Stef Collins can still be a major factor for Great Britain, coach Chema Buceta insists.

The veteran guard, he confirmed, will be included in the 12-strong squad for Women’s EuroBasket despite sitting out chunks of this season due to injury.

Buceta is expected utilise the dozen who will travel to Riga next week for the opening round of the championship as his line-up in two friendlies against Canada in Manchester on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Although there had been suggestions that Collins, now 36, might instead serve as an assistant coach if her place was usurped by one of the country’s rising stars, the Spaniard insists he retains absolute faith in the Cardiff Archers playmaker for what will be the team’s most important campaign since London 2012.

“In November, she was injured and couldn’t play,” Buceta said. “But she’s had a great recovery programme. She’s the kind of player who doesn’t need to play so much. She is in great physical shape. She’s had a conservative rehab programme all season and played more at the end.

“But loyalty is not loyalty for the sake of it. It’s because we have good players. For example in the qualification, she couldn’t play much in the last window. But in the previous window in February, she was a key player when we beat Israel and Portugal. The good news is she came in great condition and unless something happens, she’ll be on the final roster. Because we need her experience and her talent.

“And we’ve seen other players of that age in other countries, coming in and being key players. Evanthia Maltsi in Greece, for example, at 39. She almost killed us. Of course, if Stef wasn’t playing well, she wouldn’t be in the team, and she’d be the first one to understand that. We need 12 players who can play and she’s in.”

Buceta will add Polish League MVP Temi Fagbenle and Karlie Samuelson to his roster for the visit of the Canadians after both sat out the recent annihilation at the hands of Sweden.

Among the cuts, however, is expected to be Kennedy Leonard with British Basketball officials confirming they have lost their battle with FIBA to have the 23-year-old, and Samuelson, re-classified as native players rather than ‘nationalised’ recruits, even though both were born to British parents and have been eligible for UK citizenship from birth.

A FIBA spokesperson confirmed: “Basketball ‘citizenship’ and how it is decided does not have to match the laws of the country. They both asked for the citizenship after the age of 16.”

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Which, Buceta hinted, will see Samuelson – currently a free agent after being recently waived by the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks – take her seat on the plane to Latvia while Leonard, who earned her first cap against the Swedes, sits out.

“Kennedy is a player for the future,” Buceta declared. “She is a good player. I had her at Under 20s. But only her or Karlie can play at this moment. We’ve been trying to get FIBA to change their status but at this moment, they are both considered naturalised players. It’s unfortunate.

“We are still fighting the case and we will do in the future because both of them are important for the team. But unless the situation changes in the next days, we will have to choose between the two of them. But Kennedy, especially, is young and we can wait for her. Even if she cannot play at EuroBasket, it is good to have her here to get familiarised.”

Photo: GB

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