Nurse giv­ing back to kids

Cana­dian women’s bas­ket­ball star wants to give young girls chance to play at high­est level

The Expositor (Brantford) - - SPORTS - LORI EWING

When Kia and Tamika Nurse were grow­ing up, U.S. col­lege bas­ket­ball coaches rarely ven­tured north of the border to scout — and even less so to scout girls. Trav­el­ling teams for top fe­male play­ers were scarce.

So dad Richard Nurse started his own.

Orig­i­nally called Canada Drive — it’s now Blue Star On­tario — it gave Kia, Tamika and a tal­ented col­lec­tion of other Cana­dian girls the op­por­tu­nity to be seen by top U.S. pro­grams. Tamika went on to play at Ore­gon and Bowl­ing Green. Kia, nine years her sis­ter’s junior, starred at Con­necti­cut.

Now, Ki a Nurse wants other young girls to have the same op­por­tu­nity. The 22-year-old from Hamilton, Ont., re­cently an­nounced the for­ma­tion of Kia Nurse Elite, her own Nike-backed AAU pro­gram that will play on the Elite Youth Bas­ket­ball League (EYBL) cir­cuit in the U.S. start­ing this sum­mer.

“It’s some­thing we’ve talked about for a re­ally long time, me and my fam­ily,” Nurse said. “(Canada Drive) was a big part of my abil­ity, and a lot of my team­mates’ abil­ity to be re­cruited and be seen by schools in the states, to play down there. So me and my fam­ily talked about what I wanted to do with my legacy, and how I could help build a pro­gram.”

There are still de­tails to firm up. But the plan is to vir­tu­ally mimic elite Cana­dian boys pro­grams such as Toronto-based CIA Bounce. Her pro­gram will have U15 and U17 teams to start.

“For me and this team, they’ll prob­a­bly have these same kind of ad­van­tages in terms of those Nike tour­na­ments, on the girls side,” Nurse said. “We don’t have any Cana­dian women’s Nike teams or EYBL teams at all that go to the states to play in those tour­na­ments. This is the first one.”

The pro­gram will be a fam­ily pro­ject. Tamika, Richard, who played foot­ball for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and Kia’s mom Cathy, who played bas­ket­ball at McMaster Univer­sity, will all be in­volved.

“We’ve got a lot of knowl­edge and depth in terms of women’s bas­ket­ball, and we’ve been for­tu­nate that both my daugh­ters have played at the na­tional level, have played at ma­jor NCAA schools, so it’s kind of some­thing that we take pride in and we want to help other kids,” Richard Nurse said.

“Kia’s had the op­por­tu­nity to play against some of the best com­pe­ti­tion in the world when she was young, so I think for her, it’s the same op­por­tu­nity that she’d like to give peo­ple.”

The six-foot guard is one of Canada’s most rec­og­niz­able fe­male ath­letes. She car­ried Canada’s flag into the closing cer­e­monies at the Pan Amer­i­can Games af­ter the Cana­dian women won gold in Toronto in 2015. She played a key role at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where Canada nar­rowly lost to France in the quar­ter­fi­nals.

She gladly as­sumes any re­spon­si­bil­ity that comes with be­ing a role model.

“When I was younger, we didn’t re­ally have the so­cial me­dia pres­ence that we do now, we just had In­stant Mes­sen­ger and Mys­pace and Face­book and we were not al­lowed to have those as kids,” she laughed. “So, grow­ing up, I saw my sis­ter, and I saw her team­mates, and that’s who I wanted to be, ex­actly like my big sis­ter.”

Women’s bas­ket­ball got lim­ited ex­po­sure. Nurse saw Maya Moore play one game for UConn — “that was a big deal for me.” It was also her in­spi­ra­tion to play col­lege ball for the Huskies.

“Now I think it’s way more im­por­tant for me to be a good model, be­cause now we have so­cial me­dia, we have the abil­ity for peo­ple to in­ter­act on a dif­fer­ent level with their favourite fe­male ath­letes across the world and across all sports,” Nurse said. “I think I’ve taken that as a big re­spon­si­bil­ity and made sure I’m aware of what I post, I’m aware of the lit­tle eyes that are on me from all dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, and un­der­stand­ing I’m giv­ing these girls an op­por­tu­nity to see they can do what­ever they want to do, at any level, if they put their mind to it.”

Nurse wrapped up her WNBA sea­son for New York Lib­erty last sum­mer, av­er­ag­ing 9.1 points off the bench. She then played in the women’s World Cup in Septem­ber, where Canada fin­ished sev­enth. Be­cause most WNBA play­ers need to play pro­fes­sion­ally dur­ing the off-sea­son to pay the bills (the WNBA Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion re­cently voted to opt out of its CBA), Nurse is liv­ing and play­ing in Can­berra for the Cap­i­tals, in Aus­tralia’s WNBL.

“I ab­so­lutely love it. One of the big things I told my fam­ily over and over again is that I got it right on the first try, and I wasn’t sure if I was go­ing to,” Nurse said in a phone in­ter­view from Can­berra. “With over­seas bas­ket­ball it’s so con­fus­ing, be­cause noth­ing that you do is go­ing to be a per­fect sit­u­a­tion. This has prob­a­bly been the clos­est thing to per­fect that I could get. It’s very sim­i­lar to Canada. Once they said ‘Box­ing Day,’ I was like oh my gosh, this is per­fect.

“And we’re win­ning, so that’s not bad ei­ther.”

Can­berra is third in the eight­team league. Nurse is sec­ond in scor­ing the Cap­i­tals, av­er­ag­ing 18 points a night.

The Aus­tralian league wraps up next month, giv­ing her more time at home than she has had in awhile. She’ll spend a lot of that work­ing on her new AAU pro­gram.

But the AAU com­pet­i­tive sea­son con­flicts with the WNBA.

“It will be be­ing able to get to a cou­ple of tour­na­ments if pos­si­ble, be­ing able to go to some prac­tices, be­ing able to go to be at some clin­ics with them,” she said.

“Ob­vi­ously if they’re in New York, it’s very easy for me to take a road trip out to see what they’re do­ing too, but as much as I can be in the gym and be around the young women, and help them out in any way that I can.” Richard Nurse is a proud dad. “She un­der­stands what it’s like to be a fe­male ath­lete, and she un­der­stands what it’s like to give back to kids,” he said. “Be­cause ob­vi­ously for her to be where she is, she’d have to play with some re­ally great women, and some women who have given back, and some peo­ple have put time into her de­vel­op­ment and pro­grams that she’s been in­volved in.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Con­necti­cut’s Kia Nurse, left, talks to re­porters as team­mate Gabby Wil­liams looks on ear­lier this year. When Kia Nurse was grow­ing up in Hamilton, Ont., the lack of a de­cent girls’ bas­ket­ball pro­gram prompted her dad to start his own team. Now Nurse is fol­low­ing in her dad’s foot­steps.

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