2021 WBBL Play-Off Champions London Lions have secured the services of several GB players for the new season as the club set their sights on competing on the European stage.
GB legend Jo Leedham-Warner, who won EuroCup with French side Tongo Bourges Basket in 2016, is arguably the biggest signing of the summer. The 33-year-old is set to return to competitive action for the first time since becoming a mother earlier this year.
Over the last 15 years, Leedham-Warner has earned 91 caps for GB and most recently averaged 18 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists per game at the Olympic Qualifiers in Belgrade 18 months ago.
Joining Leedham-Warner in London is former GB captain Azania Stewart, who makes the move to her hometown club following a short spell with Leicester Riders last season.
The move is one that Stewart sees as an exciting challenge, with the team now viewed by many as the one to beat in the WBBL:
“It’s a brand-new challenge for me, playing a full season in England. Not only in England but in London, my hometown, so I’m super excited about that.”
“I haven’t really had a challenge like this since college when I played in Florida, where every game you go into every team is gunning for you to try and beat you.”
“I want to have fun with it and enjoy the big opportunity that we have, especially if we make EuroCup, which I think is going to be a fantastic thing for British Basketball.”
Whilst the thought of having friends and family in the stands was a factor in Stewart’s decision to join Lions, playing alongside Jo Leedham-Warner for the first time domestically means it’s set to be an enjoyable season for the 32-year-old:
“Playing with Jo, she is one of my really, really good friends. We always have such a good laugh; we’ve been roommates and friends for 20 odd years. We’ve only played for GB together, we’ve never played a season together, and I think that is so exciting.”
“She’s such a competitor, she strives for greatness and perfection – as I do – so I think she’s definitely going to help myself be the best person I can be as a leader and as a player.”
“I think it will ignite that excitement around the game as Jo Leedham-Warner is one of the best basketball players to come out of England so I’m very excited.”
Whilst Leedham-Warner and Stewart provide some experienced heads in the Lions roster, the team also features several younger GB senior and age-group players including Chantel Charles, Kennedy Leonard, Holly Winterburn, Paige Robinson and Shanice Beckford-Norton.
Four of those five – Holly Winterburn the exception – featured for the Lions last campaign, a season that ended with the club’s first ever Play-Off success back in May.
It was a season full of individual honours as well as team honours, with Beckford-Norton picking up the Play-Off Finals MVP award and Kennedy Leonard featuring in the WBBL’s Team of the Season. Both players also earned a spot in the league’s Defensive Team of the Year.
Holly Winterburn, another of the Lions’ new recruits, picked up the Molten Sports Young Player of the Year award to go alongside her inclusion in the Team of the Season beside Leonard.
Internationally, both Beckford-Norton and Robinson have worn the GB jersey in recent months, featuring for the senior and U23 3×3 sides respectively as GB competed in 3×3 events for the first time.
The WBBL returns for the new season with the WBBL Cup beginning on September 24th.