IT IS always a privilege to be the first and the excitement that Hilary Wood radiates about signing for Scotland’s first professional women’s basketball team is almost palpable.

The 22-year-old from Edinburgh is a member of the new Caledonia Pride team, which, next month, will take its place alongside nine other teams in the Women’s British Basketball League (WBBL).

Caledonia Pride will be the first Scottish team to ever play in the WBBL, with Wood and her team-mates playing their home games at the newly opened Oriam National Performance Centre at Heriot-Watt University’s Riccarton Campus.

Their first competitive match is fast approaching, with the team’s season opener taking place on Sunday, October 9, away, against Leicester Riders, while their first home game is against Sheffield Hatters two weeks later.

Professional basketball is well-established in Scotland, with the professional men’s team, the Glasgow Rocks, having grown the popularity of the sport significantly in recent years. But the women’s side of the sport has always lagged behind, so the creation of a professional women’s team is a significant step forward.

Wood and her team-mates have been in pre-season training for several weeks now and she explains that she is champing at the bit to get started in the WBBL.

“It’s really exciting to be a part of this,” Wood says. “It’s a really big thing because this is the first time anything like this has happened in Scotland, so hopefully we’ll get some good coverage and good crowds to the games.”

Wood says that the team, and its head coach, Dutchman Bart Sengers, have no solid targets for the maiden season. The WBBL was only established in 2014, but that means that the other teams still have a two-year head-start on the Scots.

However, with Caledonia Pride made up primarily of Scottish players, Wood is familiar with more than a few of her team-mates.

“A few of us played together in junior national teams and then some of the other players are newer to the set-up,” she says. “We’re doing two to three sessions a day at the moment in preparation for our first game, so it’s tough but it’s really enjoyable.

“We’re trying to make sure that we’re as prepared as we possibly can be but this first season is definitely going to be a real challenge for us. We’re hoping to be really competitive and to surprise a few teams.”

Wood may only be in her early twenties, but she already has a wealth of experience under her belt. A stalwart of Scotland age group teams, one of her greatest achievements to date is being selected for the GB Under-20 side, something that few Scots have managed in recent years.

An exchange year to Canada during her course at Edinburgh University gave her the opportunity to play for University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, and playing in a country in which college sport is a huge part of university life was, she explains, a special experience.

“It was brilliant to play in Canada and it was so different from what I was used to,” she says. “Sport over there is so popular, so it was really fun to be a part of it. We played in a big stadium with a brilliant atmosphere and at our big games, a couple of thousand people would come to watch, which was amazing.”

Wood will use that experience to good effect when she turns out for Caledonia Pride in the coming months, but she also has a longer-term target in mind. One of the key motivations in creating Caledonia Pride was to aid Scottish players’ preparations for the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast in 2018, where basketball will be included for the first time since 2006. Wood says it is a huge personal goal.

“It’s really exciting to have a target like Gold Coast to aim for,” Wood says. “It would really mean a lot to compete for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games – it would be amazing to be a part of a multi-sport event.

“It was a pity that basketball wasn’t in Glasgow 2014, because it would have been unbelievable to play in a home Games, but since we didn’t get the chance to play in Glasgow, Gold Coast is definitely the next best place that it could be.”

Wood is keen to stress though, that Caledonia Pride is not only here to benefit the few elite players who have signed for the team; she is conscious of the part the professional team can play in growing the sport and she admits to being hugely excited about what her and her team-mates can do for women’s sport in this country in the coming months and years.

“At the moment, I don’t think that a lot of little girls in Scotland think that playing basketball is something that they can do,” she says. “We’re planning on going into schools to talk to kids and encourage them to play, especially girls, because so many drop out of sport during school.

“I think it really helps for younger girls to have a target to aim for and them knowing that it’s achievable. We were the same as them at one point and so we’ll show them that if you work hard, you can get to professional level.”