Fagbenle Still Full Of Potential

14.07.2011

U20 Women Feature

14. Temitope Fagbenle (Great Britain)
Temi Fagbenle's game time has been limited for Great Britain due to ongoing knee problems

Plenty of stars have shone already at the U20 European Championship Women, but fans have so far only seen glimpses from a player who could be one of the biggest.

Great Britain's Temi Fagbenle has returned statistics of 7.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game during her team's run to the quarter-finals.

But those numbers tell only half the story for a player rehabbing a nasty knee injury and having her minutes held to around 20 a game.

Despite that, she ranks third in the tournament with 1.6 blocks per game, and eighth in offensive rebounds with 3.8.

It helps to show why the 18-year-old power forward is considered one of Britain's best prospects in a generation, and why her coach Damian Jennings picked her out as one of the talents to watch at this tournament despite knowing first-hand the extent of her injury.

Standing at 1.91m and with a wingspan at 1.82m, Fagbenle is hard to miss, but she has still flown under the radar for most European basketball fans until now, despite putting up big numbers for Britain at both the U18 and U16 levels in Division B.

That is largely because she has spent her last three years in the United States, learning the game after getting a late start. It is the country where she was born - to Nigerian parents - before moving to London at an early age - a scenario that set up an early three-way recruiting battle for her international services.

It didn't take long for her to choose.

"I've been in Britain most of my life. I feel a strong connection here, and I love it," she said.
Now at her third international tournament, Fagbenle has never questioned her choice.

"I really love playing with Great Britain," she said. "I definitely notice the different style of basketball here in Europe compared to America. I think it's more skilled over here. There it's very physical."

But physical is something the powerful Fagbenle can live with. Indeed, she has shown in recent years she can live with most things.

In a measure of how high her stock has rise since she went back to America three years ago to play at Blair Academy in Blairstown, New Jersey, she finished the 2010/11 season ranked 13th overall by ESPN in the 2011 college basketball recruitment rankings - unchartered territory for a British player.

For the second time in her life, Fagbenle was in a recruiting battle, with Boston College, Duke and Columbia all interested.

But when an offer from Harvard arrived, Fagbenle had found her next home.

"It was definitely hard, because I had many choices," Fagbenle said. "But my family is all about academics, and a scholarship from Harvard was the clear choice academically.

"But it's also a good school for basketball so I think I get the best of both worlds."

Britain have exceeded expectations by making the final eight here in Serbia, and that they have done so with Fagbenle battling her knee problem makes it all the more impressive.

"I've been trying not to let it get in my head," she said. "I'm taking painkillers but its definitely a factor."

To see how she might perform at full speed, we will have to wait until next summer, when she will be one of a handful of young players with a genuine ambition of forcing their way into Britain's Olympic squad.

Beyond that, there is no telling how far Fagbenle can go, but the places may well include those to which no previous British player has been.

"I just want to go as far as I can," she said. "I don't know if I can play in Europe or the WNBA but that would be the dream."


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