An emotional Jo Leedham admitted her desperation to haul British basketball out of the doldrums.

The veteran hinted at the additional weight felt on the team’s shoulders following Great Britain’s 86-76 loss to China in their opening Olympic qualifier in Belgrade on Thursday.

It likely leaves Chema Buceta’s side needing to beat South Korea in their second game on Saturday to reach Tokyo 2020, a feat that would likely unlock a massive increase in Lottery funding from UK Sport.

And Leedham, who scored 19, tearfully conceded that she and her comrades are chasing more than just an Olympic trip following the funding wrangles and internal politics which have compromised the sport.

“Basketball, it’s just such a shambles in the UK,” the 32-year-old forward declared. “And so for this group, if we can just get this ticket to Tokyo, nobody will know how much it really means.

“It’s been such a ride. I just know where we’ve come from and what we’ve gone through. This ticket is just everything. And when you’re at the end of your career, it means even more so.

“If we can get that, inspire the next generation and keep basketball going in the UK – and hopefully lift it and have more girls playing and just raise the level and hopefully get the support we really need – that’s what we’re fighting for.

“We don’t feel any pressure for that. But that’s ultimately what we really want … that would be the prize itself, other than the ticket to Tokyo.”

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It was an admirable public vent from the Turkey-based star but also perhaps a concern with GB now needing to ignore any external factors to hunt the golden ticket they covet.

Buceta, who has made clear his view that British Basketball and the structure around and beneath them must improve, has constantly tried to isolate his players from the politics.

Prior to last summer’s EuroBasket, when there was unhappiness about perceived interference from the BBF board, he asked his charges to vent within a single meeting in Riga and then fully park the issue.

He may now feel the need to do so once more, with two games of mammoth consequence coming up.

“We shouldn’t have more responsibilities than the one we have,” the Spaniard said. “It’s not as though if we go to Tokyo, British basketball will be great and if we don’t, it will be terrible.

“British Basketball has to organise many things to be good. This team is leading this and setting the example – the idea, that if you think big, you can go big. That is why this is important for us to qualify for Tokyo.

“But mainly because this group deserves to be there after all they have done. But I’m sure that the other teams feel the same.”

Photo: Mansoor Ahmed

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