Canadian basketball women gather for training
TORONTO — The pride in playing for Canada was nurtured from a very early age, says veteran forward Natalie Achonwa. And so, when the big guns of Canada’s women’s basketball team gathered for training camp on Thursday, they said there was nowhere else they’d rather be.
“That commitment level, that dedication, that’s always there, that’s the best part of Canada Basketball and our women’s team,” Achonwa said. “The big tournaments, everyone answers, everyone comes, and that’s because we’ve been in it from a young age. I grew up in Canada Basketball since I was 13, 14 playing on the junior team.
“That love for putting the Canada jersey on, that’s embedded in me, that’s who I am. It’s never a task coming back, it’s always refreshing coming back here.”
The Canadians tipped-off their six-day camp Thursday at Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre — the same building in which they won gold at the 2015 Pan American Games — in their final push toward the World Cup, Sept. 22-30 in Tenerife, Spain. Among the 15 players assembled, there was no big name missing.
“There’s nothing like coming home and being able to play on your home soil, eat your home food, but also with so many people who are so passionate about the game and with so much love to come here and put their heart and soul into Canada Basketball,” said guard Kia Nurse.
Coach Lisa Thomaidis credited the women who toiled for Canada in leaner times.
“They get turned on early, they’ve had some pretty amazing role models that have come before them, so being exposed to them early has played a part,” Thomaidis said. “And they enjoy it here, they’ve come from NCAA or professional context, they really see the value in being involved, and they see that we care about them, we care about their development, and they’ve seen success.”
Canada will play Japan on Sept. 7 and world No. 1-ranked United States on Sept. 8 in an exhibition series in Bridgeport, Conn. They’ll also face France, the U.S., and Senegal in a fourteam tournament in France, Sept. 15-17 before travelling to Tenerife.
“Canada Basketball has put together a great schedule for us to be able to measure ourselves against the U.S. a couple of times — once might have been enough, but we’re going to play them twice,” Thomaidis said. “And then France and Japan. These are key matchups because we’re going to see different styles of play and test some things out and see what’s going to work and what we need to modify before worlds.”
This camp marks the team’s third phase of preparation this summer, but the first for Achonwa and Nurse, who just finished their WNBA seasons.
With a large roster of talented youngsters at her disposal this summer, Thomaidis allowed veteran players to sit out one of the early phases to avoid a long grind.
Achonwa laughed when comparing it to the tough slog of a few years ago.
“We used to do 40 days, 40 nights training camps, out in Abbotsford, B.C. They’ll never let me forget it — only Kim (Gaucher) will remember it now but I cried that training camp ... It was a lot for a 16-year-old,” said Achonwa.
Canada was fifth at the 2014 world championships, but left the 2016 Rio Olympics wanting more after they dispatched by France 68-63 in the quarter-finals.
The Canadians, ranked an all-time high of fifth in the world, would love to climb the podium in Tenerife, but they have to win a quarter-final game first — something this team hasn’t done in a major international event.
Canada will be in Group A with No. 3 France, South Korea (16th), and Greece (20th).
Kia Nurse gets in some shooting after practice as the Canadian national women’s basketball team worked out in Toronto on Thursday.