Fagbenle bitten by basketball bug

22 June 2012 / 17:49

Temi Fagbenle grew up dreaming of being Venus or Serena Williams and so fought against her father's advice to ditch tennis and take up basketball.

At first, Fagbenle "hated" the sport. She had never heard of Lebron James, the man who led Miami Heat to the NBA championship on Thursday night. But five short years later, Fagbenle is a convert.

Basketball has given her the opportunity to study in the United States - first at high school, now at Harvard University - and the 20-year-old will now represent Great Britain at the Olympics.

"I started out playing tennis and I had a conversation with my father. He wanted me to stop playing tennis and start playing basketball," Fagbenle told Press Association Sport. "I didn't want to do that at first. Me and my sister played tennis and we wanted to be Venus and Serena Williams.

"I actually hated it but he convinced me to do it. That was five years ago and now I am here! There are a lot of people in our family - I have 11 siblings - and we figured that basketball was a great way to get into a college in the USA.

"My brother Depo plays basketball and he got a scholarship to college in America so I am following in his footsteps. I did not start loving basketball until recently but it has helped me in a bunch of ways and I am loving it now! It helps when you get better, when you are able to do what you want on court and improve, when you are not as skinny and able to be pushed over."

Fagbenle, who stands 6ft 4in tall, has been fast-tracked from the British junior set-up into the Olympic team by coach Tom Maher. The Australian describes Fagbenle as one of the most exciting talents around, a view shared by many of the big basketball universities in the United States.

Fagbenle was born in Baltimore before the family moved to England when she was an infant, but basketball took her back to the United States at the age of 15. In her senior year at the Blair Academy in New Jersey, Fagbenle was selected for America's High School All-Star game.

Fagbenle chose Harvard but the NCAA, which oversees university sport in the United States, barred her from playing last year due to eligibility rules. But that did not deter Maher from promoting Fagbenle, who competed at the world under-20 championship last year, into Britain's Olympic squad.

It will be an historic occasion for Britain, who have never fielded a women's basketball team at the Olympics - and they head to London 2012 on a high. Britain did not hold a ranking five years ago but they are now placed at 49 in the world and this week thumped fourth-placed Czech Republic 81-57.