Cur­tain closes on Sho-Time, Cana­dian edi­tion

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SCOTT RADLEY Thor­burn

The signs it was time to be­gin wind­ing down her bas­ket­ball ca­reer were be­com­ing ob­vi­ous. Go­ing through more bags of ice than a bar­tender at a beach­side all-in­clu­sive was one hint. The fact that she had to be­gin her warmup half an hour be­fore the rest of the team even started get­ting loose was an­other. Her banged-up an­kle was a third.

But it’s when she would go through air­port screen­ing ar­eas and the sur­gi­cally im­planted metal plate in her foot set off the alarms, she re­ally started to re­al­ize it might be time.

“I know I’m get­ting older,” Shona Thor­burn says.

Older is rel­a­tive, of course. Still, the soon-to-be 35-year-old Hamil­to­nian an­nounced her re­tire­ment from the na­tional women’s bas­ket­ball team ear­lier this week, end­ing a 16-year stretch as one of the back­bones of the pro­gram.

She’s not en­tirely sure how she feels about it yet. For now, she’s call­ing it “happy sad.” Here’s why.

When she first made Team Canada, she was a ris­ing star at the Univer­sity of Utah via West­dale High School. Look­ing back, she ad­mits the na­tional team wasn’t very good back then. There were few elite play­ers — she wasn’t one of those at that time, she says — but ex­pec­ta­tions were min­i­mal.

“If we lost by un­der 20, it was al­most a suc­cess,” Thor­burn says.

Fast for­ward to the present. Canada won gold at the Pan Am Games in 2015 and qual­i­fied for the past two Olympics. In fact, not win­ning a medal in Rio last sum­mer was sud­denly a huge dis­ap­point­ment. For months, that quar­ter-fi­nal loss to France gnawed at her. It was al­most a de­pres­sion. She re­ally thought they were go­ing to win a medal.

As she started look­ing ahead, she started think­ing hard about her fu­ture.

If she was go­ing to stick around for an­other shot at a medal in Tokyo, it would be three more years of

com­mit­ment, work­outs, sac­ri­fice and all-en­com­pass­ing ded­i­ca­tion. She couldn’t see her­self div­ing into that. Plus, the team and its feeder pro­gram were now loaded, tons of re­ally good play­ers who were com­pet­ing for spots. The level of play was higher than it had ever been.

Hon­estly, she’s not sure she’d even make it three years from now. Which, she re­al­ized, was a good thing for bas­ket­ball in this coun­try.

“I hope I couldn’t,” she says. “I hope there are peo­ple bet­ter than me in their 20s than me at 39.”

The trou­ble was, she’s loved play­ing for Canada. Af­ter play­ing for OFSAA cham­pi­onships, in March Mad­ness, in the WNBA and vy­ing for Euro­pean cham­pi­onships, she says noth­ing com­pared to play­ing for her coun­try. Step­ping away from that wasn’t easy.

But when an of­fer to do on­line broad­cast­ing of in­ter­na­tional games on FIBA TV arose — she stud­ied com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Utah — it clar­i­fied things. She couldn’t play full time and work. So she de­cided it was time.

She’s still signed to play an­other sea­son of pro ball in France. She wouldn’t mind do­ing an­other or two af­ter that. She’d be in­ter­ested in be­ing part of the na­tional pro­gram in some kind of coach­ing or help­ing role. But her days of wear­ing No. 6 in the red and white are done.

It’s easy to see why there would be some sad­ness. But she said it was “happy sad.” What’s the happy part?

As soon as the an­nounce­ment was made pub­lic, her phone and Twit­ter went crazy. Many of the notes were from friends but many were from peo­ple she’d never met. Fans of women’s bas­ket­ball. Which is some­thing the Cana­dian team had few of when she started.

Sim­i­lar to the way the na­tional women’s soc­cer team has be­come a rel­e­vant story across the en­tire sports spec­trum, her team’s suc­cess on the court has built in­ter­est and at­tracted eye­balls. For her, that’s a cool legacy. If they go on to win a medal in Tokyo, she’d be­lieve she was part of it be­cause her gen­er­a­tion helped build the pro­gram to that level.

“I’d still be very jeal­ous,” she says, and laugh.

For now though, she’s en­joy­ing a break. No bas­ket­ball, no run­ning, no train­ing, no noth­ing. She’s home in Hamil­ton for a few days be­fore head­ing back to Europe for a bit. Then go­ing on a sum­mer va­ca­tion.

“I haven’t done any­thing for two weeks,” Thor­burn says, break­ing into a wide smile. How’s it feel to be free? “It’s won­der­ful,” she says. “I do feel a lit­tle fat.”


Shona Thor­burn cel­e­brates the team’s vic­tory over Great Bri­tain at the Olympic in Lon­don on July 30, 2012.


Shona Thor­burn, right, and Kia Nurse, at the an­nounce­ment of Canada’s bas­ket­ball team be­fore the Rio Games.

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