Talking to a well-spoken Kia Nurse, you may forget she's just 17 years old. Watching her play point guard for Canada the past few games at the FIBA Americas women's tournament in Mexico can do the same.
With the retirement of longtime Team Canada floor general Teresa Gabriele after last year's London Olympics, the job of point guard has fallen into the very young, but increasingly capable hands of Nurse.
After a rough 2-for-12 shooting outing against Jamaica in Canada's first contest this past week, the Hamilton native has improved each game, helping lead Canada to a 4-0 record
in the preliminary round going into Friday's semifinal against Puerto Rico (6:45 p.m. ET).
"She's been better each game, but has played tougher competition each game," Canadian senior women's coach Lisa Thomaidis said from Xalapa, Mexico, noting Nurse's 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting
against Cuba on Wednesday. "[Cuba's] guards are very quick, it presented a challenge for her ... it's a true sign of her as a really special player."
Nurse admits she was forcing things in the first couple of games in Mexico. "Earlier on I was thinking a little bit too much about shooting, I wasn't finishing," she said over the phone Thursday. "I think more confidence is definitely something that plays a part."
Nurse, who doesn't turn 18 until February, has been with the senior team since May. Thomaidis is more than happy with what the youngster has added to the veteran mix, with eight returning players from the London Games squad. Loading Nurse up with experience is another added bonus.
"It couldn't have worked out any better," said Thomaidis. "At this point, she has tons of games under her belt."
Tons of games, and tons of experience that can only really be gained through the grind of international basketball tournaments in diverse, far-flung locales. Canada's four wins this past week came in four straight days. "Your body gets a little tired after that," said Nurse.Veteran presence
The teenager also leans heavily on the team's veterans, who in turn have accepted her. "They respect my opinion and decisions, but I've really got to go with the vets, they know better than I do right now," Nurse said.
Of course, no mention of Nurse's athletic ability would be complete without considering her bloodlines, and the little family competition that has spawned. Her older brother Darnell was the Edmonton Oilers' No. 1 pick
in June, going seventh overall in the NHL draft.
Her father, Richard, played six years in the Canadian Football League for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats
and Winnipeg Blue Bombers
. Then there's her uncle (her dad's sister's husband), a certain former National Football League quarterback named Donovan McNabb
And that's just the guys in the family: McNabb's wife Raquel was a pretty good point guard in her own right at Syracuse University, and Kia's older sister Tamika also played college basketball down south. That's not to mention her mom Cathy, who was a standout hoopster at Hamilton's McMaster University, or her cousin Sarah, who like Darnell chose hockey and now plays at the University of Wisconsin.
"I think there's more of a rivalry now," Nurse told me Thursday about any possible family trash talk, specifically with her brother. "You know, table talks about who has the most medals and that kind of thing.
"But we love each other and we're so proud of each other."
That's why the Edmonton-based women's national program was a stroke of great timing for the Nurse family. At the team's last camp before departing for Mexico, both Kia and Darnell were in town at the same time, the brother in training camp for his rookie season in the NHL.
"I saw him every single day, usually for dinner," said Kia. "And I went to one of his exhibition games, which was really cool."Sibling rivalry
Nurse said Darnell never really played organized basketball, instead sticking to hockey quite young. However that doesn't mean he didn't have the skills for those 1-on-1 driveway battles.
"He usually [won]," Kia said almost incredulously. "He was a streak shooter. It just came to him, I don't understand!"
If her brother is busy, she can always get a hold of McNabb.
"Uncle Donovan is just a phone call away," Nurse told me. "He's been through the most out of all of us, and if we ever need anything, he's the one to call."
While most remember McNabb as an All-Pro quarterback, he also played two years of basketball at Syracuse (where he met his Canadian wife), and was a reserve guard on the Orange's 1996 Final Four team. So his hoops advice counts for something too.
"He's always been willing to take [us] over the summer," Nurse said. "He's like 'I'll work on your jump shot with you.'"
When the Canadian women return from Mexico (hopefully with a ticket to next year's world championships in Turkey) they need to finish in the top three, so a win Friday would seal it.
Nurse's focus will turn to choosing a NCAA school for next year. She wouldn't give out any possible hints, saying she's already ruled out a couple.
"Do I want to play for someone who wins the national championship or someone who helps build a legacy? It's a whole kerfuffle right now," she joked.
Either way, Nurse is another bright young star in the Canadian basketball galaxy. She said it was "upsetting" that the senior men didn't qualify for the World Cup earlier this month, but reiterated that the true promise (for the women as well) lays in the near future.
"I think Canada Basketball has done a really good job of integrating the younger players into the program," she said. "I think we're on a really good rise."
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