By Mark Woods
When Emma Eriksson reports at national team camps in Sweden, it needs more than a quick drive to the hoops. Try a 90-minutes plane ride, from her home in the northern city of Lulea down to Stockholm where much of the preparations are based.
"A lot of the others take the train but it's pretty far," laughs the 16-year-old point guard. "But that's quite fun."
|For Gabby Hanson playing the tournament is more than just an experience|
In comparison with team-mate Gabby Hanson, however, it's strictly short haul. In fact her backcourt colleague might just have had the longest commute to the U16 European Championships for Women in Sardinia: an entire ocean, and a continent, away from her home in California.
"My father was born and raised in Sweden," explains Hanson. "He got in touch with the national team when my sister Pernilla was 16 so she could come over and play. Ever since then, I wanted to follow in her footsteps. She's 20 now, and in college and she's always said how great it was.
"It's a completely different experience and that's why I wanted to come over here. I know it would be different but I'm already looking forward to sharing it with my team-mates in high school back home."
Basketball aside, it has been a cultural exchange for both players as Sweden have built towards this tournament, sharing insights off the court while learning to work in harmony on it.
The questions have come thick and fast about what home, in the heart of the real Orange County, is actually like. "But I have more questions going back at them," Hanson adds. "They've all helped me so much to fit in here. I don't know what I'd do without them. I can get homesick sometimes but I'm so lucky because they help me forget about it."
Hanson has looked right at home in Cagliari as the Swedes progressed into Round 2, leading the side in scoring and rebounds. The experience, she says, has been everything she expected - and more, taking what she has learnt as an All-State selection at Troy High School in Fullerton and adapting it to the system of coach Henrik Wikstrom.
It hasn't just been a one-way process. "It's fun having her here," proclaims Erikkson. "She's crazy. But she brings something different, more aggressive play. That's good for us, especially for me, to see how she does that."
Summer school hasn't ended there for Hanson. By the time she heads back across the Atlantic later this month, she's hoping to have acquired a working knowledge of Swedish with her team-mates acting as one-on-one tutors.
Or, at least, that's what they're telling her, laughs Erikkson. "She can say some words." You can imagine what has been top of the list, right? "I've learnt some phrases like ‘where is the stadium?'" grins Hanson. "They make fun of my accent. They laugh at me. But it's fun to try and pick it up."
On the floor, the language barrier is minimal. Non-verbal communication is a powerful thing. "There's a lot of body language. Lots of pointing," Eriksson explains. Just like on any team. The signs have been good. Solid offense. Tight defence. Sweden's confidence has been boosted. They are pointing in the right direction.
If actions speak louder than words, then the sight of the young Swedes doing the celebration jig at the close of their victories hints at a side united. The idea came out of nowhere, Eriksson confirms, but it has added to the fun. "One of our team-mates was doing a dance one day. It's our Victory Dance. And we'll keep doing it, hopefully."
Just another part of a summer road trip that neither wants to end.