Kia Nurse, Canada’s youngest player, brings big-game experience to women’s basketball team
TORONTO – Canada’s women’s basketball team is expected to play some big games on home soil this summer. They are gold-medal favourites in Toronto at the Pan Am Games tournament, then hope to qualify for the Olympics at the FIBA Americas tournament in Edmonton in August.
It means big, boisterous home crowds and high-stakes games. But it isn’t anything guard Kia Nurse can’t handle. Nurse is Canada’s youngest player at just 19, but may be one of the team’s most experienced when it comes to big games.
Last year Nurse was a freshman guard at the University of Connecticut, an NCAA powerhouse with 10 championship titles. Despite being an 18-year-old fresh out of Hamilton’s St. Thomas More High School, Nurse appeared in all 39 games, starting in 36 of them, including two sold-out Final Four games. UConn won the tournament with a 63-53 win over Notre Dame with Nurse scoring nine points in the final. On the season she was fifth on the team with 10.2 points per game, and third in steals.
That Final Four experience, combined with first playing for Canada’s senior national team at the 2013 FIBA Americas tournament, and 2014 world championships, has Nurse very much at ease for the two big summer events.
“I think when you get to play in those big games, it’s a good experience every single time,” Nurse said Friday following a 73-58 win over Argentina. “The crowds, and how you feed off of that energy – you learn that by playing Final Fours and games like that.”
On Friday, Nurse helped Canada begin the Pan Am Games tournament 2-0 by scoring seven points and adding three rebounds in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated.
“You play Argentina and you know they’re going to be feisty and chaotic to try to get you play chaotically too,” Nurse said. “We buckled down and got some stops and got some offence out of it. It just shows how much our defence translates to our offence.”
Canada’s burgeoning crop of young, top-end male basketball players has been widely lauded, with NBA rookie of the year Andrew Wiggins as the poster boy. But the same can be said about the women’s program, with Nurse leading the way.
This Canadian women's team is an interesting mix of 30-something veterans like Shona Thorburn and Lizanne Murphy, and youngsters like Nurse and WNBA rookie Natalie Achonwa, 22. The results have been positive. The Canadian team finished second at the 2013 FIBA Americas tournament, then fifth at the 2014 world championships. And expectations are only growing.
Nurse will be looked upon to lead Canada to the upper echelon of women’s hoops. Her experience, and pedigree, makes her equipped to do it.
Her father, Richard, played in the CFL for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, while her mother Cathy played basketball at McMaster University. Her sister Tamika played in the NCAA at Oregon and Bowling Green. Her brother Darnell is arguably the closest thing to a household name. He was drafted seventh overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2013 and helped Canada win gold at this year’s world junior hockey championship.
On a team full of experienced veterans Richard can see his daughter blossoming into a leader despite her age, mostly because of her big-game experience.
“I think she’s growing into that role,” he said. “Once you’ve been able to see, and play in some of those big games, that’s going to rub off. I think she’s got some great leaders out there but she’s bringing some of that into the mix.”
After a 101-38 win over Venezuela on Thursday night, Canada hand its hands full with Argentina on Friday. Canada got out to a fast start, opening a 19-6 first-quarter lead but after shooting just 29 percent in the first half the lead was down 28-21 at half, and 47-44 after three quarters. Canada was able to pull away in the fourth quarter and clinch a semi-final berth on Sunday. First up is a date with 2-0 Cuba on Saturday to see who wins Pool B and gets the top semi-final seed.
If Canada reaches Monday’s Pan Am Games gold-medal game, they could very well be facing off against the United States, and two of Nurse’s UConn teammates, Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart.
“We watch, and get to see how the other teams are playing,” Nurse said. [The U.S.] is a good team, they have a lot of different talents and they’re very versatile. I’m biased of my own teammates, but they’re fun to watch.”
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Ian Denomme is an editor and writer for Yahoo Sports. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.