Hannah Peacock had her bags all but packed and her immediate future laid out. The road map, almost inevitably, pointed due south. Already a senior Great Britain international at the age of 20, despite playing in the relative backwater of Scotland’s domestic league, the lithe centre from Livingston was resigned to a relocation to Newcastle if she wanted to perform even at the semi-professional level.
But then a call came that stopped the prospect in her tracks – word that there was to be a Scottish franchise in the Women’s British Basketball League, based at Edinburgh’s new Oriam Centre, and built around homegrown talents like herself.
“The dream was to play professional basketball in Scotland,” she smiled. “So I couldn’t turn down the offer to stay home and do that. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Northumbria was a big opportunity. But I couldn’t turn this down. I felt I almost couldn’t risk not taking part. It was definitely the best option.”
The freshly created world of opportunity officially begins today as Caledonia Pride make their WBBL debut, when their merry band of ten Scots and two Americans, plus a Dutch coach, usher in the new era with a trip to Leicester Riders.
With seed money from public funds guaranteeing the club’s future initially for two years, the venture has been infused with higher purposes by governing body BasketballScotland, who own and operate the side.
Not only is it designed to give the likes of Peacock a stage to refine and then display their skills, it is a vehicle that will shorten Scotland’s chances of making an impact at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, should a qualification route which remains shrouded in mystery be ever clarified.
From all this, their totem insists, comes myriad benefits. “The biggest thing is getting used to playing with certain people. Before, there’s not been a senior programme. So if you throw a big group of players together for a couple of weeks, it’s not going to have the same effect as them being together for a few seasons. And it will be great if we get even more of the others back here in due course.”
Although Bart Sengers, the Dutchman hired to both coach Pride and drive up performance standards, has set himself the goal of opening the eyes of young Scots to the methodologies of success, he is not starting at Ground Zero.
Prior to this past summer, Greater Caledonia punched hugely above its weight in feeding players into the Great Britain squads. Despite deficiencies in the pathway, something has clearly worked.
“A lot of people don’t seem to realise basketball is a thriving sport in Scotland,” Peacock said. “If we qualify for the Commonwealth Games, I think it would raise the profile massively and do wonders for the sport. In schools, kids don’t always know clubs are out there and available to them. So if kids can see that the sport gives them opportunities, it will raise the bar.
“If you look at sports like football, it’s absolutely everywhere. Whereas, with Scottish basketball, you can barely find it on Google. So if we got to the Gold Coast, it would put it out to the next generation.”
Even with modest targets for the Pride’s initial WBBL campaign, Peacock will trust she can make a case for her own GB recall. On a weekly basis, the competition will be harsher, exactly what she had sought all along.
“I want to show I can compete with the other top dogs in the league,” she smiled. “And I’m looking forward to it.”