|Ella Clark, an 1.90m forward, averaged 6.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for Great Britain at last summer's U20 European Championship Women|
By Paul Nilsen
Ella Clark is locked in a race against time to suit up for the Great Britain U20 women's team for a third successive summer.
The memories of a quite wonderful promotion from Division B two years ago continue to provide the inspiration for her recovery from injury.
The thrill of attaining a ticket to the U20 European Championship Women Division A when stepping out in Kavadarci, F.Y.R of Macedonia in 2010, still brings a smile to the face of the forward and that's a real tonic during what has been a frustrating 12 months.
"I actually hurt my shoulder during the preparation for the Championship last year but we didn't realise it was as bad as it was, until I got back to school," explained Clark
"I was going to play through it and get the surgery after the season, but I only managed to play six games before being told I also had a bad stress fracture in my shin - so I got my shoulder surgery during January and the recovery time is six months.
"I got partially cleared a fortnight ago but I can only play 1on1 or 2on2 with people I know so as to not hurt it again. And, the stress fracture was meant to heal in eight weeks but I have only just started running again.
"So, before I can get fully cleared, I have to build up all the muscle I lost in those eight months and get back into good enough shape to be able to compete at the level I need to for a prolonged period of time.
THE MOTIVATING MEMORIES
"It was an amazing experience in Kavadarci and probably my best sporting moment to date," Clark recalls.
"Being part of a history-making team made it special and we probably had the best cohesiveness (of any team) I've been involved in. Everyone knew and played their role appropriately, which is why I think we did so well.
"We knew we were the underdogs, since we always are, but we just took one game at a time and built confidence as the competition went on.
Having grabbed a place in the top flight, the team was expected by some people to flop at the U20 European Championship Women Division A in Novi Sad last year but Clark and her team-mates proved the doubters wrong.
"The overall standard of the tournament was a lot better than what we are used to with Division B but our preparation got us ready for that step up," said Clark.
|Clark hails the 'cohesiveness' the Great Britain U20 team - posing here with their Italian counterparts - had at the 2011 European Champiosnhip as the best of any team she's ever played for|
"We performed inconsistently but it was a learning process for everyone and importantly we got those all-important big wins that led us to the quarter finals, which shows how far we have come.
"Now we are going to go into the European Championship in Debrecen with more experience, which is going to be crucial for us going up against the likes of Russia, Serbia and the Slovak Republic (again) in the first round."
A EUROPEAN IN SUNNY CALIFORNIA
While her health has suffered over the last year or so and home sickness understandably surfaces since she now stays in California, the talented Londoner has enjoyed her time playing College basketball in the USA - even if she doesn't get much interaction with European players.
"Life's been pretty good. It gets hard living so far away from home sometimes, especially when a lot of my team is pretty local and can see their family and friends more regularly.
"But, 'Cali' isn't a bad place to spend your time since there's always something to do and having permanently nice weather makes everyone happier.
"Even though I didn't spend much time on the court this year, I love it. It's the reason I travelled so far away from home.
"I picked the right school for me because the system we play gives me a lot of freedom to play inside and out which is what I wanted and my coaches make this experience all that more enjoyable, which not many people can say.
"It's right that I think I am just about the only European player now in my Conference.
"There have been successful European players previously - only last year, Rachel Clancy of Ireland was named Conference Player of the Year. So, even though I'm by myself for the time being, I still have shoes to fill in representing Europe!"
If being so far away from home can sometimes leave Clark feeling a little down, it isn't helped by the fact she can't engage with her team-mates or friends in the US about her other big passion in life - namely the sport of netball.
The multi-talented player who hails from very much a sporting family has represented her country playing the sport but eventually had to choose to focus only on basketball.
"No American I have spoken to knows what netball is, so the only time I can play is when I'm home," laughed Clark,
"I go and watch my old Netball SuperLeague team play when I can, but I've only played once since moving to America.
"I have to admit, I really do miss it!"