It might be a difficult task to find an abundance of quality women’s basketball in Ellesmere Port, England. But not if you knocked on the door of the Leedham family.
Growing up Johanna Leedham never would have imagined being the 27th pick of the Connecticut Sun in the 2010 WNBA Draft.
The Sun is the team that Johanna and her family followed since their treks to the United States began and both she and her older sister Jen arrived in the state of Connecticut for prep school, both playing a sport that neither of them experienced until their pre-teen years.
The thoughts of being a professional basketball player were quite a leap for the 12 year old girl that focused her athletic energy on the sport of netball, a derivative of basketball. Netball, a predominately female sport, enjoys worldwide popularity played by an estimated 20 million people in 70 countries. However, it is all but non-existent to a large degree in the United States.
"I think for America as far as netball is concerned, I think the majority of girls who would go to netball are already playing basketball, but you never know," Leedham explains of the sport’s absence in the U.S. "I never thought I would get into basketball and I got into that through netball, so I don’t know. It could work."
Leedham’s transition from the basketball-like sport to the actual game of basketball occurred due to a 1999 youth games event in England. Leedham’s elder sister Jen was selected to play on a team for the event, Johannah attended one of their team practices and was recruited to join the squad. The team of Jen’s friends plus Johannah won the tournament and this moment set Leedham’s path as a basketballer rather than a netballer.
The Leedham sisters came stateside to continue their prep school education and hone their basketball abilities at Cheshire Academy in Connecticut. Jen was recruited to Division II Franklin Pierce University and when it was Johannah’s turn to look for a college, none came knocking. Jen recommended her sister to the Franklin Pierce coaching staff and the duo stayed together for just a bit longer.
It ended up being the right move for Franklin Pierce.
Leedham had quite a storied collegiate career at the 3,000 student New Hampshire school where she amassed more career points than people in the student body. Her 3,050 career points, a Division II scoring record, also ranks her 5th on the all-time collegiate women’s scoring list, regardless of division. Along with her scoring honors, she is a two-time Division II player of the year after winning this award after both her sophomore and senior campaigns.
This tremendous college success led to her name being called by the Connecticut Sun, the WNBA team that her father cheers and Leedham has watched since her initial days in Cheshire. The family has gone on trips to Mohegan Sun to follow the team since her early time in the states.
"I never thought that [I would be drafted] being a Division II player and stuff like that and being from England," she said. "You never really think people are watching at the Division II level because there’s so much Division I basketball going on. You never really think that would really happen but when I saw it I was just in shock . . . it just shows that no matter what situation you’re put in you just have to make the best out of it and good things will come your way I think if you always work hard and go with what you’ve got."
Leedham plays more than just college level ball, as she is an integral piece of "Team GB", the Great Britain women’s national team.
As the national team prepares to play the 2012 Olympics in their own backyard of London, Leedham will have some tough and exciting choices to work through. Now that she’s been drafted, it is time for her, the Sun and the Great Britain national team coaches to find a symbiotic way for her to play the game she loves for not only her country, but for her WNBA organization.
"This summer is really, really important for my national team with the Olympics coming up and stuff like that," said Leedham. "This summer is actually really crucial for us to have a great summer as a team . . . obviously both [the Sun and Team GB are] really important to me, both of them are great opportunities. I don’t know."
And perhaps in a tip of the hand she continued, "my national team is really important so I could be going to play that this year but then I’ve always got my chance to come to Connecticut next year, so I think either way I can plan to do both."
Leedham has adopted the American style and culture of basketball in her six years in New England -- claiming LeBron James as her favorite player, with men's Team GB player Luol Deng as another of her favorites in the game -- but still points back to the international style of basketball as what suits her on-court game. Then again, Leedham hedges that many would say her game has become more and more Americanized as time goes by.
Either way, "it’s all basketball to me. At the end of the day I just want to get on the court and play," Leedham asserts.
One thing is evident, when the Connecticut Sun camp opens up, Leedham will be more than excited to embark on this new journey.
"I’m just looking forward to going to camp," she said. "I have to deal with composing myself and being in awe and realizing that I’m competing with these people. I’m just looking forward to that."
She continues, "If [people] looked at my name and they looked at my credentials and looked where I’m from they probably wouldn’t think that I could play basketball. I want to put it out there that I’m serious about basketball, I work hard and I want to do what I can do to play at the next level."
Leedham continues to work to prove her worth even after all the accolades she's received throughout her career.
"A lot of people criticize me for staying in Division II and playing Division II," she said. "I just want to show people that Division II people can play basketball as well and I’m ready to take my game to the next level."
As for life after basketball, Jen – now the assistant coach of the Leedham’s alma mater of Franklin Pierce - yet again enters the conversation and makes her influence known. If basketball "doesn’t last forever", Johannah is looking to follow her big sis into the realm of coaching.
It shows once again that for the Leedhams, Ellesmere Point, England is indeed a hotbed for women’s basketball.