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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Wait is finally over for Johannah Leedham

Whenever Johannah Leedham had to pick between heading over to try out for the WNBA's Connecticut Sun or fulfilling her obligations with the Great Britain national team she would always chose the latter - until now.

Great Britain is currently in the midst of its latest training camp as it prepares for the EuroBasket championships in June. However, Leedham politely declined the offer to join her teammates so she could finally head over to the U.S. in an attempt to earn a spot in the WNBA.

"It is a little difficult for me to be here but I put it off for so long," Leedham said. "I had to put myself first and this is what I want to do. We have EuroBasket which is in June so if I don't make the team here, I will also go back and try to make EuroBasket but this is my focus."

Leedham left her home in Ellesmere Port, England to head over the U.S. because basketball in her home country is simply not a major priority. She landed at Cheshire Academy and her play was impressive enough for her to catch the eye of the coaches at Division II Franklin Pierce. All Leedham did in her four years in Rindge, N.H. was score an NCAA Division II record 3,050 points. Late in her senior season she was a bit shocked when she saw Mike Thibault, then the Connecticut Sun head coach, in the stands for one of the Ravens' games. She was even more surprised when Thibault used the 27th overall pick in the 2010 draft on the 5-foot-11 guard/forward.

Now she is back in the U.S. hoping to earn a roster spot with the Sun.

“I am excited to have this opportunity,” Leedham said. “I know (former Sun) Coach (Mike) Thibault is the one who brought me in but Coach (Anne) Donovan came in and they still invited me to camp. It is so competitive every day and just to be in this environment is what you dream of as a basketball player.”

The ironic aspect is that Leedham said she never dreamed of playing in the WNBA even when she made the decision to leave her Ellesmere Port, England home to attend Cheshire Academy and it wasn’t until Thibault made the trip to see her play during the final season in her record-breaking career at Franklin Pierce that she even pondered the possibilities of a professional basketball career.

After a couple of seasons playing professionally, Leedham exploded onto the scene by tying for the lead in the 2012 Olympics with an average of 16.2 points per game.Connecticut Sun assistant coach Jen Gillom was an assistant coach on the gold-medal winning U.S. team which faced Leedham’s Great Britain squad during the preliminary round. Gillom considered Leedham’s competitiveness to be perhaps her best attribute during the Olympics and her opinion of Leedham’s game has not changed.

“She is a fundamentally sound player who goes out and plays 100 percent every single (moment),” Gillom said. “She is not the type of player who is very fancy, show offish, she goes out and gets her job done. It kind of goes unnoticed from time to tome but when the game is over with and you look at the stats, you are kind of surprised at what she has done during the game but there have been several occasions that I noticed her during the Olympic tournament where she did shine and you saw some potential there and you think 'wow, this kid could be a great ball player. Even when she played against us I thought she did well. Even in the last day or two at training camp she has showed that she demands that respect and that is what I like about her. She goes all out and if you don't watch it she can have about 20 on you before you know it. I think she will stick around and make us make a tough decision.”

Although her Great Britain team did not win a game in the Olympics, it was an experience that Leedham won't soon forget.

"The Olympics were amazing," Leedham said. "It is hard to explain. Coming out for the first game and the arena is full and it is 10 o'clock at night, standing up, hearing our national anthem and our whole crowd 12,000 people sing it with you it was just an amazing feeling.

"We didn't win a game but we left everything out there. I think we lost games because we lacked experience, we lacked knowledge and we made bad decisions but that was all inexperience but we got where we were because we fought hard. We knew we left the Olympics knowing that people hated to play us. We were the team that nobody wanted to play. We knew we did our job and people respected us and that is ultimately a win for us, we were definitely proud of our performance.

First-round pick Kelly Faris was held out of practice due to a foot injury she suffered in UConn’s regular-season finale. Tina Charles and Tan White also didn’t practice on Tuesday but it was more of a case of resting and allowing some of the younger players to get looks by the Sun coaching staff. Renee Montgomery is expected to report to camp on Thursday which will put Connecticut over the 15-player training camp limit so a player will need to be cut before Montgomery reports.

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