The next wave of Hamil­ton bas­ket­ball stars has ar­rived

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SCOTT RADLEY

As she sized up the com­pe­ti­tion, she couldn’t help but no­tice what she was up against at this try­out. So many of the other girls hop­ing to make the na­tional un­der-16 bas­ket­ball team were phys­i­cally im­pres­sive. Or in­tim­i­dat­ing. Take your pick.

There was a five-foot-11 guard, a col­lec­tion of six-foot-plus for­wards — in­clud­ing two that are listed on Canada Bas­ket­ball’s web­site at the un­usual height of 5foot-12 — and most eye-pop­ping, a 15-year-old cen­tre who was al­ready six-foot-six.

“A lot of the girls were re­ally tall,” Kail­lie Hall says.

At five-foot-eight, the Stoney Creek na­tive is hardly Lil­liputian. Still, it was daunt­ing. Mak­ing this team would put her on the first step of the na­tional pro­gram’s es­ca­la­tor to­ward bet­ter and bet­ter teams and even­tu­ally, maybe, the se­nior na­tional team. More im­me­di­ately, this team was her ticket to jet off to Ar­gentina to play in the FIBA Amer­i­cas cham­pi­onship. So it mat­tered. A lot. It was a big deal for Ae­rial Wil­son, too. By the time she stepped on the court for this fi­nal try­out, the Dundas na­tive had al­ready long dreamed of play­ing for Canada. Sure she’s also just 15, so long is rel­a­tive. But wear­ing the red and white had been a goal for much of her young life.

The two lo­cal girls’ sto­ries of how they got to this point were re­mark­ably sim­i­lar. Both started play­ing the game when they were in Grade 3 or 4. Both skipped house league and went right to rep. Both even­tu­ally found their way onto the same Tran­sway squad then made Team On­tario.

Once there, both were iden­ti­fied as unique tal­ents and ended up play­ing in spe­cial­ized pro­grams. Hall is part of Lin­coln Prep, a bas­ket­ball-spe­cific school pro­gram based out of St. Mary Se­condary in Hamil­ton. Wil­son is with TRC Academy and goes to St. John’s Col­lege in Brant­ford. Nei­ther plays high school ball but rather, are part of an elite eight-team league spread across the province.

In De­cem­ber, the pair was part of a large group of prospects in­vited to an as­sess­ment camp in Toronto. It wasn’t tech­ni­cally called a try­out but ev­ery­one there knew it was ex­actly that.

They did well enough to get in­vited to a sec­ond, whit­tled-down camp in March. There, they again per­formed strongly enough to earn an in­vi­ta­tion to May’s of­fi­cial

try­out for a spot on Team Canada.

Late last month, both made the cut.

If Hall’s big­gest bat­tle came in mak­ing the team, Wil­son’s came once she ar­rived in South Amer­ica. While play­ing a scrimmage against the U.S. two days be­fore the tour­na­ment opened, she rolled her an­kle. The joint felt ter­ri­ble but she’d trav­elled 9,000 kilo­me­tres to get there — and in­vested im­mea­sur­able amounts of emo­tional and phys­i­cal cap­i­tal to be part of it — so she grit­ted her teeth and kept play­ing.

What­ever hopes she had that it wasn’t badly dam­aged were dashed that night when she showed it to the train­ing staff. The an­kle was swollen to dou­ble its size and streaked with var­i­ous shades of pur­ple. Ice and rest and com­pres­sion were a start but could only do so much.

So Wil­son sat out while Hall and the rest of the Cana­di­ans oblit­er­ated Venezuela 89-38, de­stroyed the Do­mini­can Repub­lic 89-48, and slipped by Ar­gentina 71-65. The quick healer re­turned in time to help beat Colom­bia 64-38 in the semi­fi­nals.

Even­tu­ally, how­ever, the Cana­dian side ran into the pow­er­house Amer­i­cans who spanked them 9146 in the cham­pi­onship. But a sil­ver medal is a sil­ver medal. And the re­sult earned the team a berth in next year’s world cham­pi­onships in Be­larus.

The tim­ing of their emer­gence is per­fect. Within weeks of Hamil­ton’s Shona Thor­burn an­nounc­ing her re­tire­ment from the na­tional team af­ter more than a dozen years wear­ing the Maple Leaf, this city’s next wave of ris­ing stars has sud­denly en­tered the con­ver­sa­tion. Some day, both hope to fol­low in her foot­steps while play­ing along­side lo­cal le­gend Kia Nurse on the big stage.

When the uni­forms were handed out to the un­der-16s be­fore tak­ing off for Ar­gentina, they were dis­trib­uted by height. The low­est num­ber was 4 which went to the short­est player. The tallest got 15. Wil­son got 6. Hall was sec­ond short­est so she got 5.

“Oh,” she said, as soon as she looked at it. “That’s Kia’s num­ber.” Thor­burn, mean­while, wore 6. It’s a start.

ROBIN WIL­SON, SPE­CIAL TO THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Ae­rial Wil­son of Dundas has al­ways wanted to play for her coun­try, and will at the up­com­ing FIBA Amer­i­cas cham­pi­onship.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Stoney Creek’s Kail­lie Hall com­petes in the FIBA Amer­ica’s un­der-16 bas­ket­ball cham­pi­onship in Ar­gentina.

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