Johannah Leedham is now looking forward to the Olympic Games. However the star of Great Britain’s women could be forced to pass on Eurobasket.


There might, admits the Cheshire-born guard, be no other choice. Tendonitis in her right knee has left Leedham battling to compete the rehabilitation programme set by British Basketball’s medical team in time to make the plane to Poland in June.

The problem first appeared during her four-year stint at college in the USA but as her rookie professional season beckoned, it curtailed her practice time with Team GB last summer.

Eventually, Leedham picked up her first paid gig with Euroleague outfit AZS Gorzow Wielkopolski but the pain travelled with her. And eventually, she was left with little option but to quit the club mid-season and seek a solution that would prolong her career past 2012 and beyond.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” she reveals. “Cutting my contract in Poland was the hardest decision I’ve had to make. But in the long run, the bigger picture is being healthy. I’m not going to be able to improve my game if I’m not healthy.

“My tendon’s just getting worse and getting weaker and weaker. Even if I rest, and then play on it again, it’s not long enough to recover and I go back to square one. Recovery’s really slow right now. I’m doing a lot of strengthening work. It’s hard. But I have to avoid going backwards. There’s a lot of restraint.”

The prescription is leg work – lots of it. Leedham’s hamstrings have been confirmed as her chief weakness. “It’s my new-found muscle,” she jokes. Building them up has meant time in the swimming pool rather than on the basketball court, plus a spell at the British Olympic sports science centre at Bisham Abbey in Buckinghamshire.

“It’s made me appreciate things more,” she admits. “Sitting out gives you that hunger and gives you the desire. It’s hard. You sit there and think: ‘I’m not going to be as good as everyone else when I come back.’

“But I know that once I get back on the court, I’ll be hungry to prove I’m as good as ever.”

When that return will come is currently unknown. It would be a huge blow to the plans of coach Tom Maher if his primary scoring option were confined to the role of spectator for Britain’s first-ever appearance in a major tournament.

“Some days I feel better than others,” Leedham declares. “Some days I wake up and the pain is still there. Other days I feel great. I’d like to say I’ll be ready for Eurobasket but I don’t know if I’ll be fully fit for camp.”

Some leeway might be needed. “We still have a few weeks between the start of that and going to Poland. So if the coaches are willing to stick with me and give me a few extra weeks, hopefully I’ll be there.”

The main priority – the only priority – is prolonging her career. Leedham is adamant that she will not risk returning before she is ready, even if that means sitting out Eurobasket. Simply, she has invested too much in this process.

She hopes to continue her club career in Spain next season. Poland was hard. Players came and went from her team. It was not the familiar college environment she had grown used to in New Hampshire. “It was mainly down to a culture shock, going from American culture and adapting to Eastern Europe,” she states. “It’s not westernised where I was at all. But I enjoyed the European game.”

Having been drafted by the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA last year, Leedham remains intent on returning across the Atlantic to pit herself against the very best of the best. It is another motivating factor in her fitness regime.

“I just want to be ready for that and put myself in a good position. Even when you’re drafted, you only really get one shot. So I want to be as strong as possible when I go, possibly next year.”

Another big date looms also. As part of the British Basketball delegation to Lyon last weekend, she was an interested witness to the announcement that GB will be taking part in the London Olympics.

“I’m so relieved,” she grinned. “I don’t think it’s going to sink in until it gets closer.”

There is much to look forward to. And, for Leedham, an immense light awaiting at the end of her tunnel vision.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • MySpace
  • Print

You must be logged in to post a comment Login