It is the most significant domestic summer ever for Canada’s senior women’s basketball team and 22 women begin the process of trying to be part of it starting Sunday.
A solid mix of veterans and youth have been invited to a tryout camp starting Sunday in Edmonton to select teams to play at the Pan Am Games in Toronto in July and the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifier in Edmonton in August.
There will be a hugely familiar feeling to the camp, though. Of the 22 women invited, 11 were members of the Canadian team that finished fifth at the 2014 world championship, Canada’s best finish since a bronze medal in 1986.
“Players will get an opportunity to get reacquainted with each other and the Canadian style of play heading into the upcoming summer schedule,” said Denise Dignard, Canada Basketball’s director of women’s high performance programming.
Aside from the 11 returnees from last summer, Canada should be bolstered by the return of forward Natalie Achonwa of Guelph, the WNBA rookie who comes back after missing last summer with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. She and Milton’s Kayla Alexander, a camp invitee, are the only two current WNBAers who will be in camp.
However, a handful of Canadian women have been playing in the top leagues in Europe to gain experience.
Coach Lisa Thomaidis, who took over after Canada’s top-eight finish at the 2012 London Olympics and guided the team to its impressive world championship placing, has said she hopes to have much the same roster for the Pan Ams and the Olympic qualifier.
The Edmonton tournament is the first time Canada has hosted a FIBA Americas qualification tournament since 1996 and the Pan Ams are the most important multi-event Games to include basketball since the women’s event debuted at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
The summer doesn’t just include the domestic events, although they are the most important. To prepare for the Pan Am Games tournament, which runs between July 16-20 at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, and the Olympic qualifier, Aug. 9-16 at the Saville Community Centre in Edmonton, the women will play six exhibition games at tournaments in Spain and France in late May and early June.
A look at five key veterans invited to the Canadian senior women’s training camp beginning next week in Edmonton:
Team: Indiana Fever WNBA
Achonwa returns to the national team after missing the entire 2014 season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Her presence should be a huge boost to the team at both ends of the floor.
Hometown: Mission, B.C.
Team: Sopron (Hungary)
A 12-year veteran of the national team program, the 31-year-old has emerged as one of the team’s best and most reliable scorers and its elder stateswoman. Her presence will be a key in keeping young teammates focused.
Hometown: Beaconsfield, Que.
Team: QC Angers (France)
The veteran comes into the summer off one of the best seasons of her professional career. Murphy was chosen MVP of her league. She is entering her eighth season with the Canadian team.
Team: Piestanske Cajky (Slovakia)
One of the younger veterans who could be a key offensive cog for the senior team. Learned a lot during London Olympics experience and could emerge as one of the breakthrough players on this edition.
Team: Nantes Reza (France)
The most veteran pure point guard on the roster, Thorburn will be counted on heavily to provide leadership and experience to the likes of young point guards Miah-Marie Langlois and Kia Nurse.