Ahead of the start of EuroBasket Women, we speak to GB’s totem.

New England in what Americans persist in calling The Fall is one of nature’s golden wonders. But Boston in the winter time? An environmental disaster.

“This last winter,” Temi Fagbenle chuckles, “was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Fortuitously, her stint in Beantown is an end. Two weeks ago, mortarboard on head, gown on body, she skipped through Harvard University’s luxuriant quadrangle to pick up a degree that should provide, in time, a calling card wherever her career drops anchor.

It was an experience to look back upon with fondness, the Great Britain centre declares. On, but mainly off the court.

“I wouldn’t take away anything. I wouldn’t change anything. Obviously it had its ups and downs over the past four years. School set a lot of challenges but I came away a better person from the good times and bad times.

“Educationally it pushed me no end and I’m grateful for that. That’s what I wanted: to be challenged and be made uncomfortable.”

Having moved from her native London to the USA in her mid-teens to pursue basketball and then earned an Ivy League scholarship, her first season in Cambridge, Massachusetts was among the most testing travails.

The NCAA ruled she was ineligible to play, just one in a long line of European victims of its complex and incomprehensible rules. Hence why she only played for three years for the Crimson Tide, swiftly emerging as the star of Harvard’s team. But, she says, “they gave me (the eligibility) back because they realised the error of their ways. So I’m going to use it.”

Over the next six days, and perhaps beyond, Fagbenle will be the focal point of GB’s bid to impress at EuroBasket Women, and potentially edge closer to a place at the 2016 Olympic Games, starting with Friday’s group opener against Russia in Szombathely (BBC Red Button, 5pm).

But with frigid memories of the January freezathon in Boston, she has agreed a switch to the sunnier climes of Los Angeles and one final year of collegiate basketball in tandem with a Masters in strategic public relations at the University of Southern California.

“To be brutally honest, I was just looking for somewhere warm,” the 22-year-old giggles. “I looked at Miami, I looked at Berkeley. And if I had to do a Masters, it was going to be somewhere warm. Academics was always on my list but warmth was a priority.”

Eastern Hungary, where GB begin their Euro quest, will reacquaint her with the big orange ball in the sky. To have any hope of reaching Rio next summer, Pete Buckle’s side will need to burn brightly, their young pivot especially.

With 2013 finalists Spain and France favoured to reach the final once again and land the two automatic passes through to Brazil, the eventual third to sixth in the standings will, at least, progress to next year’s Olympic qualifying tournament. But, minus Jo Leedham, this will be a battle to beat the odds.

Leedham's absence will be keenly felt (Mansoor Ahmed)

Leedham’s absence will be keenly felt (Mansoor Ahmed)

Losing the team’s most explosive scorer was a body blow. The Bourges guard carried her side to a top-ten finish in France two years ago, just shy of a place in the quarter-finals. A British line-up had never ventured so far in the past. Going above and beyond this time would be a momentous achievement, especially in the wake of UK Sport’s funding cuts that left British Basketball scrambling to stay afloat. What remain of the sport’s reserves, plus some welcome assistance from Sport England, have been invested into this campaign. So much, for all concerned, is at stake.

It is not an impossible task to get out of Group C and into the second phase, you sense. The Russians, winners in 2011 but calamitous in 2013, have re-grouped but not to their past level of dominance. Croatia lost Ana Lelas and Antonija Misura to injury in the build-up and then failed to get the naturalisation papers through in time for American-born guard Shavonte Zealous, leaving them with a squad of only 11 in a huge knock to their hopes.

Latvia have improved from last time but only marginally. And although Serbia ended up in the top five at last year’s FIBA world championships, they were defeated by GB in a warm-up friendly last month. They remain good but not an insurmountable foe.

Ultimately, anyone forecasting the final standings here – or even the composition of the top three who will survive into the second round – is taking a leap into the dark.

“I think it’s a great group,” Fagbenle declares with a welcome confidence. “Any group would be challenging and it’s definitely a challenge. But I think we can come out top or qualify.”

Much will rest on her broad shoulders. During GB’s first three tune-up games, she was the leading scorer and the most potent offensive weapon by far in Buckle’s attack. When she missed the subsequent trio of warm-ups in Spain to attend her graduation, the team went 0-3. No coincidence surely.

Minimising turnovers will be vital. The margin for errors is slim. Any point saved will be precious. Any contribution from an unproven bench a bonus.

Despite Fagbenle’s experience of London 2012, where she was a youthful addition to a group of older heads, it is a lot to ask her to fill the void vacated by Leedham with so much at stake.

“I don’t feel the focus is on me necessarily because it’s not a one-man sport but I will do as much as I can to help the team,” she declares. “I don’t feel any pressure. I don’t feel forced to do anything. I just want to play to the best of my abilities.”

But will she ask herself to go above and beyond? “I have a tendency to put pressure on myself, especially if I have already played a certain way. I want to keep playing fantastically. I just aim to bring my best every time.”

Hungary could, however, be her breakout onto the European scene. USC is a one-year extension to her salad days. Next summer, professionalism beckons, should she so desire. A strong personal showing here will bring offers to come back across the Atlantic.

Some felt her name should have been called in the recent WNBA Draft. It is the lone sphere where an Ivy League degree might hamper one’s stock, with scouts presented with the difficulty of equating the apples and the oranges turned out by the NCAA system.

“I was invited to the combine,” the Londoner reveals. “I didn’t go obviously but there was a little interest.”

There may be more next year if she can shine at USC. “I guess if the opportunity arise, I’d weigh my options at that point in my life. But we’ll have to see when the time comes.”

Of course, in the summer of 2016, she – and her GB comrades – would rather be destined for Rio.

Seven of this group were at the last Olympics and went winless under the coaching of Tom Maher. Invited guests at their own party, they would rather book a place in Brazil under their own steam, by virtue of performances, not politics.

“It’s something I’ve thought about, and I’m sure everyone feels has too, just fighting and earning something,” Fagbenle acknowledges.

“Having been the host country and automatically qualifying, it would be serious and feel much different and feel like we totally deserve it if we get to Rio.”

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