Basketball late-bloomer Angela Bongomin helps Canada's program reach elite levels

Just 19, Regina's Angela Bongomin already has an impressive basketball resume.

In the past two years she has twice represented Canada, winning silver at the U18 FIBA Americas in 2016 and then bronze at the U19 FIBA Women's World Cup last month.

This week, she'll add the Summer Universiade to that list as a member of the developmental national team Canada is sending to Taipei City.

Her well-seasoned experience in competition belies the fact Bongomin started playing the game only in Grade 9.

Bongomin's love affair for the game began that summer when she attended a basketball camp with one of her best friends.

The concept of teamwork and collective success — rather than individual — along with the physicality involved appealed to the six-foot-two centre.

"Beforehand, I only played individual sports and so to be in an atmosphere where people were working together opened a competitive fire in me," Bongomin said.

"That's what really sparked it for me."

Shift in mindset

During her brief time in the Canadian basketball program, Bongomin quickly learned that striving to be the best wasn't just her mindset, it was everyone's.

Led by a new generation of Canadian basketball, players are no longer happy to have a spot at the table. They want to win and they expect to win.

"I felt that there was always a competitive fire for Canada Basketball. There's been so much development in the program — how we get ready [for major tournaments] — it's more of an elite level now," Bongomin said.

"[We are] where we are now [because] we worked hard and keep working hard every day. Nothing is really given to us, it's the work that we put in."

Centre of movement

Bongomin said she and her teammates embrace the opportunity to be at the centre of this movement.

They've had alumni such as two-time Olympian Bev Smith deliver emotional speeches before their games, talking about how far the program has come and how proud they are to see the fruits of their labour finally come to fruition.

"They were just so impressed by everything that we've put into it," Bongomin said of the alumni.

"It's continuing a legacy that so many people before us set the foundation for and the work that they put in is finally being shown."

Bongomin and her teammates are already thinking about the next generation — giving them every opportunity to succeed just as those before them once did.

Every time Bongomin sees her school's junior girls basketball team at the University of Regina, she's reminded of her own basketball beginnings.

"Whenever I see them practising, it brings back so much memories because we were all in the same situation [at one point]," Bongomin said.

"A big thing for us is being role models for them and being reachable like, 'This girl plays in my city, plays at the university that's 15 minutes away from my house. If you work hard enough, you can be in the same position.'"

Being adaptable

Canada's national junior squads are now garnering international attention, but it hasn't come without its share of bumps in the road.

Prior to worlds, Bongomin and the U19 squad competed in a warm-up tournament where she says the team was 'thrown for a loop' and became flustered when their game plan was disrupted and didn't know how to react.

"I think the big lesson we learned as a team and as an individual player is to be prepared, but also prepared to change the strategy," she said. "Never assume what a team would be like or be adaptable to the situation."

Bongomin is the youngest member on the team at the Universiade, but she already thinks like a veteran.

"Personally, individual growth is a big thing for any basketball player. Just playing with an older group of women is definitely a challenge and in the end it will make me a better basketball player," Bongomin said.

"But also being a good teammate [is important] — all of us are from different places and a lot of people here I'm not familiar with because they're in an older age group. Connecting as a team is a major focal point for us before we tackle any other challenges."

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