Teresa Gabriele is the only holdover from the 2000 Sydney Olympics on Canada's women's basketball team (Associated …It's been so long between Olympics for Teresa Gabriele that you could be fooled into thinking it was a different person.
The point guard was a 21-year-old out of Simon Fraser University when she helped Canada qualify for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. On Sunday, now 33 and nursing foot and knee problems, the point guard penned a valedictory for her internationally basketball career by helping Canada ends its 12-year hoops drought by beating Japan 71-63 at the Olympic qualifying tournament for women in Ankara, Turkey. The oldest player in red and white played the second-most minutes on the team, 29, and was the second-leading scorer and rebound with 11 points and seven boards (at 5-foot-5, no less). She also chipped in five assists as she and backcourt running mate Courtnay Pilypaitis gave Canada a steady hand in the backcourt.
"Obviously there comes a point in time when you start to reach an age and your body starts to fall apart a bit," the Mission, B.C. native said on a media call from Ankara. "Everybody should know that if you put in the hard work, you get something out of it. That's kind of what happened to this team today."
Gabriele has been a constant with the women's national team for 15 years, through its highs and lows such as falling short of the Games in 2004 and '08. She sat out last fall's Pan-Am Games due to injuries. Now she's helped teammates who were elementary school during Sydney become Olympians.
"To end my career on an Olympics is just an amazing experience, words can't really describe it right now," the Mission, B.C., native added. "We're just all kind of babbling right now. We don't even know what to say. Emotions are flying high. We're all just super excited. To have it happen on Canada Day makes it even better."
The victory lap will not come until after London, though.
"I think we can knock off some teams," Gabriele said. "This team is capable of beating the best teams in the world."
Thirty-three in international basketball is practically ancient. Steve Nash, not to get into direct comparisons between the men's and women's games, was 30 when he retired from the Canadian national team . The FIBA game is faster-paced — the Canada-Japan game took only 95 minutes to play — and very physical, which takes a toll on back, knee and ankle joints. On top of that, there's the travel in the summer to play in Europe or South America.
"There's very few athletes in [summer Olympic] team sports in Canada who can say they've been to two worlds and two Olympics," Canadian coach Alison McNeill said. "Teresa is one amazing young woman."
Canada's team is a blend of youth and experience. The younger generation knew what qualifying for London means for Gabriele, guard Shona Thorburn (who will turn 31 during the Games) and 28-year-old guard Kim Smith.
"To be able to achieve the goal with them and for them is great," said Pilypaitis, who had a game-high 21 points and was named Canada's team MVP for the tournament.
Gabriele is retired from competitive basketball, but kept training for a shot at a second Olympics. As the Vancouver Province reported in May, she worked as a delivery driver for her parents' bread business, doing 4 a.m. runs while training. It would have been tempting to put herself above others after Canada's win, but McNeill said Gabriele was true to the ideal point guard personality.
"Her husband was crying and she was stoic and it was pretty cute," McNeill said. "She's been such a strong part of this program for so long. She's so mentally tough. She's been the point guard for as long as I've been coaching and even before that."
It would have been easy for Gabriele to play along with that theme, of the player who had waited the longest for this being the least affected by it. In the moment of triumph, though, she didn't want to put herself above others.
"There were a few tears. Maybe she didn't see those ones."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.