There is a genuine comfort level among this current Great Britain team.

Except when asked to don the back-up light blue polo shirts.

“I look like a golfer in this,” the ever-jovial Rachael Vanderwal laughs. Just a set of clubs required and a sponsor’s pullover needed to complete the look.

But no handicap.

Not heading into the 2019 edition of FIBA Women’s EuroBasket. Not from a group with a combined 649 international appearances ranging from Stef Collins – who will earn cap number 150 in Thursday’s opener against co-hosts Latvia in Riga – to the newest kid on the block Cheridene Green.

Not when GB, in a variety of uniforms of varying appeal, have kept pushing steadfastly up the learning curve over the past decade and kept upgrading their corporate knowledge as well, critically, its talent.

Could this, finally, be the breakthrough summer, the championships when GB gains not just the token prize of respect but also the tangible profit of accomplishment?

Better than ninth place, better than ever before, with the sumptuous carrot of qualifying for the qualifier for the Olympics in 2020.

“It is a good question because we’ve been playing together a long time,” Collins declares. No promises though. “I think the biggest thing for us is to take each day in its stride, one game at a time.”

It is a well-practiced mantra, the defensive stop when blind, bold optimism is demanded by those watching on.

A little immodesty would not be out of bounds. GB, triumphant in a qualifying group that included Greece and Israel, two nations associated with success rather than perennial mediocrity.

If last Sunday’s near-miss against Spain demonstrated one thing, it that any intimidation gene in the group’s DNA has been surgically extracted.

Forget below-strength losses at the outset of this build-up. Or wins over below-strength Canada.

Certainly, when the Spaniards and British are reunited on Friday with actual stakes on the line, it will be immeasurably different to that friendly in Madrid. Yet when Chema Buceta watched his adopted nation trouble his homeland, this was not a performance that could be tabbed as a fluke.

No wonder that, privately, the coaching staff were ruing the decision to allow that game to be streamed outside of Spain via the GB Basketball Facebook, thus allowing would-be rivals far and wide to evaluate the display for themselves.

“I don’t know if that game will help us or not,” Buceta acknowledges. “Maybe teams will be more alert about GB. Maybe they thought we were underdogs and now they will not. Now maybe people will respect us a lot in this location.

“But that is it – if you play against big teams, and they consider you a big team, you will have to know that they are going to be alert.”

Blue is not the colour for GB (MAP)

Rewind to London 2012, an Olympics on home soil. A talented group with a younger Leedham and a young Temi Fagbenle. Deeper, in a way, from one through 12. Less margin between starters and end of bench. But without as sturdy a core rotation as now.

Look down the list of caps won beneath Collins and some outliers stand out, fine players certainly on their terms but still including names which would be fishes desperately seeking water here.

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None of these are aquatic arrivistes. This is more able a roster as any predecessor. Leedham still potent, more rounded than ever before. Fagbenle, imposing and brazen. Karlie Samuelson providing the naturalised nuclear weapon that GB has always wanted to detonate.

Then the centurion club Collins, Vanderwal and Handy, still able to explode enough to demand attention. Eilidh Simpson, Janice Monakana. Georgia Jones and Green, fulfilling vital roles when despatched. And although Mollie Campbell and Hannah Shaw might not see the floor, they remain valued contributors.

Depth, the vast asset, Handy states. “That is a huge thing. We’ve had players who have played together for years and years. And then we’ve young ones who have come in and adapted to their position. But experience is huge at this level … they’re helping us do what we need to do.”

It is not just about caps, but wise heads, Collins adds. “What brings us together well, when you look at our EuroBasket qualifying campaign, it was good to be in so many pressure games that came down to the wire.

“’How many points did you have?’ That itself was great for us, for a lot of the players who have been part of the programme and for the younger ones coming through. And that definitely gives us confidence because those kinds of games in tournament play are key.”

Every championships is a pressure cooker. Every loss disastrous, Each triumph invaluable. In groups of four, the margins are slender.

Leave Latvia distraught on Day One and GB will be set up well. Arguably the pool’s most critical contest. Spain on Friday will hit back, and hard. Their pride has been wounded. They will come out swinging, for sure. Then Ukraine on Sunday, when avoiding fourth and last in the standings is the outcome to be avoided at all costs.

Third place, second even, and you live to fight another day – Monday, to be precise, in what is effectively a Last 16 eliminator. Top the group, a reach for everyone not Spain, and there is a guaranteed passage to Belgrade for the quarter-finals.

Fate has helped. This was a kinder draw than some alternatives. “This group gives us an amazing potential to go far in this tournament,” Fagbenle asserts.

“We have a lot of people doubting us. But we don’t, and that’s the most important thing. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves. The aspiration to go as far as we can go. I think we can make a big splash here.”

This might be the best chance to accomplish just that. It may also be the final opportunity for the upperclasswomen of this generation. Collins, Vanderwal, still enthused, but with miles on the clock. Leedham hinting that she will not join them in the 100-cap society, unless her remarkable storybook should guide her to a second Olympics in Tokyo.

“I might not make it,” she informed Buceta, not even quite half-joking. If that were to happen, it would need a few more summers of separation from her husband back home in New Jersey. “I’ll probably be divorced,” she smiled.

Yet her she is in Riga, wedded to her running mates for one further priceless adventure. Deserving of the dream that they might all play off for a slice of history in Serbia with a nation’s reputation on the court burnished a little more, or even a lot.

That would be like winning a Major or hitting a hole-in-one.

No pledges, however, will be made. Except one.

“We’ll play the GB Way,” Collins vows. “We’ll play hard. We’ll play with grit. We’ll play together.

“And whatever happens, happens.”

Photo: Mansoor Ahmed

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