sister ended up so good. I take credit for everything she’s done. It was a pretty tough one-on-one game.”

Beyond the backyard, they would all practice together and form a sister act on various teams. The two eldest both went to nearby Stanford. The younger headed East. “I never got to play against my sister,” Karlie laments.

“It was super-special to be at Stanford with Bonnie. It was easy for me to go into college, knowing that my sister was there with me and knowing her experiences. She helped me with everything off the court and it was so much fun on it.”

Graduating into the big bad world, she landed a try-out with the Sparks last summer. Impressions were favourable until a freak collision in the final pre-season game left her with a broken bone and an inevitable cut.

Still, soaking up the lessons from a squad which would eventually go to the WNBA Finals was priceless.

Though sidelined, they still kept her in the fold. There remained connections to be made, especially when she and Katie Lou attended a home game in LA and learnt Kobe Bryant was in the building as well.

“Her coach Geno (Auriemma) knows Kobe,” Karlie reveals. “So I jokes ‘get him to text Kobe and let him know I’m here’.

“His daughter’s favourite player is Katie Lou so Kobe called us down and we get invited into the back room. Magic Johnson was there. So was Kobe’s daughter. It was really cool.

“Having Katie Lou in the family is pretty cool. Kobe is just a great guy. We were talking about his daughter – she was really excited to meet my sister. And it’s so funny, we’re following him in, and then Magic is there too. It was pretty fun.”

All about the contacts. She plans to make more this spring after taking up a first assistant coaching role at Vanguard University while pursuing a Master’s in coaching and athletic administration.

She’s made plenty this week so far with a GB squad who – especially with the injury-enforced absence of Jo Leedham – have been only too happy to welcome her into the fold.

Why sign up now, I ask?

“It felt like an opportunity and why would I pass it up?” she says. “It was a good time in my life and I wanted to try it out. I was contacted through email and my agent talked to me about it. From there I got some contacts and made it happen.”

Her mother will doubtless be proud, as will the aunt in Sunderland who regularly headed across the Atlantic bringing British treats for her nieces in exchange for fortnights in the sun.

Karen’s accent has long gone. But in her daughters, some legacy from the homeland lives on.

“She has a few words come through,” her second-born confides. “Even me, I sometimes say garage the English way. Sometimes I don’t know which is the American way!

“We had this little store around the corner that sells what Mom calls her ‘English snacks’. She loves her Digestives. And her sister sends her Thornton’s chocolate as well.”

Samuelson has fitted straight into a squad featuring old hands like Chantelle Handy (Pic: Mansoor Ahmed)

Best head to the biscuit section for a few sought-after souvenirs before returning to the USA. Or accumulate something even more exotic from Saturday evening’s business trip to Portugal for Chema Buceta’s side or next Wednesday’s visit to Israel.

With a 1-1 record after their opening two qualifiers last autumn, the new recruit – a welcome addition to the backcourt – will hope to blend seamlessly into the GB sisterhood and bring some of that Samuelson swagger to bear.

“We’ve had a really good focus in camp, learning offenses, incorporated plays, working together,” Karlie says. “It’s actually been really easy because everyone knows basketball.

“It’s just been great.”

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