Cana­dian bas­ket­ball women gather for train­ing

The Niagara Falls Review - - Sports - LORI EWING

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).

RICHARD LAUTENS TORONTO STAR

Kia Nurse gets in some shoot­ing af­ter prac­tice as the Cana­dian na­tional women’s bas­ket­ball team worked out in Toronto on Thurs­day.

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