Kennedy Leonard is set for her Great Britain debut in Slovenia this weekend. We caught up with her.

You grew up in the USA so explain the British connection.

My Mum was born in Dundee but she moved to South Africa when she was  young. But then when she was 16, she moved to California to train for the Olympics. Se was a really good swimmer so she went there to pursue those dreams of getting on the British team. She got a scholarship to university in Colorado but met my Dad there and they started a family. And she’s pretty much been there ever since.

What are your memories of visiting the UK as a kid?

I don’t remember all my visits from when I was young but we all came over to see my Mum’s family who are all still here. We’d come over the years and then I came back a few years ago when I was playing for the Under-20s so I’ve not been back a tonne but more than your average person.

How “Scottish” was your home?

We have flags in our house. My sister’s name is Mackenzie Sian which is super Scottish. When we were little, we had papers on our dressers with the clan that we’re part of. There were a tonne of little things. And my Mum’s accent is pretty Scottish so I’d hear that every day.

What role did sport play as you were growing up?

When I was little, I’d play every sport like every kid in America. Softball. T-Ball. American football. Soccer. Basketball. Swimming, I did it all. But my Dad loved basketball. I’m close to him and I’d go with him to the gym and having that connection probably pushed me most to pick basketball. I’d be two or three years old and be with him so I’ve had a connection with basketball for a long time.

Your basketball IQ is obviously high from playing at Colorado University but how did you develop it?

I played on a really good club team in America on a Nike-sponsored circuit, the EYBL. There are 32 teams and if you’re a good player, you’re in that league. I started in it really young but watching players who were better than me helped me a lot. I got to play a lot of minutes. I played pick-up with guys. I did a lot to open my horizons and mould things I saw into my own game.

I’m super-fortunate. I know here basketball isn’t the biggest sport but in America, people are always paying attention to it. Everywhere you go, there’s a gym open. There’s a hoop. A kid I went to high school with had a gym inside his house. That was pretty cool and I could go in there to shoot for free whenever I wanted … He has a full indoor court with wood floors, two rims that raise and lower, it’s really nice. He has a seating area where people can watch. He has a gun so I can go in a shoot with that as well so it’s a really nice thing to have.

What did you take from those four years at Colorado?

College was awesome. We didn’t make a tonne of NCAA tournaments but I personally had an incredible career. It was more the experiences which were tough that helped me the most. My freshman year, we were 7-23 and the coach got let go. But we got a new coach after that and made the tournament. It’s experiences like that…. I started all four years and feel like expanded my game every years.

Previously, you played for GB Under-20s – describe that as an experience?

It was incredible, meeting a tonne of new people. A lot of them already knew one another so I came in  new. But a lot of them, I keep in contact with. Sav (Wilkinson) is here at the camp now. So we’ve stayed in contact because she’s playing at Florida State. Having her here is nice. We’re the youngest so we hang out together.

That was awesome. I’d travelled before but not to those: we went to Montenegro. We went to Ireland. We went to Bulgaria. Places I’d not been before and seeing those cultures was really cool.

And in America, the culture is you get what you want when you want it. Food is there when you want it. You have amenities at your disposal. You go to all these other places and they don’t have that so when you come back, you appreciate more what you do have.

To make the 12-person roster for EuroBasket, you’d need to beat out some established players. How does that sit as a challenge?

I don’t think about it too much. I’ll just play and whatever happens, happens. I’m young. There are a lot of veterans here who have been through it so I’m listening to them and watching what they have been doing. They’ve all been qualifying for this for a while. I’ve just been thrown into it. I’m slowing myself down, remembering the plays and taking this as fun. I never try to take basketball too seriously because it is meant to be fun. I try to recall that, work hard and try and make everyone around me better.

Photo: BB – Q&A edited for length and clarity

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