Canada's women's basketball team ready for high Olympic expectations
'Biggest challenge will be if we can live up to what we expect,' says coach Thomaidis
It's a good time to be Lisa Thomaidis these days. The head coach of Canada's women's basketball team and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies is riding an all-time high.
With the NBA All-Star festivities taking place in Toronto, the success of Canada's female basketball players is getting some much-deserved recognition.
But Thomaidis is quick to deflect credit to others, flying under the radar in Saskatoon.
"It's my style. I like the fact that it's low profile," said Thomaidis. "I don't like the lime-light. Not me. It's a perfect situation."
In 2015, Thomaidis led Canada to a gold medal at the Toronto Pan Am Games — beating Team USA in the final. Then, followed that up with a first-place finish at the FIBA America tournament, clinching a spot in Rio.
She won the Jack Donahue award in 2015, selected as coach of the year by a national coaches association. Thomaidis, in her 17th year as head coach of the University of Saskatchewan, has the Huskies ranked No. 1 in the country.
Thomaidis just seems to keep winning. She's guided the Huskies to eight national appearances in the last 10 years. And who could forget last summer with Team Canada? The magic of women's basketball in Canada may have hit a historic high at the Pan Am Games in Toronto. Women's basketball was in the sports conversation across Canada.
Kia Nurse became a household name and Canada's flag-bearer at the closing ceremonies because of her dominant performance, crediting Thomaidis for a lot of her success.
"I've been fortunate to be surrounded by amazing teammates, coaches and staff," said Nurse. "Coach Thomaidis has built a great program and provided mentorship and development experiences which have impacted me on and off the court. It's a privilege to play for her and an honour to represent my country."
In the fall, Team Canada rolled into Edmonton for the Olympic qualifying tournament. Canada didn't lose a game and crushed Cuba 82-66 in the gold medal game in front of another raucous hometown crowd.
"It was a dream summer," said Thomaidis.
So what does all of this success mean? That people are watching and expecting big things from this team heading into Rio. Thomaidis knows there's pressure to deliver a medal.
"I think it's great that people are expecting results," said Thomaidis. "That's something we earned. It's another level at the Olympics. As long as we continue to improve. From 2014 to 2015 every player on our team improved. If we continue to do that, and I believe we can, anything is possible."
Many of the players on Team Canada's roster now also competed at the last Olympics in London, finishing eighth. Thomaidis knows that won't be good enough, by her standards, and now the rest of Canada's.
"I think for us the biggest challenge will be if we can live up to what we expect," said Thomaidis. "That's a tough one. There are very few people that get to leave the Olympics satisfied with their experience."