Spain's Victor Lapeña named head coach of Canadian women's basketball team

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Spain's Victor Lapena was named head coach of the Canadian women's basketball team on Thursday. (@lapevic/Twitter - image credit)
Spain's Victor Lapena was named head coach of the Canadian women's basketball team on Thursday. (@lapevic/Twitter - image credit)

Canada Basketball announced Spaniard Victor Lapeña as the new head coach of its senior women's team on Thursday.

The organization said Lapeña signed a multi-year contract through the 2024 Paris Olympics. Meanwhile, Seattle Storm head coach Noelle Quinn will join as lead assistant alongside holdovers Carly Clarke and Steve Baur.

Canada, ranked fourth by FIBA, parted ways with former head coach Lisa Thomaidis in September.

Under Thomaidis, the Canadian women failed to advance past the group stage at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 — a disappointment following two consecutive quarter-final appearances.

The immediate challenge for Lapeña and Quinn is to lead Canada through World Cup qualifying in February in Japan. In the long-term, the goal is to get the Canadian women over the Olympic hump and onto the podium.

"The first step is to know my players [perfectly], to try to enjoy them and to know who is who and what can I do for them to play very good basketball, to enjoy [being] on the court and to be very, very competitive in that moment," Lapeña said.

Lapeña longtime coach with Spain

Lapeña, a 46-year-old from Zaragoza, is a longtime coach with Spain's national women's program at both the development and senior level, and was an assistant at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

He's been the head coach of Fenerbahce of the Turkish Super League since 2019, where he's guided the likes of WNBA stars Satou Sabally and Elizabeth Williams.

He takes over a team that recently saw the departures of longtime veterans Miranda Ayim and Kim Gaucher. In their place, a younger leadership group includes WNBAers Natalie Achonwa, Kia Nurse and Bridget Carleton alongside NCAA stars Shaina Pellington (Arizona), Aaliyah Edwards (Connecticut) and Laeticia Amihere (South Carolina).

"I will try to mix all the information I have to create good connection between them to play simple basketball and to try to have the best game plan to give problems to our rivals," Lapeña said.

He said the team holds "great potential."

"Our challenge will be [to] give confidence to the stars of the future, while not forgetting all the good that has been done to get the team to this point. That to me is the cornerstone of building a winning team and culture."

Experience the priority in naming coach

Canada Basketball CEO Michael Bartlett said the priority in picking a head coach was experience in the job in women's basketball.

"And the reality of that situation is that the Canadian coaching tree right now isn't deep with that experience," he said.

Canadian women had served as head coach since 1997, when Bev Smith was handed the role. Alison McNeill took over between 2001 and 2012, with Thomaidis beginning her reign in 2013.

"We're going to double-down on our investment to make sure that we're developing that next generation of Canadian coaches so that many years down the line when we're doing another search like this, Canadians have international and pro head coaching jobs [and] are part of that candidate pool for us," Bartlett said.

Quinn, 37, is a former first-round WNBA draft pick who went on to play 12 seasons in the league before retiring in 2018. The Los Angeles native represented Bulgaria in international play after becoming a naturalized citizen in 2007.

She helped lead the Storm to the WNBA title in 2020 as an associate coach before her promotion to the head position in May 2021.

"To now have the opportunity to join the program, especially at a time when the future is so bright, and to work alongside Víctor and the entire staff, is an exciting opportunity and one I'm grateful to be a part of," she said.

Quinn said her experience as a player both in the WNBA and overseas would help in bringing together a team that is currently dispersed across the world.

"We have a lot of great people, a lot of great players, and that's the easy part, right? Getting them together. But strategically, you can't overdo it. You have to simplify things and play hard, be competitive and just go all out," she said.

Roster in flux ahead of qualifiers

The Canadians will play eighth-ranked host Japan, as well as No. 11 Belarus and No. 27 Bosnia and Herzegovina in World Cup qualifying. The top three teams from the group advance to the 2022 World Cup, which begins in Australia in September.

The World Cup is a direct qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

However, the team is likely to be without Nurse, who tore the ACL in her right knee in October. Meanwhile, its NCAA trio are question marks due to commitments in the U.S.

"We are going to have conversations with them. I think all of them want to enjoy the national team and this moment to be together. So I will have some conversation with them and I hope they come in February," Lapeña said.

And getting through qualifying is just the first step in moving the program forward.

"The most important thing is what is the next step now? What happens in the next game if we play against Spain [who beat Canada at the Olympics] in the quarter-final? What [do we] have to do in that moment?"

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