NBA·CBC Explains

How Canada's women's basketball team could win its first Olympic medal

The Canadian women’s basketball team begins an Olympic pre-qualifying tournament on Thursday in Edmonton. How much further will they go?

Pre-qualifying tournament for Tokyo begins Thursday in Edmonton

Canada's Kia Nurse, seen above at the 2016 Rio Olympics, will try to lead Canada to its first women's basketball podium at Tokyo 2020. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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The Canadian women's basketball team just reached its highest FIBA ranking ever at No. 4. Their Olympic medal hopes are legit — but first they must secure their spot in Tokyo.

The next step in that process begins on Thursday in Edmonton with another pre-qualifying tournament. You can watch all the action live on CBCSports.ca.

  • Canada vs. Cuba (Thursday, 9:30 p.m. ET)
  • Canada vs. Puerto Rico (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET)
  • Canada vs. Dominican Republic (Sunday, 6 p.m. ET)

Here's everything else you need to know:

Who's playing?

Canada is joined by Puerto Rico (ranked 24th), Cuba (26th) and the Dominican Republic (40th) in Edmonton. The tournament is a simple round-robin with each team playing each other once. The top two nations advance to one of four global Olympic qualifying tournaments that begin Feb. 2. On paper, Canada should have a pretty easy time getting there.

When will I know if Canada is in the Olympics?

You'll know in February, when 16 teams will be grouped by draw into four separate tournaments. The top three teams in each of those tournaments make the Olympics.

Those 16 nations include Europe's six representatives, who were chosen at a continental tournament in the summer, plus 10 more teams who must qualify through equivalent events to the one in Edmonton. Japan, as the host nation, and the U.S., as World Cup champions, already know they'll be competing at Tokyo 2020, but they still must play through qualifying. 

Will players show up to compete for Canada Basketball this time?

Unlike the men, the answer is a resounding 'yes.' Kia Nurse, who started the WNBA all-star game as a rookie and spends her off-season playing in Australia, is even travelling back to Edmonton to participate. Read more about Nurse's nomadic basketball journey here.

Nurse wasn't the only one racking up frequent flyer miles either, as Bridget Carleton joined the former University of Connecticut star from Australia and seven others came to Edmonton from around leagues in Europe.

Canada boasts four WNBA players on its roster. Besides Nurse, there's her New York Liberty teammate Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, as well as Bridget Carleton (Minnesota Lynx) and Natalie Achonwa (Indiana Fever).

Achonwa is the most established player of that bunch, a reliable centre who's spent five seasons with the Fever, where she provides steady scoring and rebounding while moving between starting and the bench. The Guelph, Ont., native became the youngest person to compete for the national team one decade ago at 16.

Aaliyah Edwards, a 17-year-old currently competing for Crestwood Prep in Toronto, recently committed to powerhouse UConn after receiving offers from more than 70 other NCAA programs. Edwards is ranked the fourth-best forward recruit by ESPN. The Kingston, Ont., also donned the red and white at the FIBA Americup in the summer, the youngest player on the team by five years.

Full roster (updated late Wednesday)

  • Natalie Achonwa, forward, Guelph, Ont., Indiana Fever (WNBA)
  • Miranda Ayim, forward, London, Ont., Basket Landes (France)
  • Bridget Carleton, guard, Chatham, Ont., Minnesota Lynx (WNBA)/Townsville Fire (Australia)
  • Quinn Dornstauder, centre, Regina, Zamarat (Spain)
  • Aaliyah Edwards, forward, Kingston, Ont., Crestwood Prep (OSBA)
  • Kim Gaucher, guard, Mission, B.C., Mondeville (France)
  • Ruth Hamblin, centre, Houston, B.C., Dynamo Novosibirsk (Russia)
  • Sami Hill, guard, Toronto, Donau-Ries (Germany)
  • Kia Nurse, guard, Hamilton, New York Liberty (WNBA)/Canberra Capitals (Australia)
  • Shaina Pellington, guard, Pickering, Ont., Arizona (NCAA)
  • Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, forward, Toronto, New York Liberty (WNBA)/Nadezhda Orenburg (Russia)
  • Jamie Scott, guard, Clarkston, Wash., Dynamo Novosibirsk (Russia)

How far can Canada go?

It would be a major upset if Canada didn't reach the Tokyo Olympics. Again: they're the fourth-ranked team in the world. It's the best ranking the country has ever received.

The Canadians also competed at the last two Games, finishing eighth in London before improving slightly to seventh in Rio. But Nurse could be the difference maker. In Rio, she was still a sophomore at UConn. Now, she's a bona fide star at the highest level of professional women's basketball. 

The first and only time Canada won an Olympic basketball medal was men's silver in Berlin in 1936. But there's a good chance the women's team changes that in nine months. Their journey continues Thursday in Edmonton.

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