British women set for EuroBasket test

By Rob DugdaleBBC Sport

GB women's head coach Tom Maher says his team will go flat out to gain the respect of their opponents when the EuroBasket finals start this weekend.

"Our goals are to be the best we can and win some games," says Maher.

GB face stiff opposition when the tournament opens in Bydgoszcz, Poland on Saturday.

Maher's squad is the first from the British Isles to make the European finals since Scotland achieved the feat in 1956.

GB's first two games in Poland could hardly be tougher - they open against World Championship semi-finalists Belarus and face World silver medallists the Czech Republic 24 hours later.

If those games go according to the form book, Maher's team will need a win against Israel in their final group game to stay in the tournament and reach the second phase.

"It's a little bit scary but in a good way," says Maher. "We've just started the programme really but I really believe if we play close to our best we'll get the respect we deserve and it will be the next step up the ladder for the London Olympics."

"We'll go flat out to win each night - we're going for glory. We're fit and healthy, and ready to go," adds Maher, who acknowledged earlier in the summer that Israel was "our chance."

That chance will be better if star player Jo Leedham continues her recovery from knee tendonitis. The NBA draftee did not play in the team's opening seven games this summer and has been used sparingly since.

"Jo is the one who has that athletic quality that can jump in amongst the opposition players," Maher told BBC Sport. "She hasn't played basketball for several months so she's finding her conditioning feet. But she's our star quality and a great player."

Maher's team start as outsiders but he has transformed a team from relegation probables to European finalists in less than 12 months, a testament to his record with powerhouse women's basketball nations like Australia and China.

"I've been to six European Championships as a witness," he says. "I've always thought it would be a wonderful tournament to be part of, never dreaming that it would happen. So I totally look forward to it."

GB's warm-up matches have seen some uneven results, culminating in an overtime win in Slovakia on Wednesday.

Guard Stef Collins told BBC Sport her team-mates were looking forward to their EuroBasket experience. "It's very exciting - everyone's very upbeat," she said. "I think this was always going to be a big step up for us - playing in a European Championship - so no matter who we faced it was always going to be a challenge."

If GB can qualify for the second phase, they will play at least three more games in Poland in the following week, with a place in the quarter-finals at stake.

Squad: Rose Anderson (unatt.), Kim Butler (Ibiza, SPA), Kate Butters, Stef Collins (both UWIC, WAL), Chantelle Handy (Aris, GRE), Jo Leedham (unatt.), Ros Mason (Solna, Swe), Julie Page (Villeneuve, FRA), Natalie Stafford (Sydney, AUS), Azania Stewart (Florida Uni, US), Lauren Thomas-Johnson (Gran Canaria, SPA), Rachel Vanderwal (Limerick Uni, IRE).

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