Caledonia Pride coach Bart Sengers candidly admits it will be a miracle if they avoid the wooden spoon in the Women’s British Basketball League this season.

But the Dutchman believes the production line of talent he has built can keep his side rolling, even if results challenge his young stars.

After sitting out the WBBL Cup pre-Christmas due to Scottish restrictions, the Edinburgh outfit finally start their league campaign on Saturday when Leicester Riders visit The Crags.

Sengers has had to rein in his usual animated exuberance after a freak accident during practice left him on crutches, with knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus pending in his diary.

But with multiple challenges on and off the court, improving his home-grown core remains more of an ambition than challenging for silverware.

“Our focus this year is mostly on building an even better culture,” he said. “Because if we would focus on winning the league right now, that’d be a waste of time, to be honest. We’re just really young. No beating around the bush, we’ve got younger every year, the last couple of years. That’s not what we what we prefer. But that’s just been the situation. There hasn’t been any money to bring in pros.”

Instead, he will rely on the experience lent by French playmaker Maud Ranger who has been lured from the USA to Scotland by a Masters degree at Edinburgh University. Venturing in the opposite direction, however, were Scottish prospects Shawnisay Millar and Alix Henderson, on collegiate scholarships, while also ceding new Great Britain cap Hannah Robb to Leicester was an unforeseen blow.

His latest teen prodigy, point guard Ella Doherty, is also set to decamp after winning a move next summer to Toledo University in Ohio. “But if these are the things that they want to do, then we support that,” her mentor says. “And as long as they go into situations where they’re happy, or they get better and get out of it what they want, we support them.”

Financially, Caledonia will rely ever more on their backing from Basketball Scotland and a few precious sponsors until their small but devoted paying fan base are permitted to return. Treasury cash allocated to the WBBL was limited to the league’s ten English and Welsh clubs. Even the £300,000 set aside for the sport from the Scottish Government is set to end up primarily with Glasgow Rocks, Sengers rues.

That means no budget for the kind of Covid testing keeping other sporting sides on track. After their first two games were cancelled when opponents could not comply with quarantine guidelines, the Pride will have to cross fingers, follow protocols and ride their luck.

“Luckily, we’re starting within a home game,” Sengers adds. “But we’re probably travelling everywhere away by bus. We can make sure we got all the ventilation in and we’ll have certain rules about stops.

“It’s been a bit of a nightmare, but not much more than organising everything around practice. Once you get the hang of it, I’m sure it will be fine. The players have not complained one bit. They’re just happy to play, and to do whatever needs to be done. We’ve had zero cases or anything. So it’s all going well, so far.”

Watch the game live here from 3pm.

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