Kia Nurse on UConn's win streak, Canadian basketball
Star guard has helped college team win 93 in a row
At just 20 years of age, Kia Nurse is already one of Canada's most decorated basketball players.
She led her country to gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games and the FIBA Americas tournament less than a month later, earning Canada a spot in the 2016 Olympics.
Now the Hamilton native is a key cog in the University of Connecticut team that has won an NCAA-record 93 consecutive games. Nurse also helped the Huskies to national championships in each of the last two years.
CBC Sports recently caught up with the junior guard to get her thoughts on a busy past couple of years.
CBC Sports: Why did you decide to play at UConn?
Kia Nurse: When I went on a visit, it became evident that this was the place where a lot of different players came and got the best out of their talent. I knew this was the place that would prepare me if I wanted to be an Olympian.
CBC: How did playing for the Canadian national team prepare you for college?
KN: I was with the national team for a year or two right before I got [to UConn] and everybody has their own freshman transition. The plays we run offensively aren't necessarily plays but more concepts — moving, reading and reacting on what the ball does, and that's exactly how we play with the national team. When I got here and they threw in these concepts, my mind easily picked up. I think that was a big advantage for me playing against some of the best players in the world and playing with them.
CBC: What was it like playing against ex-Huskies star Maya Moore and the United States national team prior to joining UConn?
KN: The first time I watched UConn it was a Maya Moore-led team and they were winning the national championship. Ever since, I wrote down that I wanted to go to UConn on little pieces of art projects. To play against her I was like "Gosh! This is the G.O.A.T right here. She's going to kill me." The first play was a mix-up and I was guarding her. I'm not supposed to be guarding her and I was hoping she wouldn't get the ball.
CBC: Describe the basketball culture at UConn.
KN: If you walk around our practice gym, there's a lot of banners up on the wall — national championships banners, Olympic gold medallists, first-team All-Americans, national players of the year. [When] you're dead tired in practice, you look up and you know they went through this. They did it, so you have to do it. You have to play Connecticut basketball in the way that coach [Geno] Auriemma and coach [Chris] Dailey built this place to be, which is up-and-down tempo, passionate, hard-working. There's an unselfish kind of feeling to every single team that comes through this place.
CBC: What's it like to be one of four current UConn players that have been there during the entire win streak?
KN: To have done it over three years is the coolest part because that's three different teams I've played on and we finished two seasons with a national championship. To be put in the history books forever is mind-blowing. When I grow up and I'm telling my kids about the stories that I had to go through in college, that'll be something that comes up.
CBC: Describe what it meant to lead Canada to Pan Am gold over the United States on home soil.
KN: To do it in Toronto, around my family members who probably haven't seen me play in a long time — my grandparents were able to be there — to see and be in an atmosphere where it was just pure Canadian fans was insane and to see how basketball has been on the rise.
CBC: How was your first Olympic Games (in 2016 in Rio)?
KN: The Olympics was an absolute dream come true. To walk around a village with a bunch of athletes you used to watch on television, to ride an elevator with people that you were like "Oh! I've seen you before. You probably have a medal," was insane. I definitely would love to do it again.
CBC: Do you hope to play pro basketball?
KN: I'd love to go pro. I definitely want to play as long as I can and stay within the sport and help other girls who aspire to be athletes. There's so much that comes from being an athlete and so many opportunities sports has given me I figure why not give it back.
CBC: What does it mean knowing you're growing basketball and inspiring young women?
KN: When I was growing up, there weren't many female athletes in the media for me to watch. All I had was my sister and other people around my city. It's amazing that sports has become so big and females can be successful in it. One of the best parts about the Olympics was that the first [Canadian] medals were all female. To grow basketball in Canada would be incredible. I think you learn so much more than just putting a ball in a hoop and if I can do that and help people out that would be awesome.