EDMONTON — She is all of 19 years old, a baby in the world of professional sports, a young woman with her best years yet to come.
But there’s Kia Nurse, being handed a leadership role on an excellent basketball team, a teen trying to guide women of vastly more experience to somewhere the Canadian national team has never been before.
It is a delicate proposition, when to be assertive and when to back off, when to let situations go and when to force the issue and then you talk to the Hamilton native and it all becomes clear.
Nurse is about the oldest 19-year-old ever.
“My first year when I was with this team, I found it a little bit more difficult to assert myself because you kind of just want to go with the flow and do what the veterans want you to do, more out of respect than anything,” she said during the national team’s training camp here this week.
“As you get older and you gain more confidence in yourself and you understand their tendencies and your strengths and weaknesses, you kind of get a better understanding of when it’s time to assert yourself and when it’s not.
“It’s so much fun to play with people who have experience over you, things that they can teach you, things where you just sit back and say, ‘Wow, that’s why that’s going on.’”
Learning from people who have been through the struggles and grown as athletes is actually old hat for the native of Hamilton. She comes from one of the most accomplished Canadian families imaginable: Her dad, Richard, was a CFL wide receiver; her mom, Cathy, played university basketball at McMaster; her brother Darnell is an Edmonton Oilers prospect; her sister Tamika played in the cauldron of the top levels of NCAA basketball; her aunt Raquel played at Syracuse; and her uncle is former NFL star Donovan McNabb.
That’s fertile ground to mine for help when it’s needed.
“If you pick any kind of experience that you have and you don’t know where to go, I’m lucky enough that one of the people in my family, someone, has gone through it or multiple people have gone through it and I get a bunch of different perspectives,” she said. “They have advice on every single thing possible. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Nurse has taken that advice, and her own high skill level, to forge an excellent resume despite her young age. She was an integral part of the Canadian team that finished fifth at the world championship last summer, she won an NCAA title as a freshman at Connecticut this season, and she will be a huge part of Canada’s team this summer as it tries to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
She gives Canada a large measure of quickness and strength in the backcourt, able to play both guard positions.
“She’s just so much more confident this year,” said Canadian coach Lisa Thomaidis. “She’s one of the reasons we’re able to play a faster, more offensive style.”
Along with Miah-Marie Langlois, another rising backcourt star, Nurse has imbued the national team with a huge shot of energy.
“There are some things you can only learn with age … but there is some speed that we have on our team that can’t be taught,” teammate Kim Gaucher said.
“That kind of athleticism and that kind of a raw talent we have right now with the young players is exceptional and they are a lot of fun to watch.”