TORONTO — Aaliyah Edwards high-fived fans and posed for pictures as she made her way off the Mattamy Athletic Centre court with teammates on Sunday, clutching her tournament MVP trophy.
Canada had easily defeated France 78-60 moments earlier in the inaugural Globl Jam tournament.
Billed as a bridge between the national youth and senior programs, plus a rare opportunity for Canadians to play basketball at home, the under-23 tournament was also a coming-out party of sorts for Edwards and rising women's stars Merissah Russell, Shaina Pellington and Shy Day-Wilson.
"It was amazing," Edwards said. "It was great having a lot of community … coming out just to watch women's basketball. Women’s basketball is growing here in Canada, and it's great to have people come out to see what we got, we can be dominant, and we can be aggressive on the court.
"I've been talking to (friends and family) about how good I am, for them to actually see how good I am in person, it’s great," she added with a laugh.
Day-Wilson had 19 points and nine assists, while Edwards, a forward for the Connecticut Huskies, added 13 points and seven rebounds. Russell, a Louisville forward, chipped in with 11 points, while Arizona guard Pellington finished with 10.
"For us college players, being able to actually play at home is great for us because people are used to trying to find a (broadcast) stream or a link to watch us in the states," said Edwards, who turned 20 a day earlier. "So it's great to have actual home-court advantage and feel the love."
Baylor University, representing the United States, lost a 77-73 heartbreaker to Brazil in the men's final on Sunday night, after dispatching Canada 93-87 on Saturday.
Yago Dos Santos led Brazil with 30 points, 11 assists and six rebounds in the gold-medal final, while Caio Pacheco scored 12 points and Marcio Santos chipped in with 11.
Jalen Bridges had 13 points for the U.S., with teammate Keyonte George adding 12. Jordan Turner and Dantwan Grimes each scored 11 for the Americans, who trailed 42-38 at halftime.
The Canadian women went 3-0 in the preliminary round, beating Belgium, France and the U.S., represented by Virginia Commonwealth. They crushed the Americans 85-60 in Saturday's semifinal.
"I think it's amazing," said Russell, a 20-year-old from Ottawa. "The biggest thing for me, I was so excited to play in front of my parents, because it's been so long because of COVID. They haven’t seen me play and a lot people can't watch us play on the (college) network. It's just difficult to do so.
"We talked about it: None of us have ever played on home court wearing Canada, right? So it's just amazing, we’re so prideful, and we got the ‘dub’ and I'm so excited."
Canada led 19-16 after one quarter, but Yvonne Ejim's layup late in the second capped the Canadians' 13-3 run that put them up by 13 points. They headed into the halftime break with a 37-25 lead.
Canada continued to pour it on in the second half. Leading 58-43 with one quarter left, Pellington's layup with 8:25 to play put the Canadians up by 22 and it was all but over.
Edwards, Russell, a forward for Louisville, and Arizona guard Pellington were on Canada's team at last summer's Tokyo Olympics, and will be in Canada's senior camp at the end of July in New York. Canada will play two exhibition games against Australia, in preparation for the World Cup this fall.
They hope their performance this week made a statement about their future roles on the senior side.
"Absolutely," Edwards said. "It's just a glimpse of what the next generation is going to look like. It's U23, so it can be a great segue into the senior roles national team. I think it showed that we can be dominant at this level and at the senior women's level."
Canada's new senior coach Victor Lapena sat courtside for all of Canada's games.
"I'm so excited for the future of women's basketball in Canada because this is just the beginning," Russell said.
Carly Clarke, head coach of the U23 women and assistant on the senior team, said the tournament was terrific for the continued growth of Edwards & Co., looking ahead to the World Cup and beyond to the 2024 Paris Olympics.
"There’s a lot to handle when you're playing at home in a big event like this," Clarke said. "There's distractions everywhere, there’s pressure to perform and they handled it.
"Putting all those pieces together, those are things you have to do on a World Cup stage or an Olympic stage. You have to be able to bring your best when there’s a lot going on around you. I think our team handled that very, very well."
Clarke gave the inaugural event a big thumbs-up overall.
"It's been awesome. It's felt world-class the entire week," Clarke said.
Canada Basketball CEO Mike Bartlett said the event, which will return to Toronto next summer, is a great way to connect to the game's future stars.
"I think that will actually propel this program, the ripple effect of that for the next 10 to 15 years … when some of them will have to make choices at times to play for us or not," Bartlett said. "We're in a spot where we're creating a (strong) relationship with them."
Canada Basketball dreams of Globl Jam growing into basketball's version of the world junior hockey championship, as both a money-maker and platform to grow the game's audience in Canada.
The tournament might not have drawn the crowds that organizers had hoped for — most of the Canada games saw Mattamy Athletic Centre less than half-full. But Bartlett said the basketball community embraced it. Among tournament spectators: Toronto Raptors' NBA rookie of the year Scottie Barnes, Oklahoma City guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Raptors executives Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster, members of the women's senior basketball team, and Olympic swimming star Penny Oleksiak.
Bartlett said FIBA was pleased with the event, and the visiting teams said they'd love to return next summer.
The Canadian 3x3 championships, held in conjunction with Globl Jam, drew large crowds at nearby Yonge-Dundas square.
TIP-INS: Canada Basketball honoured its 2021 and 2022 Hall of Fame class inductees during halftime, including players Stewart Granger, Angela Straub, and Tony Simms, coach Michele Belanger, and builder John Bitove. Retired NBA stars Steve Nash and Rick Fox, who weren't in attendance, were also among the inductees.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press