New summer. New dreams. New look. Great Britain’s women open training camp in Surrey on Monday, looking to prepare for the unknown. But, says captain Julie Page, no-one should shy away from the journey ahead.

In just six weeks, the Eurobasket finals will welcome British guests for the first time in their history. No-one really knows what to expect, not even the hugely experienced coach Tom Maher. That’s fine, insists Page. Better to go forward than regress.

Maher is not a man to settle for average anyhow. The Australian pulls few punches in camp. Show up ready, or don’t show at all. When his charges arrive on court at Surrey Sports Park, he will waste little time with formalities. Thick skins are required.

“There are a lot of scary stories which go around about Tom,” laughs Page, sporting a snazzy new hair do for 2011. “He does push people hard. He does expect you to work hard. Everything he teaches you, you need to take it on board and pay attention.

“You’re never going to be perfect on the basketball court or in life but that’s what he demands. As a player, it’s great to have a coach who pressures you hard and wants you to be better. For me, I just love that. It helps me to improve.”

Page, now 28, went to France last season looking to raise her own game. She joined Villeneuve, performed well, earned rave reviews. Then in March, abruptly, she returned home to Manchester. There were personal issues, she hints, to sort out.

Still, she will bring more to camp than 12 months ago.

“France is a very competitive league to play in and in the time I was there, I learnt a lot,” she declares. “Every season for the past three I’ve learnt a tremendous amount. I’ve had some time to sort out what I needed to sort out. I’ve been back in the gym. Physically and mentally I’m going to be the most well prepared I could be.”

Maher will need her ready. Mairi Buchan’s withdrawal last week after failing to recover in time from surgery highlighted concerns elsewhere. Fitness, health, remains a worry. Nobody, not even the GB coaching staff, is sure that Jo Leedham will be ready for Poland following an extended injury rehab.


“I have full confidence in her,” Page counters. “She’s a really hard worker. I have full confidence in the medical staff to get done what needs to be done. I’m sure that when the time comes and she needs to be on court, she will be there.”

Pacing will be all-important, she adds. Maher will give his squad rest days to keep them fresh. There are 15 days of practice before the side’s opening friendly, against Latvia, in Surrey as part of a four-nation invitational. Then another tournament in Turkey before GB meet the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream in Manchester (above) in a glamorous sideshow.

Every opportunity will count, Page proclaims. “As a GB group, we’ve not had much experience of playing teams at a higher level. We’ve got the WNBA game in Manchester which will be a big test. We’ll have camp first but you can’t teach that kind of experience in a practice, especially with those kinds of players lining up against you.”

At the helm, Maher will push and cajole so that his side is ready to match Europe’s finest. It will open eyes and quicken hearts. Beyond, London 2012 looms large on the horizon. Page, for one, cannot wait.

“I’ve not spoken to the others but I’m ready to rock and roll,” she asserts.

“Being in the gym at home, it’s let the excitement build up. I’ve been like a kid waiting for Christmas. Every week has seemed like months.

“And I’m ready for the challenge.”

Team GB will play the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream at Manchester’s MEN Arena on Sunday 29 May. Tickets are available from www.men-arena.com or 0844 847 8000

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