There’s no point fighting the underdog label – that’s the message Chema Buceta is giving his Great Britain women’s basketball side this week as they attempt to rewrite history by qualifying for Tokyo 2020, writes Jack Lacey.
No British basketball team has ever qualified for an Olympics in its own right, other than as a host nation, but come the end of the week Buceta is hoping that statistic will be no more.
The women’s team, who finished an impressive fourth at last July’s EuroBasket tournament – their best-ever performance in the continent’s showpiece event – will play China, South Korea and European champions Spain in this week’s qualifying tournament in Belgrade, with the top three teams sure of an Olympic berth.
Considering Great Britain had the worst record of all teams at the last EuroBasket tournament just four years ago, merely competing in this week’s tournament is an odds-defying feat – but that’s not something head coach Buceta wants his players to be focusing on.
“The entire basketball community would say we are underdogs, but this tag is not important for us,” said Buceta. “What outsiders think is not important. We have to concentrate and respect every game to focus on what we can do.
“Over these four years we have improved a lot because when I came the team had just finished 20th out of 20 teams at EuroBasket.
“Qualifying was more of dream back then, not a realistic aim when I came. For sure it would be the best but we haven’t done it yet.
“It is going to be difficult, but for us it has been difficult all the way. With each step this team has taken they have grown stronger.
“My players know they need to have self-confidence on the court and not be robots to play our game. They understand that very well.”
The tournament was originally planned to be held in China but was switched by organisers to Belgrade after the recent coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
But according to shooting guard Georgia Jones, the last-minute venue change will prove more of a help than a hindrance to her side.
“It’s a positive for us because we are familiar with Serbia from competing there at EuroBasket 2019 and we don’t have jet lag to contend with,” said Jones.
“We really have been moving forward with each tournament. No-one thought we would finish fourth in Europe so we just want to keep building momentum and surprising everyone, no matter where we’re playing.”
Great Britain begin their qualification campaign against a China side currently ranked 8th in the world on Thursday.
They then take on South Korea on Saturday, before rounding off the group the following day against Buceta’s home country Spain, currently ranked the third best in the world by FIBA.