For months and months, through significant exhibition games here and important tours of Europe and through monotonous training camps and much-needed breaks, the world basketball championships have been something of an abstract for the Canadian women’s team.
WNBA rookie Kayla Alexander, left, hopes to have the opportunity to help team Canada at the upcoming women’s world basketball championship in Turkey.Now, as they gather at their Edmonton base for the final stage of preparation, things have never felt more real and the anticipation is reaching an apex.
“Can’t believe it’s three weeks until our first game at the worlds,” coach Lisa Thomaidis said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “It’s really getting close.”
While a lot of preparation has been done — the women have benefited from an excellent series of exhibition games and training camps — this final week of home preparation is crucial.
Thomaidis and her staff will take a look at adding Kayla Alexander, the Milton native coming off her first WNBA season with the San Antonio Silver Stars, as they fine-tune the roster for the 16-team tournament in Turkey.“It should be all tactical, but we have to get her up to speed and see what we’ve got,” said Thomaidis. “We’ve been working on this for a while; she’s always wanted to play for Canada but the scheduling didn’t work. Now we have the chance to get her in.”
The women, grouped with Turkey, France and Mozambique in the first round, to be played starting Sept. 27 in Ankara, will work all week at their Edmonton home base. They will scrimmage informally against the United States next weekend, playing the powerful defending world and Olympic champions on Sept. 15 in Connecticut before heading to Turkey.
The team that plays in Turkey will be different from the Canadian team that posted a top-eight finish at the 2012 London Olympics. While there are several veterans still around, young guards and Nirra Fields of London will be given important roles. The teenagers benefited from a summer of exhibition games against some excellent teams, but the intensity and skill level will be exponentially higher at the worlds.
“The two young guards are learning fast,” said Thomaidis. “They’ve made huge strides since the first camp.”
That will mean veterans like Kim Gaucher of Mission, B.C., Brampton’s Tamara Tatham, Miranda Ayim of London, Lizanne Murphy of Beaconsfield, Que., and Hamilton’s Shona Thorburn will have to be calming influences.“We have to take care of all the intangibles; play as a team,” said the coach.
Scoring will be an issue for Canada — that’s been a traditional problem for the senior women’s team — but they can once again rely on a cohesive, defensive-minded group to keep teams in the 60s and give themselves a chance.
Canada will miss the contribution of veteran Natalie Achonwa, the WNBA draft pick who is still recovering from ACL surgery, while a handful of other players are a bit banged up.
Gaucher missed games with an ankle injury; Courtney Pilypaitis of Orleans, Ont., suffered a concussion, depleting the team’s shooting guard rotation and centre Krysten Boogaard of Regina has a back injury.
Whatever transpires at the worlds — and a top-eight finish would be the first goal — this summer is as much about getting ready for the next two years.
Next summer, Canada will host the FIBA Americas 2015 Olympic qualification tournament in Edmonton, and this group should reach its full potential the following year at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
SOURCE: THE STAR, DOUG SMITH