Canadian women headed to Rio, Olympic medal the goal

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Canada vs Cuba

2015 FIBA Americas Champions

Written by Jose Colorado for On Point Basketball

Entering the summer, the Canadian women said they wanted to make a statement in the national spotlight.

In less than two months the message couldn’t be any clearer – women’s basketball is as good as it’s ever been in this country.

11-0 on home soil en route to Pan American gold and a FIBA Americas championship, an Olympic berth, crushing continental rivals, a new budding superstar in Kia Nurse who looks ready to lead the “golden era” long into the future – the program has simply put together a summer for the ages.

Yet – even now as the team settles down following its FIBA American Championship victory – it sets its sights on the next step, for a feat that would truly launch this group into a historic stratosphere all on its own – an Olympic medal.

“We certainly fired some shots out there that Canada is coming,” said Head Coach Lisa Thomaidis. “The amount everyone improved from last year to this year was remarkable. If we do it again next year, who knows what is possible.”

Canada vs Cuba

#6 Shona Thorburn cuts down the twine

The Canadian women have never medalled in Olympic basketball.

But with their most recent influx of young talent (Natalie Achonwa, Miah-Marie Langlois, Nirra Fields, Nurse) and tenured players appearing much more seasoned (Lizanne Murphy, Tamara Tatham, Kim Gaucher) than years prior, the optimism – and results – are as high as ever.

“When we get back together next spring we’ll be on the same path and we’ll make sure we are continuing to improve and playing very well by the time Rio rolls around,” said Thomaidis when reached for a conference call on August 16.

Although Canada will not reconvene for 11 months, it has already set itself up in a much more favourable position than three years ago in London when the team had to play in a second qualifying tournament just weeks before the Olympics.

Training schedules and exhibition games can now be structured a year in advance while coinciding with the professional and collegiate seasons of the players. It makes for plenty of meaningful games to be placed at the right moments so the team can “peak” at the Olympics rather than the qualifiers as was the case last time.

Canada vs Cuba

#5 Kia Nurse, #8 Kim Gaucher & Head Coach Lisa Thomaidis

But while Canada rejoiced in back-to-back Olympic berths, across the world the Australians went about the feat like usual business on August 17.

The Aussies, ranked second in the world currently, are widely considered to be one of the favourites come Rio. The country has now booked six straight appearances to the Olympics, medaling in the last five.

The United States are always the heavy favourite to take gold and will field a completely different roster than the Pan American one that Canada beat, with three-time NCAA player of the year Breanna Stewart  likely being the lone exception.

The ‘A’ version of the United States demolished – and eliminated – Canada in the quarter finals in the last Olympics 91-48.

One country from Asia and Africa will advance in the coming months while Serbia and Brazil are already through.

The final five spots will be determined at the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament on June 13-19.

Canada vs Cuba

Tournament MVP Kia Nurse

Despite Canada’s eighth-place finish at the last Olympics, they played each team tough outside of the USA – only losing by 4 and 9 points to silver and bronze medalist, France and Australia, respectively.

Regardless of the level of competition, one can be reassured the team’s soaring confidence likely won’t be affected anytime soon.

“We’re going to the Olympics [but] we don’t want to just be there,” said Nurse to Sportsnet’s Michael Grange.

“We want to be up there on the podium…our veterans are the first ones to say” ‘We are going to get on that podium.’”

Written by Jose Colorado (Twitter: @ColoradoURB )

Photos by RM Photo (Twitter: @ronniemexx )

Edited by Drew Ebanks

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Often referred to as Mr. Canada Basketball, Ebanks has been an integral innovator and personality in both amateur and professional basketball. With a High Honours Diploma in Radio & Television Broadcasting (Seneca College) and experience in the financial services industry, Ebanks’ diverse educational background and work experience has allowed him to maximize On Point’s potential in becoming a leading basketball media, promotional and lifestyle brand.