The reimagining of Canada's women's basketball program has begun
How federation is combining U23 event, senior camp to build toward Paris 2024
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At the 2012 London Olympics, two Canadian women's teams announced their presence on the world stage.
The soccer team recorded its best-ever Olympic result with bronze, while the basketball team reached the quarter-finals for its best finish since 1984.
But with the arrow pointed up, both squads flatlined at Rio 2016 by matching their 2012 results.
And so improvement became the mandate at Tokyo 2020 last summer. For the soccer team, that meant changing the colour of the medal. For the basketball team, it meant playing for a spot on the podium.
Of course, the soccer team accomplished its goal and won gold. Its next frontier is sustained success outside of the Olympics, including at the currently ongoing CONCACAF W Championship, which it opened with a 6-0 win earlier this week.
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Conversely, the basketball team regressed, failing to even reach the knockout stage in Tokyo. The disappointment was the final blow in a summer full of them for Canada Basketball.
Change came quickly. The federation split with head coach Lisa Thomaidis in September after she spent eight years in the role. In January, Spain's Victor LaPeña was announced as her replacement, with Seattle Storm head coach Noelle Quinn entering as lead assistant.
Meanwhile, Canada Basketball reinvested in its program, announcing the creation of Globl Jam, an under-23 international tournament currently taking place at Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto. With the coinciding WNBA all-star break, the senior women's team will also come together for a training camp as preparation ramps up for the World Cup, which begins in September in Sydney, Australia.
The confluence of events should help form a more cohesive senior team, something that's especially needed following the exits of veterans Miranda Ayim and Kim Gaucher. Two members of Canada's U23 team, Aaliyah Edwards and Shaina Pellington, were also part of the Tokyo Olympic roster.
Assistant Carly Clarke, who maintained her role through the coaching change, said the weekend is an opportunity to fill gaps at the senior level.
Off the court, the buzzword mentioned by both Clarke and LaPeña at a recent practice was "collaboration."
"I just believe that synergy is a real thing. And, you know, one plus one equals three if you're building that connection and collaboration and care and alignment of team goals," Clarke said.
With two years until Paris, Canada is continuing to build its talent base. Edwards, Pellington and Laeticia Amihere (an Olympian who was left off the U23 team), are all candidates to graduate from top U.S. college programs to the WNBA.
There are currently just three Canadians in the league. Bridget Carleton, arguably Canada's best player in Tokyo, and Natalie Achonwa, a three-time Olympian dating back to London, are role players on a Minnesota Lynx team that's slowly recovering from a tough start to the season. Kia Nurse, a 2019 WNBA all-star, is eyeing a second-half return from the knee injury she suffered in last season's playoffs with the Phoenix Mercury.
Through two Globl Jam games in Toronto, Canada is 2-0 with wins over Belgium and the U.S. As expected, Edwards has led the charge with double-doubles in both games, while Shy Day-Wilson — the Canadian Duke guard who was her conference's freshman of the year — impressed with an 18-point, five-rebound opener.
"[Day-Wilson] is one of the smaller players on the floor. But you wouldn't know it. She's fierce, she's creative. And she can go create something for herself, create something for someone else and isn't afraid of any challenge or matchup," Clarke said.
The women are back on the court today at 6 p.m. ET against France. The men's team is also off to a 2-0 start after rallying to beat the U.S. (represented by Baylor University) last night. They'll next meet Italy at 9 p.m. ET tonight. The tournament continues through the championship games on Sunday.
For Canada Basketball, it's just the first step on a repaved path to the Olympic podium.