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Friday, 22 May 2015

6ft 3in Chantelle is our Olympic giant

SINCE first picking up a basketball while a pupil at Prudhoe High School, Chantelle Handy has travelled the world courtesy of a glittering career in the sport.

Former Prudhoe High School student Chantelle Handy represented Team GB basketball team at London 2012.

The 25-year-old is currently playing her basketball in Turkey in one of the best leagues in Europe, and she proudly represented Team GB in the home Olympics in London this summer.

As a talented all-rounder, Chantelle picked up the sport on the advice of her father Ray, who had played himself, aged 13 and she has never looked back from then.

She had already shown great potential in a number of sports, but decided basketball was for her and she is still going strong over a decade later.

While basketball wasn’t all the rage in Prudhoe, the 6ft 3ins sports star was thankful to the support she received there.

She said: “Prudhoe had a huge influence in developing my athletic ability with great support from all the teaching staff, especially my netball/ athletics coach, Helen MacKenzie.

“Basketball wasn’t big at Prudhoe when I was there and I think I was the only female interested in it!

“ But if it wasn’t for the great athletics programme there, I don’t think I would have developed into the athlete I am today.”

From an early age, Chantelle had shown a great deal of promise in a variety of sports and was destined to go far in at least one of them.

She impressed at tennis, athletics as both a top cross country runner and sprinter, and in netball where she received a call-up to the All England Netball Association development squad.

But it was in football which she caught the eye most, playing for Sunderland FC before having a tricky decision placed in front of her.

She explained: “I had played football ever since I could walk but I had to make a decision between football and basketball because I had England try-outs on the same weekend.

“I went with basketball and that’s the road I have followed ever since, but I do miss playing football.”

The tough choice proved to be the right one, numerous honours coming her way as a result.

When just starting out, the England head coach described her as potentially the most talented female player the country has ever seen!

But to take her career onto the next level, Chantelle, at the tender age of 16, had to up sticks and make a bold move to America to play college basketball.

She attended Mount De Chantal Academy, in West Virginia, and was part of a very successful basketball team for two years.

Her performances earned her a full athletics scholarship at Marshall University, again in WV, before allowing her to move into the professional game.

Starting out at Aris, in Greece, Chantelle moved to Slovakia to join MBK Ruzomberko midway through the season.

Then followed a move to Greece to sign for Athinaikos, before she headed to Turkish Basketball League side Mersin, where she remains.

“Turkey is great. It is probably one of the best leagues in Europe so I am challenged every day and this can only make me better.

“I don’t know what the future holds. I am taking one step at a time so we will see what happens.”

While enjoying an illustrious career overseas, Chantelle has also had her fair share of international honours.

She first played for England at U16, but she thought her relocation to America may have put her national team future in jeopardy.

However, as Team GB was developed six years ago ahead of London 2012, Marshall University supported her travels back to the country to train through the summer.

She has remained in the set-up ever since, and it led her to achieving a major milestone in representing her home nation in this year’s Olympics.

She said: “The Olympics were amazing. I don’t know how else to describe them but it is something that I will never forget.

“The atmosphere of playing in front of your home nation was unbelievable and I don’t think it will ever be topped.

“I would have to say the opening ceremony was the highlight of the Olympics, walking through the tunnel before Team GB was announced was something I will never forget and will always share with people.

“The noise when they announced Team GB was amazing and I had to pinch myself because I couldn’t believe we were there.”

However spectacular the experience of London 2012, Chantelle wished the team could have performed better on court as they failed to get out of the group stages.

She said: “Personally, I was disappointed we didn’t pull off a win but we competed with some of the best teams in the world.”

While Chantelle is ruling out a move to her native England to play basketball anytime in the near future, she said she was heartened to see the sport has grown recently despite Sport England cutting its funding.

She said: “Basketball is not big in the UK, but I do think the Olympics has had a great impact on all sports in England and I feel that more children will be willing to give it a try.

“It is going to be tough with the cut to funding , but the programme staff will do everything they can to keep it up-and-running and keep developing basketball in the UK.”