Jo Leedham goes up against Diana Taurasi in Olympic preparations. (Photo by Paul Thomas/Getty Images)
Great Britain is probably more well-known on the netball court than on the basketball hardwood. But that's not going to deter home team from playing gritty. And sometimes grit and grime and guts can overwhelm and overcome against the odds. Here's a look at how they'll make their presence known at London's Basketball Arena (yes, that's what it's called):
Great Britain | Group B
Olympic Games history: Great Britain makes their innaugural appearance in the women's basketball field in London.
Place at 2010 FIBA World Championship: Did not compete
How they got here: As the host nation, the Brits are in by default. But give them some credit - the upstarts might put a couple teams on upset alert while playing in front of the home crowd.
Key player: Johannah Leedham | Rising star: Aziana Stewart | Legend: Andrea Congreaves
Names you might recognize: Johanna Leedham, the Connecticut Sun's 27th pick of the 2010 WNBA draft, and alumna of Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire.
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’sscoring list, regardless of division. Along withher scoring honors, she is a two-time Division II player of the year after winning this award after both her sophomore and senior campaigns.
-in The Unlikely Journey of Johannah Leedham; Swish Appeal, April 2010
A diverse set of other U.S. institutions of higher education is also represented on the roster including Harvard (Temi Fagbenle), Florida (Stewart), Oral Roberts (Dominique Allen) and Central Oklahoma (Rose Anderson).
Statistical leaders: Leedham led the scoring charge during 2011 EuroBasket play, with averages of 12 points and 3.5 rebounds a game. Julie Page also made her way into the double-digits with 10 points and a team-high 7.5 rebounds a night on average. Their handles were not the best, however, as Great Britain lost the ball nearly 20 times per contest in their six EuroBasket games. Low scoring and shooting percentage numbers back up the assertation that you won't see pretty basketball when you watch Great Britain, as they averaged 56.3 points on 33.8 percent shooting.
Since qualifying, the team has gone 8-8 in pre-Olympic exhibitions and gave the U.S. a bit of trouble in their 88-63 tussle on July 18. Leedhamfinished with 21 points and Stef Collins added 14 in the loss. The American team remained composed after a poor start which saw the squad down by as many as 11 points before a 21-0 rally righted the ship.
"With the unmistakable presence of wily Australian play-caller Tom Maher in the coaching hot-seat, Great Britain were never going to be pushovers and so it proved as they played to their strengths and tried their utmost to cover their weaknesses. Without any really prolific scorers or any kind of undisputed marquee player, it wasn't rocket science that Great Britain couldn't afford to get involved in high octane games and just trade with opponents.
Instead, they were and will no doubt remain a very much ‘in your face' team who try to get under the skin of opponents and use defence, a significant amount of team spirit, organisation and hard work to keep themselves in most games for as long as possible and therefore giving themselves a shot at victory.
While their style upset some including Russia coach Boris Sokolovsky who famously referred to his team's narrow success over Great Britain at EuroBasket Women as being more akin to an ice-hockey game, it is effective."
- via FIBA profile
Mahar vs.: Saturday's game has an additional element of interest to it above the fact that it's the first women's basketball game Great Britain will play in any Olympic competition. If you look at Maher's resume, you'll see he has ties to quite a few of the Olympics teams, having been the Chinese national coach in 2008 and the Austrailiannational coach for the 1996 and 2000 Games. But along with national team experience, Maher is the coach of the Bulleen Boomers, which currently features Aussie Olympians Samantha Richards, Liz Cambage and Rachel Jarry (and Jenna O'Hea also played for the Boomers during 2010's championship run). Oh yeah, and don't forget Johannah Leedham. I'd say Maher might know a bit what to expect in his opening game match up.
Preliminary round schedule: vs. Australia (July 28), vs. Canada (July 30), vs. Russia (Aug. 1), vs. France (Aug. 3), vs. Brazil (Aug. 5)