|Binta Drammeh overlooked a summer with the Swedish senior team, instead focusing her attentions on prepping for a club season with Novosibirsk|
By Paul Nilsen
While Sweden were grabbing the headlines on their long-awaited return to EuroBasket Women last summer, Binta Drammeh was preparing her body and mind for a long Siberian winter.
A standout player at youth level, it had seemed inevitable that the 21-year-old would put herself into the senior national team picture but instead, many people were left shocked when she made herself unavailable for selection.
NO REGRETS: WATCHING FRENCH ACTION FROM AFAR
Watching the thoroughly absorbing campaign of her nation unfold in France proved a strange experience for Drammeh as she dealt with missing out on a memorable (if ultimately agonising) experience for her compatriots.
"While I can't really say that it was difficult, there were times last summer when I questioned myself and asked if I had really made the right decision," she confessed.
"Especially when it was about not taking a potential opportunity to represent your country - something which is a privilege to do and something many people want to do, but can't.
"I am sure people were questioning my decision, but I also knew Sweden would do well - we have come a long way during these last couple of years and other countries have respect for us.
"However, I admit I did have some second thoughts.
"Although, I really did need those extra months to work on me and I made a selfish decision to put myself first.
"Looking back, I can't say that I regret it, since everything I worked on during the summer has made me a better basketball player."
Stepping up to one of the best competitions in the world in the Russian Premier League, Drammeh knew she needed to be fully prepared for a tough assignment with Dynamo Novosibirsk.
The on-court challenge of competing in a high standard domestic competition and also juggling EuroCup Women participation, was matched by some major off-court adjustments too.
SETTLING INTO SIBERIAN LIFE
|The cold weather was a big shock for Drammeh when she arrived in Siberia|
"First of all, let's not forget that I am African and I think I probably speak for most, if not all of us, when I say that we don't like snow," laughed Drammeh.
"I thought the weather in Sweden was bad during the winter, but it's nothing compared to the weather out in Novosibirsk, but also Russia in general.
"I will never complain about the weather in Sweden again - that's for sure. Although apparently, it is usually much worse in Novosibirsk.
"We had -30 temperatures a few times, but to be honest it wasn't as bad as I had initially imagined."
She continued, "I do like challenges and I only saw opportunities by moving to Novosibirsk and playing in Russia. We all know that it is one of the top leagues with a lot of WNBA players and good EuroLeague Women players as well.
"But, no matter how big of a challenge this season has been physically, I can't even try to explain what a mental challenge it has been.
"They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and I can definitely say that this season has made me a stronger and better person both on and off the court.
"While it's been tough at times, I'm really glad that I took this opportunity."
Whether it was selfishness or sacrifice in missing out on EuroBasket Women 2013, it has indeed quite undeniably made Drammeh into a better all-round contributor.
She produced for her team all year and really stepped up in a number of facets of the game in what was an invaluable maturing process.
"This season has really made me grow and I feel like I have become a more physical player. I may still look skinny, but don't let my look fool you," she smiled.
"Plus, for every mistake you commit in the Russian League, you get punished for it. That has certainly made me smarter."
FACING AN IDOL IN TAURASI
|"You can't be a fan playing against these kinds of players, because they will end up treating you as one" - Drammeh on playing idols such as Diana Taurasi|
Like any young player who gets to go up against one of their basketball idols, facing Diana Taurasi is something that Drammeh will always cherish.
She admitted, "It was kind of surreal in the beginning knowing that you would play against all these great players I had only really seen on TV and read about.
"Everyone who knows me is aware that I am a basketball freak. If I'm not practicing or playing basketball I am most likely watching other players or I'm on YouTube looking at basketball stuff.
"Growing up, I was always looking at YouTube clips of Taurasi, since she has always been a role model to me. I like her game, I like how confident she is and I like how she's able to make other players better.
"When I first realised I was going to play against her, my first reaction was just ‘oh my!' It's not every day you get the chance to actually play against people you are looking up to.
"Although I didn't have that same feeling once we actually played Taurasi and UMMC.
"I realised that you have to have respect for the players but also gain their respect as well. It doesn't matter who you are, when it's game time, it's game time. You must go hard and do your best.
"You can't be a fan playing against these kinds of players, because they will end up treating you as one."
COMING IN FROM THE COLD
Now it's time for Drammeh to make a play to force her way into the Swedish senior team fold, no doubt hoping head-coach Lars Johansson is appreciative that this summer he will have an improved player to consider.
It could also be good timing since her fellow wing player Elisabeth Egnell has been ruled out with a serious injury.
"Yes, I will do my best and see if I can make the team this summer," she confirmed after being named on the preliminary list.
"I want to fight for a spot and put everything I've learned this season to some use, if I do get a spot.
"It's is really unfortunate that Elisabeth got injured, since she had a really good last year. I saw some of her EuroCup Women games and she is a class player. She had an amazing season in the Swedish League too and I wish her a healthy recovery. I also hope she will be back stronger and better than ever."
Drammeh could also be useful in that she knows first-hand what it is like facing most of the Russian players who Sweden will face in Group E of the Eurobasket Women 2015 2nd Qualifying Round.
"I have obviously not played against the Russian national team at a senior level, but they do have great players and Russia is definitely a country to respect," she reiterated.
"Knowing that Sweden won against them in EuroBasket last summer might make those two games we will play against each other even tougher.
The Skaggetorp native was also quick to put Egnell onto that list to.
But right now, it could be Drammeh herself who has a big role to play in ensuring Sweden continue their progress and punch a ticket for another EuroBasket Women Final Round.