HAYWARD BUOYANT ABOUT GB CHANCE

A new venture for Great Britain’s women begins in Guildford.

Most who leave St. Mirren jump on a motorway bound for Glasgow. Dee Hayward leapt on a jet plane and ventured much further afield.

Paisley’s basketball outfit has outshone its footballing counterpart in cultivating future internationalists. And after a trans-Atlantic detour that took a collegiate spell in the charming coastal city of Savannah, the 24-year-old is now intent on earning an onward ticket to Montenegro next weekend.

Podgorica in seven days time is where Great Britain’s women begin their qualifying campaign for the 2017 EuroBasket final with the Leicester Riders guard the sole native-born Scot in a squad of 16 that will convene in Surrey for a preparatory camp.

Only 12 will survive the eventual cut of Chema Buceta, the Spanish coach taking the helm for the first time who did much of his homework during a scouting trip last month to cast his eye over the domestic WBBL.

“I was little surprised to get the call because I’ve been in the States for the past four years and didn’t get any recognition when I was out there,” Hayward, a former GB Under-20 cap, admitted.

“But now it’s a new coach and I’m really excited to play under him. There was a lot of pressure when he came to watch everyone but I think it brought out the best in me. It was good to see the level that came out of it.”

Six of the team that went winless at the 2012 Olympics remain with half of those included currently plying their trade in mainland Europe.

“I definitely look at the team and I lack the experience of some of those girls,” the newcomer concedes. “But I’ll look to bring an energy and a spark and learn from everyone.”

The still-nascent WBBL, however, has provided an opportunity to expand since she returned from a scholarship to Armstrong State University. The league remains strictly semi-professional with a handful of paid imports complemented by those, like Haywood, who combine ongoing study with sport.

There are provisional plans to add a Scottish franchise next summer, based perhaps at Edinburgh University. It would be an advance, she underlines, that would benefit all concerned.

“It’s up to everyone individually but my personal advice to upcoming players is, once you get to 18, go and develop more elsewhere,” Hayward said. “It’s just hard here. There aren’t enough opportunities for Scottish players.

“Having a WBBL team here would be a great move. The league needs it and you already have a BBL team here with the Rocks. It’s a step up. You can’t develop more in the Scottish League. It would be a great next step.”

Pic: Armstrong State

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