Summer Sports

Kia Nurse is ready to lead — on and off the court

Already a leader on the Canadian national basketball team, Kia Nurse enters her senior year at the University of Connecticut in a similar role as the powerful team looks to avenge a bitter loss. But Nurse knows her influence can go beyond the hardwood.

UConn's Canadian guard embracing senior role

Kia Nurse, centre, heads into her senior season at the University of Connecticut as one of the leaders on a squad featuring many new faces. (Jessica Hill/Associated Press)

Kia Nurse has won a lot of basketball games over the past three years at the University of Connecticut, including an NCAA-record 111-game winning streak that ended last season.

The Hamilton, Ont., native has won two U.S. national championships over that span while starting in all but three games since her freshman year with the college basketball powerhouse.

Nurse barely knows what losing is, having experienced it only twice as a Huskie. But it's her most recent defeat — a 66-64 overtime buzzer-beating upset at last year's Final Four — that fuels Nurse and her teammates to ensure they never go through that again.

"We used it as a motivator — something that lights the fire under us every day and as a reminder to make sure we're trying to get better every single day — individually and collectively as a team," Nurse says.

New role

Now in her senior year, the 21-year-old will be leaned on to guide a team that features six new faces (four freshmen and two transfers).

"As leaders, it's important for us to make sure that we instill what it's like to be a UConn basketball player, what the culture is here, how we get things done, and how we handle ourselves on and off the court," Nurse says.

It wasn't long ago that Nurse was a freshman herself, being shown the ropes by Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck — the first, second and third overall picks in the 2016 WNBA draft.

Nurse will also be thrust into a similar leadership role with the Canadian national team after the retirements of veterans Shona Thorburn, Lizanne Murphy and Tamara Tatham. She's learned how to handle the job from those that came before her.

"When we face adversity on and off the court, as leaders we can't look all frantic," Nurse says. "We have to be the ones they can turn to and feel a sense of calm."

Nurse, left, took in a lot playing alongside stars Breanna Stewart, centre, and Morgan Tuck. (Jessica Hill/Associated Press)

Homecoming game

On December 22, Nurse and the Huskies will play a non-conference game against Duquesne University at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto.

Nurse is excited for her friends and family to get a chance to watch her in a Connecticut jersey — Toronto is a short trip up the QEW for her grandparents, who've never seen one of her college games in person. She also wants to put on a show for the girls who'll be in the crowd.

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Kia Nurse comes for a hard-working and athletic family, which may explain why she has accomplished so much on the court, including winning an NCAA basketball title.

The six-foot guard remembers watching her first UConn game in the seventh grade and deciding then that this was the school she wanted to play for.

"For the young women who are coming out — if this is the first basketball game they ever go to — I think it's a great one to jump-start that excitement and wanting to get out on the court and do something."

Inspirational force

Nurse knows that, as a prominent athlete, she has the power to inspire other women.

In April, she was one of 10 women named to Glamour magazine's annual College Women of the Year list, which honours trailblazing students in Canada and the U.S.

Nurse and the other winners were honoured at a luncheon in New York City and had an opportunity to work with the publication's non-profit organization, "The Girl Project," which helps young women in the U.S. and around the world overcome whatever obstacles they face in order to finish school.

"We got to meet a lot of young women who are aspiring to go to higher education, who have dreams... and then I got to meet the other winners who were scientists, filmmakers, fashion designers, CEOs of their own companies," Nurse says.

"To see young college women making that much of an impact on the world was inspiring to be a part of."

Each winner was also paired with a mentor. For Nurse, that was Robin Roberts, a former ESPN anchor who now hosts ABC's Good Morning America.

Roberts is a breast-cancer survivor who in 2012 shared her battle with myelodysplastic syndrome, a disease of the bone marrow. A day after Roberts went public, the Match Registry, which seeks to match donors with those needing bone marrow, saw a 1,800 per cent increase in donors.

"Her ability to overcome adversity is astounding," Nurse says. "We talked about sports and her sport [broadcasting] career but I think the best part was just talking about how she got where she is now.

"She reminded me to be open to trying different things, going into different fields...when the time comes, you'll find something that you'll really love but it might not be the first thing you thought it was supposed to be in college."

One more year

For now, assuming all goes according to plan, Nurse is on the road to a professional career in the WNBA.

But before that, she's focused on enjoying her final collegiate season and bringing back one last national championship to her home away from home.

"I try not to think about the fact that I'm leaving at the end of the year because I absolutely love it here," Nurse says. "It's a great place to not only develop as a basketball player but develop off the court as a human — be engaged in the community and find ways to enhance who you are as a person.

"You build your own little life here for the last four years and it's sad that I'll be going."


Chicco Nacion returns to his birthplace of Toronto after growing up in Niagara Falls. He graduated from the Master of Media in Journalism and Communication program at the University of Western Ontario. Follow him on Twitter @chicco_n


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